Right now, I could look out the window and gaze upon palm trees. What that means is that I'm not in Kansas right now. We don't get palm trees in Kansas. We get sunflowers and wheat and trees that drop those hot rock things that kids at camp rub on the cement and burn each other with. I have taken a temporary leave of absence from the Midwest and am visiting my dear friend Wendi in California, but she's working right now so I am pouring my heart out to all of you as I sit on this couch with a nice leaf-pattern. I had never been in California before. Honestly, from what I've seen so far, it really isn't all that different from most other places. Kobe Byant hasn't introduced himself to me or anything yet. I feel like I haven't really been on a vacation for a long time. I've gone to lots of places, but they've generally all been for Bible Bowl or conferences or camps and such. I think it's rite of passage from boyhood to manhood to take a mildly irresponsible trip across the continent just to hang out and have some fun.
On Sunday I finished my youth ministry internship at University Christian Church in Manhattan. Along with letting me feel important for having a little desk in a church office, the internship allowed me to learn a great deal about God, myself, and ministry. Because it would a real shame if I walked away from my internship none the wiser for my experience. So even if I really didn't learn anything, I'm at least going to try to make something up right now so that I have something to write.
Maybe the most important thing I learned this summer is the importance of supportive relationships. Ministry is difficult and can be draining. And when you work so much with youth, it can be hard to build good relationships with other people your age that you can just hang out and have fun with. People that you can talk to when things are tough. I'm so used to always being around so many other college students while I'm at Ozark that it definitely felt like something important was missing when I had so much time to myself this summer. All the people I met and worked with in Manhattan were awesome, but I very much missed all my friends, which is in large part why I ended up at Panera every night with a glass of Pepsi and a laptop with facebook open. So what I learned is that it is so important to build relationships with people outside of the ministry, just to help you keep your sanity. I've been thinking a lot lately about community, so I don't want to write out everything now because there's a bunch that I want to save for a later post.
For me, that supportive base is especially necessary when it comes to middle school ministry. I love middle schoolers; I really do. But it's hard for me, and I still have a lot to learn about it. I guess different people are naturally wired for different kinds of ministry. And I don't know if I'm built for middle school ministry. Many middle schoolers like fun, crazy, energetic, entertaining guys. I'm none of those things. I like to sit around and talk and play cards. But that doesn't mean I just back out of working with middle schoolers. It means I work harder at it. A lot of times we abandon our weak spots as a lost cause, forgetting that God works in our weaknesses. And by the end of the summer, I felt like things with the middle schoolers were much better, but there's still room to grow.
One final thing I learned this summer is something that I've already known and written about, but that God constantly reminds me of, and that is that ministry success ultimately depends on God. If we think we can do it ourselves, we'll fail and look like idiots and possibly cause more harm than good. Our job is rather to bring what little we might have and let God use us to accomplish his mission. We join God in what he's doing; we don't stomp into the wilderness as a renegade bent on saving the world by our own might. We allow God to be the force behind our ministry, to use us as his tools for his purpose.
So that's my summer. I'm sure (or at least I hope) that I learned a lot more on my internship, but I guess I've already written about most of it, or perhaps I'm just forgetting it all. I'm becoming increasingly stoked about getting back to Ozark, and the more I think about it, the more excited I become. If you happen to see me at the annual ice cream social, or maybe just strolling around campus, just wave, and if you're lucky I'll wave back and show you my sweet California tan.