Monday, January 19, 2015

BCM Winter Break 2015 Atlanta Mission Trip Wrap-up

Our team has returned safely to Blacksburg after traveling well over a thousand miles this week by car. The week as a whole was amazing, but I'll begin by recapping the last couple of days.

Adam doing magic.
On Thursday we began the day at First Baptist Church of Doraville. This is the first time in a while that one of our teams has been able to spend some time serving this church. We arrived and met Pastor Bill and the church maintenance man, Allen, who showed us what needed to be painted. Some of us painted door frames and trim that had to be done carefully, while others (including myself) painted flat white walls. Adam and I worked together on one of the walls outside the baptistry, with me using a roller to paint the large areas of wall and Adam doing the detail work around the edges and in the window.

For lunch, Pastor Bill bought our team pizza and chicken wings. As you can see from the tweet below, Haley got her Hawaiian pizza. "Haley getting what she wants" seemed to be a repeated occurrence this week, and is probably why she earned the nickname "Princess Haley."
After lunch, a few of us worked on a new mural for the children's area. Adam and Rob spent a few minutes working out the idea on a whiteboard, and Haley helped pick out the font for the scripture, which Adam then freehanded onto the wall. The colored bars in the background were painted using leftover colors from the painting we had done earlier, as well as a few new colors made by mixing paints together.

"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8b
Working the line at Atlanta Mission.
After that, we left straight from FBC Doraville to go to Atlanta Mission, where we would be helping in the kitchen that evening. Despite leaving Haley and Adam to finish the mural at the church, we remaining five arrived a little late, due to rush hour traffic in downtown Atlanta. As we were pounding down the stairway on the way to the kitchen, we passed a man who exclaimed, "Look at this! We got us a rowing team here!" I guess it was the combination of the few of us who were wearing Virginia Tech gear, the fact that there were only five of us, and that we are all relatively tall, fit-looking ("looking" being the key word) guys, but, unfortunately, this poor man was sadly mistaken. Dakota said, "Nope, I'm about as far from a rower as you can get!"

"Princess Haley's" kitchen selfie.
Once we made it to the kitchen, we were assigned various jobs. Some of us worked the food line, some of us scraped dirty plates, some of us washed pots, some of us handled clean dishes, and others filled in wherever necessary. The mission fed several hundred people that evening, and the kitchen ran very smoothly. The guys in charge had obviously done this many times before, and had a well-tested system in place.

Driving in downtown Atlanta.
After we were finished working at Atlanta Mission, we went to pick up Patrick Starrin (another former BCM student) who had flown into Atlanta early for the Passion conference. He joined us for dinner, and hung out with us for our evening devotion and some fun times afterwards.
After our devotion and reflection time on Friday evening, we roller skated in the gym at Crossroads Church for the first time. For the record, no games of roller skate basketball were played during this time. Someone suggested playing Body Body on the roller skates, in the gym, in the dark, but this idea was quickly vetoed as well. Instead, we went upstairs and played in the same area where we had played the previous night, but made an extra effort to ensure it was completely dark. This time, not only was the potted tree used as part of the game, but Dakota was running up and down the hall swinging Haley's air mattress, trying to figure out where everyone was.
Skating in the gym. Basketballs for scale.
The next morning we woke up, packed up all of our stuff, and cooked a large breakfast that had originally been intended to be one of our evening meals. Before we left, though, we had one more important task to accomplish. We put Judging Jesus in a new frame, signed the back of the painting, and hung him back on the wall where he belongs. In the process, it came to our attention that the previous team taking the painting back with them might not have been quite as discreet as they thought.

After that task was complete, we drove to Atlanta and dropped Haley and Rob off for Passion, and then the rest of us headed home. We made a stop along the way for Bojangles, because it came to Dakota and I's attention that Bradley, Brandon, and Adam had never been.

This was an incredibly busy week, during which we met a wide variety of people. I have only been able to cover a few of our experiences here, but one of the guys we met in downtown Atlanta was named Adrian. I'll let Brandon's photo and the caption speak for itself.
A theme of this week for me was "coincidences that aren't coincidences." There were many of these occurrences throughout the week, starting with Louie Giglio's sermon on hope, meeting Dr. Susan Hillis and her husband Brian at Steak 'n Shake and hearing her story, having Susan's son Vasya join our team and fill the eighth spot, Brandon and I being able to help with the computers at StandUp for Kids, and the list goes on. It is amazing to me to see God working in even the smallest situations of our lives. There were also times throughout the week where it was more difficult to see God's purpose in the things we were doing, but having glimpsed the way He was working through these other circumstances gave me hope that He has a plan, even when I don't understand it. Hebrews 11:1-3

Another thing that stuck out to me was seeing the many different types and modes of the ministries working to reach the people of Atlanta. We had the opportunity to serve with four very different ministries this week, and it was cool to see how they're each reaching people in their own way. It reinforced to me the idea that the church is one, even across different styles of ministry and outreach, and that the only thing that really matters is that the Gospel of Christ is advanced. Philippians 1:18

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Whirlwind Missions, Day Two

Today was our second and final day working with Whirlwind Missions. We continued our "cultural safari" by visiting a large indoor Hispanic market and food court, an Indian grocery store, a middle eastern bookstore, and the "Global Mall."

Our team, plus Ashley (behind Rob - Whirlwind staff member)
The above selfie was taken by our friend, Vasya, who has joined our team for the several days that we are working in Atlanta. He is the son of the woman who we met with at Steak 'n Shake during our first night in Atlanta.  It has been really cool to have him along, get to know him, and see him jump in and serve alongside people he had never met before with a great attitude. Definitely a testimony to the unity of the body of Christ!

Preparing the salvation bracelets
Since today was our last day at the apartment complex we had been working at, we chose to make bracelets with the kids that we could use to share the gospel. The bracelet we created has six colored beads on it: black, representing our sin; red, representing Jesus' blood; white, symbolizing that we have been washed "white as snow"; blue, symbolizing baptism; green, signifying continued growth in Christ; and gold, our eternal reward in heaven. It's oftentimes hard to get a room full of elementary age children to sit down and be quiet so that you can deliver a message, but Brandon did a great job of keeping things simple and easy to understand.

After we finished with Whirlwind Missions, we returned to the church that we are staying at to relax a little bit for the first time on this trip. We made spaghetti and bread for dinner, although Haley complained quite bit about the "tomato sauce" that Brandon, Adam, and I had bought during our first shopping trip on Sunday night. In our defense, would you not agree that this jar does contain "tomato sauce"?

Cooking dinner
After dinner and our devotion was done, we decided to play a game called "Body Body" I had never played before, but it was absolutely hilarious. Imagine seven college students running around in an area that's pitch black, trying to avoid being "killed" by one of the other six people. In order to assassinate someone, you simply squeeze their shoulder. At that point, the "body" lays on the ground, waiting to be discovered by the other players. We played in a couple of complete dark rooms and a hallway on the top floor of the church. The crazy thing about it is that once you take away sight, you can be inches away from someone and them never notice you. The reverse is true as well, however, and that can be particularly unfortunate if the person you're standing next to is the "murderer." We also had a fake potted tree that kept getting moved around the game area in the dark. Occasionally someone would run into the tree in an unexpected place, and you would hear them yell in surprise. It was a lot of fun.

Tomorrow, we plan on spending the day at First Baptist Church Doraville, helping with whatever is needed. Then, we will head back to downtown Atlanta to serve at Atlanta Mission. Please pray for us unity and energy on this last day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Whirlwind Missions, Day One

Today was our first day with Whirlwind Missions, an organization which reaches out to international communities in the metro Atlanta area, "bringing church to the people." We began the day with an orientation session at First Baptist Church of Doraville, and then left on a "safari" to several international markets, in order to expose ourselves to some of the cultures and people groups that we would be working with later in the day.

We first went to a large supermarket where we saw many strange foods, and even sampled a few things that Tim (our leader from Whirlwind) suggested. We didn't try any of the octopus, cactus, or ghost peppers that were for sale, but we did taste a few less adventurous things.

In the international market

Tim, the doctor
After that, we went to a mall that had shops which cater mostly to people of Asian cultures. One of the stores we visited was a traditional Chinese medicine shop. We all watched in amusement as Tim walked behind the counter to pick out a cobra in the bottle to show us, and attempted to assist the shop attendant in putting together a prescription.

In the afternoon, we worked in an apartment complex that houses mostly Hispanic and Bengali families. We began our time with the kids by helping them with their homework, focusing very heavily on math - covering addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with the younger kids.

Homework and hangout time
After the homework had been completed, we told the kids the story of Jonah. We talked about how Jonah had run away from God and the people of Nineveh had rebelled against Him, but God gave them both a second chance, just like he offers grace to you and I. Rob and I put together the lesson fairly quickly after we arrived on site, and we improvised for quite a bit of it. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I think the kids enjoyed acting out a few of the details of Jonah's story, and I was glad I was able to help facilitate that. Hopefully they learned something as well.

Craft time. Jonah's "big fish"
Next, we did a craft with the kids. They created a fish out of paper plates (Dakota's idea), and then decorated them. Adam hung them up on the wall after they were done so that the paint could dry and the kids could take them home tomorrow.

Adam hanging fish
To round off our day, we ate dinner in the home of Mrs. Kelly, the director of the kids center in downtown Atlanta that we had worked with on Monday. Kelly and the rest of the Fields family were incredibly gracious in opening up their home, providing a meal for us, and just allowing us to relax a little bit.

Mrs. Kelly's selfie in the center where we served

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BCM Winter Break 2015 Atlanta Mission Trip

A bit unexpectedly, I decided to join Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Virginia Tech on their 2015 Winter Break mission trip to Atlanta, Georgia. This trip will be the the 12th or 13th time BCM@VT has taken a mission trip to Atlanta, and, as a result, we have very strong connections to various ministries in this area. In addition to myself, there are five other guys and one girl on this trip: Rob, Haley, Dakota, Bradley, Adam, and Brandon.

We have just completed day two of our trip, and below is a recap of just a few of the things that have happened on the trip so far.

We fueled up and left Blacksburg around 9:00 AM on Sunday morning, and had a relatively uneventful trip to Atlanta which involved quite a bit of "cow calling."

We arrived in Atlanta just in time for Passion City Church's 5:15 PM service. Despite Brandon's kind invitation, Louie Giglio chose not to join us at Steak 'n Shake after the service.

Passion City Church
At Steak 'n Shake, we had dinner with a woman named Susan, her husband, and their son. She had met previous BCM@VT Atlanta mission teams at Steak 'n Shake, and it has become a bit of a tradition for both our teams and her to meet after the Passion City service. She shared some incredibly encouraging words about what God has been and is doing in her life and in their family with us.

Along with all of the other luggage we brought to Atlanta, we were carrying this painting, which has been lovingly dubbed "Judging Jesus" by previous Atlanta teams ("JJ" for short). We were tasked with returning him safely after he was *ahem* removed from the church we are staying at at the end of the Thanksgiving break mission trip.

Once everyone had moved their stuff into Crossroads church, where we are staying, Brandon, Adam, and I went shopping for the week's supply of groceries. We had a few adventures, as the Walmart we went to was a bit different than anything we were used to. We parked in a parking garage below the actual store, and then had a bit of trouble finding a buggy. We were also quite entertained by the escalator built especially for shopping carts.

Monday morning, we started our first day of ministry. We began with a "worship circle" in Atlanta's Centennial Park. We had some interest from passersby, including one man who sat  on a nearby bench and listened for a while.

Worship circle in Centennial Park.
After we were finished with the worship circle, we had lunch in the CNN center. In the middle of lunch, an older gentleman approached us, asking us if we were all Virginia Tech students. He then proceeded to relay the following information, which Brandon has captured for posterity.

After lunch, we started work at a center that assists kids who are living on the streets of Atlanta. For most of the afternoon, we did our best to meet a few of the practical needs of the center. The large majority of our team began to sort the clothing donations that you see to the left which had piled up in a closet while Brandon and I worked on the computers that the kids who come to the center have access to. It had been a while since these machines had received some tender loving care, and I was grateful to be able to use a few of the skills that God has given me to help meet a practical need.

Taking a break from sorting clothes before the kids arrived, we decided to take a ride on the brand new Atlanta Streetcar system, because the fare is free the first 90 days. Near the end of our ride, we met the public relations liaison for the streetcar system, who Instagramed a photo of our group riding the streetcar. He was even kind enough to tag @BCMVT!

If there's one thing the Lord has already been teaching me, it's His sovereignty and control over every situation in our lives. We have heard so many testimonies of things that some people would try to write off as coincidence and experienced some of these ourselves already on this trip. I can't wait to see what else the Lord has in store for us in the coming three days.

Check back for updates, and follow our tweets with the hashtag #PTLinATL.