Friday, October 9, 2015

Flashback Friday: The Sawshack Redemption

Today's Flashback Friday tale is a rarely told story from my 18 months spent as the Director of Student Ministries at the Union Church of Hinsdale, Illinois 

Greg and Chris were members of the Work Tour 2000 team, but they were not your typical Union Church of Hinsdale youth. They did not come from great wealth like many of the students did.  Both of them actually seemed more at home in Dungannon, VA than they did in Hinsdale. They both had a bit of redneck in them. They were also two of the students who had surprised me so much with the smoking and the swearing on the trip east (see You Have Got To Be Kidding Me). So it came as no surprise to me when they volunteered to work on in the falling down utility shack that was out behind the mobile home we were working on. They would be doing two major tasks out there- sawing lumber for other projects and cleaning out the shed itself. The building itself quickly became known as The Sawshack (Pictured: not the actual Sawshack, but a smaller version that looks quite a bit like it!). It would be the site of a lot of hard work- and more than a few adventures.

In the early part of the week much of the team became very frustrated with the Sawshack crew. It seemed you could never find them when you needed them, and it was taking way too long to get sawing jobs done. They seemed to be playing with the junk in the shack more than they were cleaning things out. David (the primary adult leader on this trip- I had only been in town for one month) had words with the two boys but nothing seemed to motivate them. Then one afternoon (I think Tuesday) while we were working on the "great wall" (see I Got It...I Don't Got It...Bzzzzzz) in the trailer, I heard a loud crashing noise, some screaming and some hysterical laughter. I went running into the living room to find one of the windows smashed to pieces. No one was hurt (praise God!) but there was glass everywhere. I looked through the broken window into the back yard, and there stood the boys. None of us could believe what we were seeing. They had found an old skeet launcher (as used in skeet shooting) in the shack. And some skeet. Curious to see if it still worked, they had dragged it out in the yard, loaded a skeet, and pulled. It worked- and now a window was missing. And they thought it was hilarious.

I was livid. A family of 5 was living in that trailer, which now had air conditioning that it did not need. While others started cleaning up the mess and preparing to go shopping for a window, I took the boys out to the shack where we had a "come to Jesus" meeting. It was explained to them that the money for the window would come out of their pockets. I impressed upon them the fact that everyone else was trying so hard to be of service to this family, while they seemed intent on making things worse. They were told that from that point on I wanted them anchored to the saw; there would be no more smoking breaks (I was certain they had been sneaking off to light up- and I was right) and no more goofing off. It was time for them to step up and be part of this team. Most students who have ever been a part of any of my groups will tell you that I don't get angry often, but when I do, it is ugly. This was one of those times. They met Hulk Jones very early into our time together...and they didn't like me when I was angry!

For the rest of that trip, Chris & Greg were hard workers, great team members and model citizens. The Sawshack became a place where work was done quickly and accurately. Their work ethic and and attitudes changed so much that it became known as The Sawshack Redemption. The grace that was shown them by the family and the rest of our team made a huge difference, not only on that trip but in their participation in youth activities after we returned to Hinsdale. Over time, the indoor skeet shooting became legendary and something we could laugh about. Grace does that- it turns our worst actions into things we can live with, because we understand God loves us anyway.

Tomorrow I'm going to share another except from Even Better Than Before. I hope you all have a blessed and grace-filled weekend!

Because of Jesus,

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