Penny Heth reflects on her years of mission trips with Trietsch. God is at work in Trietsch youth! Don't miss out on Middle School and High School Student Life Camp this summer. Click here to learn more.
Since the 6th grade I've spent my Spring Breaks on mission trips with Trietsch youth, and every year people ask me why. They ask why I would give up a week of my time or a chance to go on vacation to go work. Every time, I tell them that there is no other way I would rather spend my Spring Break. I have never learned so much, had more fun, or grown in my faith more than in the 7 spring breaks I have spent on mission trips.
This year the high school youth traveled to the Appalachian mountains in Chavies, Kentucky. Something new to us was that we traveled in vans as opposed to charter buses. As somebody who is usually against change, I wasn't too sure about this. James assured us that we would survive without our movies, and we would stop every two hours so we would make it without a bathroom on board. As much as the hard-headed Seniors hated to admit it, he was right. These van rides started the trip on a positive note and gave each grade level a chance to spend time talking and enjoying each other's company.
The first day of driving lasted 8 hours before we stopped in Germantown, Tennessee for the night. God really does love to remind us that sometimes he has a different or better plan than we do, because about 1 hour away from the church that we were supposed to stay in, we found out that they had double-booked and there was already another church group staying in that building.
There was truly no room in the inn. But of course, the Lord had a plan, and the other group staying in the building offered to share the space with us. Upon arrival, it became clear why we weren't alone in the building that night. The other group was none other than Wesley-Rankin Community Center! Wesley-Rankin is a group of people that has been involved with Trietsch through MAD for Jesus Camp and also had many people Jimmy Larry knew from Project Transformation.
They didn't have to offer to share the space with us, but on a trip where we expected to go serve others, we were served by others. The group also showed us love by giving us the extra barbecue that they had ordered that night. What started as something that could've been an issue, turned into a lesson of love and grace.
As we started getting closer to Kentucky, I got more and more excited. I was starting to recognize the area, and when we pulled up to the ASP facility - there was actual squealing taking place. After we unloaded our things into our rooms, we headed to dinner and were introduced to our ASP representatives. After dinner, the senior representative and the small group leaders got to go to the house we would be working on. I had the privilege to be in Dennis McWilliams' small group this year. So, Dennis and I, and our ASP representative, got to go out to our house and meet our homeowner Melissa. Melissa was immediately welcoming and loving towards us. She was very thankful that we were there and excited for us to start the next day.
After finishing our first work day, we returned to the ASP building (after stopping for some necessary ice cream), showered, and changed. The ASP representatives had a little informational program for us. They had printed off statistics comparing the county of Kentucky we were in with Flower Mound. They showed side-by-side numbers of things like incomes, high school graduation rates, and poverty levels. It was an extremely eye-opening experience, and I learned things that I never would've even thought about. After that, our evening ended with an incredible worship service and a time to share where we saw God that day.
On Wednesday, we headed out for another day of work. It was a very cold but, also very fun day of work. Since it was an especially cold day, I took any chance I got to get warmed up. Natalie had to use the restroom, and because Melissa was extremely generous to let us use her bathroom. I joined Natalie to take advantage of a second of warmth inside. While Nat was in the restroom, I got the chance to talk to Melissa. She asked me about school and we talked about how it was our Spring Break at home. She didn't have any idea that we were spending our week off school in Appalachia. When she found out, she was even more thankful and loving than before.
On our last night in Kentucky, we gathered around the fire for our final time to share God moments and an emotional Senior night. This night was especially emotional because I got to share it with my dad. He had never gotten to come on a mission trip with me before and having him there my Senior year was a very special experience. As each senior stood up and talked about an emotional and funny memory they had on the trip, I was reminded of how important this youth group has been in my life. Standing up in front of a group of people and speaking is never easy, but something about sharing with this youth group feels so comfortable and as if I was talking to my family.
For three years I watched the Seniors stand up on senior night and share about what this church has meant to them and how fast it will go by. I didn't understand until I was doing it myself how hard it would be to say goodbye. Growing up in the youth group and being a part of this family was one of the best experiences I could ever have. The seniors that sat next to me on the bench that night were with me all through this journey starting as 6th graders going through confirmation. We truly grew up together and I could not be more thankful for them. After each senior shared, we circled around the fire and James said a prayer. Maybe it was because we were surrounding a giant, hot fire, but I found so much comfort and warmth in worship that night, it made the thought of leaving this youth group a little easier.
Our trip home consisted of more van games, singing, and dance parties during bathroom stops. The laughter was contagious and the naps were always short, but the 18 hours spent in a van bring you closer to people than you could ever imagine.
Getting home from a mission trip is always hard, because everything is so much easier when you are away from the world and surrounded by such great people. Jimmy Larry challenged us to stay on this "church high" and strive to pick out God moments all the time not just on mission trips and summer camps. There was something different and special about the group of kids on this trip, and God had each and every person there for a reason. I am definitely not a writer, but if you made it through all of my babbling, I hope you got to see just how moving of an experience of a trip we had and how important this youth group is to me and so many more.