Our youth mission trip to western Maryland launches bright and early this Sunday morning. I will be there to see them off. And I want to see their faces upon their return. I want to see them—before and after—because I believe in how utterly transforming these step-out-and-get-out-of-our-comfort-zone experiences are for the participants. As our likes do that, it frees up the Holy Spirit in incredible ways.
Frankly, it reminds me of a famous illustration from Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief. Carter describes how, when he speaks to civic groups, he addresses the topic “the most dangerous children in America.” For starters, Carter tells two stories. Brace yourself, this one hits close to home. It unconventionally prods us.
The first story is about the terrifying day that Carter’s daughter, 5 years old at the time, was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between rival gangs in Queens. Adding to the terror was that Carter and his girl were separated by the gunfire, and he could not reach her until the shooting had stopped. When Carter recounts this course of events the audience generally gasps aloud in horror and sympathy.
Then Carter relates another personal experience. He was commuting on the train between Stamford and New Haven. As the train made its various stops, many teens boarded, headed for their private schools spread out along the route. At one stop, some girls got on and Carter happened to overhear their conversation.
The girls hotly debated which community was more fashionable and exclusive, Westport or Fairfield. A Westport girl named a person of great wealth who lived in her town, only to be countered by a Fairfield girl, who named an even wealthier resident of her hometown. (Maybe you’ve heard something like this in our town.)
The argument raged back and forth until one of the Westport girls came up with an announcement she clearly saw as the trump card. She named a world-famous entertainer who, she claimed, actually resided not so far from her in Westport. Not true, said one of the Fairfield girls, getting up in arms. The entertainer did not live in Westport, but was only visiting a friend there. She knew this for a fact, she stated, because she had met the entertainer in her father’s store within town.
Hearing this, the Westport girl rose up and hooted disdainfully, “Your father has a store?” The Fairfield girl, realizing she had said too much, cringed in shame as the Westport girl drove the blade home. “What does he sell there? Hardware?”
After telling the stories Carter asks his audience which of the two groups of youth is more dangerous, the gangs in Queens. or the princesses of Fairfield County? Predictably, most of them choose the gangs. But then Carter points out that the gang members, admittedly violent, are contained by their neighborhood. Most of them will be either dead or in jail before reaching adulthood. But the girls on the train, however, will come to attend the best schools in the land, enter our finest universities, and will go on to important careers, where they make decisions that will impact many lives. In the long run, the words they speak and the attitudes they radiate may in fact be far more lethal than any bullets flying around Queens.
So if you consider these work trips merely amusing diversion, think again. Not only are lives being formed. (Both my daughters went on trips, domestically and abroad.) But we could even say, lives hang in the balance as values are shaped.