Thursday, October 10, 2013

Magic Moments: The Mystery of Mountain Top

Front: Jocelyn Sessions, Laura Drapkin, Lisa Kraus, Jill Painter
Back: Ben Thacker, Matt Wheeler, Brad Watson, Hamp Sessions,
Jason Ashcraft, Brian Watson, Matt Schmidt, Scott Burlison, Todd Willlis
It's another Throwback Thursday, and the countdown of 10 Magical Moments from my days in student ministry continues with memories from my earliest days at the First United Methodist Church of Kissimmee (I have written about this trip in much more detail in the the earliest days of this blog, and you can read those original stories by click the links provided here).  When I arrived at FUMC-K in April of 1994, a summer mission trip had already been planned for me to carry out. According to the plan, we would be taking a group of high school students to the mountains of Tennessee to participate in the Mountain Top mission project. Our understanding was that we would be working with other groups to repair homes in under-resourced rural areas. So in June our mighty band of 14 (see picture) departed for Tennessee on my first adventure with a group of students that had been through 3 different youth pastors in a 2 year period. I was hoping this would be a bonding time for us.  I had no inkling as to what a wild ride it was going to be...

We arrived at Mountain Top to discover things were not what we had hoped they would be.  We were not actually booked into the work camp, but instead would be doing Vacation Bible School at some small churches in the area. We were going to be divided into teams with youth from other churches, so we would not get the work/bonding time with each other I hoped for. Almost all of the students in our part of camp were middle school, and we were all high school youth. Our guys didn't even get to all sleep in the same cabin. It was very disappointing.

If that wasn't enough, it turned out that The Director of the camp was somewhat of a tyrant- and that is nicest word I can think of!  There were 10,00 rules to follow, most of which made little sense to us.  One of our adults, Dr. Jill Painter, got yelled at for driving one of our vans too fast around the camp. She was going about 15 mph.  We were constantly being told that our behavior was "exclusive"- in other words, we hung out together too much. The Director threatened to send us home one afternoon because I was playing my guitar on the hillside and lots of the campers, including many from other groups, came and joined in. If he hadn't planned it, it was against policy and therefore evil.  Early on, the trip seemed like a lost cause.

But then things began to happen.  Some of the guys in the cabin where Scott Burlison and I were sleeping but water balloons in Scott's bed, ruining his bedding. Now Scott could be annoying, and our group picked on him quite a bit- but as the line from Animal House says, only WE were allowed to pick on our guys! We rallied around Scott and began to bond, even celebrating his birthday as a group in a direct violation of Mountain Top rules. There were some epic basketball games that brought the guys together as well.  We united around our dislike of The Director, developing a hand signal that indicated to us that we were "too cool for this camp." And we found joy in the work, providing opportunities for children to come to know Jesus each day at VBS.  Despite all the complications (and Dr. Jill's
attempt to get out of a speeding ticket by having children sing Jesus Love Me) it turned into a very good week.  Mix in running out of gas in the blue van on the way home, rafting on the Ocoee River and seeing a Braves game in Atlanta after Sculpting Tickets, and it became what we would later call The Best Worst Week Ever.

In the end, the Mountain Top experience had done exactly what I had hoped it would do- given us a sense of unity as a youth group family. It marked the beginning of 6 years filled with memorable moments. Next Thursday we will relive one of the most stressful nights of my life- the night we lost $8,000 and lived to tell about it. Not all Magic Moments are filled with unicorns and rainbows... 

Because of Jesus,

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