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The 2019 Salem Christian Church BIGGER Trip Recap

(By Tim Hill Pastor)


At 2pm on Saturday, March 23, 18 of us left the Salem Christian Church building to head out on The 2019 BIGGER Trip. Last year we traveled about 8 hours to Ohio/Kentucky, and this year we were going 13 hours to Houston, TX.


I chose Houston, TX for two main reasons. First, Titus Benton, who grew up in this congregation, lives there and I thought he would be a great resource to help us get organized down there, and he was. Secondly, a very generous man and wife, who dearly love the youth of this congregation, live down there and I hoped to make contact with them on the trip.


On Saturday night we stopped in Joplin, only 3 hours down the road, to enjoy some time together and to prepare for the long leg of our journey on Sunday.




We ate breakfast then made it to the 8am service at Christ’s Church of Oronogo. Following church, we reloaded our U-Haul trailer and blasted off towards Houston.  At around 11:45 that night we entered St. John’s United Methodist Church in Richmond, TX, which is an older congregation who has made hospitality their specialty. We slept on cots and air mattresses in their building all 5 nights we were in TX and they fed us several meals.



On Monday morning around 8:30am, Titus Benton arrived and led us just a couple miles down the road to the headquarters of an organization called Attack Poverty. At Attack Poverty we listened to an overview of their ministry and received really cool green tee shirts.  At this time we found out that our project for the week would be cleaning up a neglected cemetery just outside of town. To be honest, clearing the fence row around a cemetery was not what I had hoped we would be doing.


We arrived at our work site around 10am, and for 2 hours we used rakes, shovels, and carpentry saws to clear brush and cut down 4-6 inch thick trees. It was a discouraging start.


At noon I took the group back to St. John’s church for lunch and then headed to Home Depot. I bought a chainsaw, lopping shears, landscaping saws, tarps for dragging the brush across the road, hatchets and machetes. What could possibly go wrong?


When we returned to the cemetery after lunch, we began to do some serious damage and it started to be a little bit fun.


By 4pm, when we called it quits, it wasn’t quite as fun, but something cool had begun to happen. 14 kids and 4 adults from Salem, MO were becoming a team through shared accomplishment and a little shared suffering.


After showers and some recovery time, the kind folks at St. John’s fed us supper and then we rode over to Sugar Land, TX to walk around downtown and eat some frozen yogurt.


There was morning and evening on our first full day in Texas, and it all went pretty well.



On Tuesday morning we loaded up in the van, and Titus took us on a tour of the area. We saw where Hurricane Harvey had left many people homeless. We visited a Hindu Temple and stopped at a place where Christians use the Bible to teach immigrants how to speak and write English. We also traveled through the International District, ate lunch at a Vietnamese buffet, and drove by Roger Clements’ (old baseball player) mansion.


After our tour, we headed to Crosspoint Church in Katy, TX where the kids got to serve meals and interact withseveral homeless folks.


Before we left Katy, we stopped at Bucc-ees, which is a tourist trap gas/convenience store that makes a SuperWalmart look a yard sale. The kids bought shirts, hats, toys, and various other small pieces of plastic and they seemed delighted.



On Wednesday we labored from 8am till noon at the cemetery. The weather was beautiful and everyone worked hard.  After 3 days of constant motion, we decided to rest Wednesday afternoon, and no one complained.


After our Wednesday night supper at St. John’s, our kids joined in with the St. John’s youth group for a time of games and studying the Bible. After the Bible Study we headed to a local park where our kids played sand volleyball then we took time to sit together in a park shelter and debrief a little about our trip.



At 8am on Thursday morning, it was back to the grindstone (or headstone in our case), and everyone made a big push to get as much done as we possibly could. I ended up being very pleased with our work experience. It wasn’t what I had pictured, but I was very pleased with how the kids worked together.


After having lunch and getting cleaned up, we headed out for Galveston to see the ocean. We stopped at SeaWolf Park where we toured a submarine and a battleship, fed the seagulls, and it’s where Greg netted a nice fish for a local man who was fishing from the pier.


Later, when we arrived at Steward Beach on Galveston Island, we were the only ones there, and it was like letting a group of calves out of their stalls for the first time. The kids ran and laughed and played in the water for an hour.


Some of our Bigger Trip kids had never stayed in a hotel, most of them had never been to Texas, and many of them had never seen the ocean. I loved that we got to be a part of those experiences with them.


For supper that night, we ate at Whatabuger, a local favorite, and then we rode the ferry across and back and then headed to St. John’s for our last night in Texas.



Friday morning we ate, loaded, and left. We stopped for an early lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant with our friends with whom we had hoped to connect in The Woodlands, TX, and then we traveled all day to reach Arkadelphia, AR. 



On Saturday we gulped down our hotel breakfast and drove 6 hours in the rain and arrived to a very cold but loving reception here at home.



Overall, everything was very, very good. No one got injured, no one got sick, and the typical drama that you get when you spend 7 days traveling, eating, sleeping, and working with 17 other humans was really minor. There were lots of scratches and bruises and some of us got to experience poison ivy for the very first time.


My goal for The Bigger Trip was based on the Parable of the Talents found in Matt. 25, a story Jesus told where, before a rich man goes on a trip, he entrusts different amounts of wealth to 3 of his servants. To one servant he gives 5 measures of wealth, to another he gives 3 measures of wealth and to another he gives only 1 measure of wealth. I wanted our kids to learn that no matter what you have, you can use it to honor God and help other people.That part of the trip didn’t turn out like I had pictured it.


After we got home, I mostly slept and scratched for a while. It took a couple of days and a series of events, but I slowly began to understand what had really happened on The Bigger Trip.


We didn’t go down to Texas to fix Texas. We were not a group of eye surgeons who could accomplish what no one else could do. (I wondered if the local youth group kids we were with thought it was odd that we came 13 hours to clean up a cemetery 13 blocks from their church building.)


We went to Texas for the benefit of our own kids, to give them experiences and maybe help them learn a lesson. I thought it would be a lesson about how they could use their abilities and experiences to honor God and to help others, but that isn’t what I think really happened.


I felt like I spent so much time planning and pushing during the Trip that we didn’t get to do what I considered the “thoughtful” part of the Trip. In order to do as much as we did, we just couldn’t sit around and talk about it a whole lot.


A few days after we got back, I started getting very discouraged about the Bigger Trip and about what we’re accomplishing with the Wed. PM kids in general.


To be honest, most of these kids are not very spiritually minded.Largely, they are not searching to find out if Jesus has the answers to life’s most difficult questions. I think most of the kids went on The Bigger Trip, and most of the kids come to Wed. PM, primarily to spend time with their friends. When I realized their interest was social and not spiritual, I began to have a sinking feeling that what we are doing probably isn’t going to make any lasting difference. This discouragement (and Benadryl) really wiped me out for a couple of days.


I dearly love these kids and I honestly thought we were failing them somehow.


On Wednesday, while I was still pretty down, and then on Thursday and Friday, I started to write page after page of thoughts, notes, and quotes about the trip and about the kids.


I wondered why the kids wanted to spend time with their friends so badly. What did they value about being together? What is it about being together that they want so much, that they were willing to ride in a church van for 13 hours one way and work so hard, just so they could be together?


My thought picture began to change from The Parable of the Talents in Matt.25 to The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders in Matt.7.


In the story of the Wise and Foolish Builders, Jesus taught that unshakable lives are built on His Truth and that shaky lives build upon the shifting sands of human ideas end up crashing.


Some of our Wednesday night kids are coming from situations where the life-foundations are pretty shaky, and all of us live in a world that has “a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on” all around us.I began to wonder what changes we needed to make so that we could more clearly teach the kids about Jesus’ way of living so that they could live a more stable, unshakable, God-pleasing LIFE.


Let me jump to my conclusion.

Our hope is to demonstrate the Kindness of Jesus in order to gain the opportunity to present the Goodness of Jesus.


I began to understand that by showing kindness to these kids, we are purchasing “Air Time” so they will listen to us present the Goodness of Jesus.  By learning their names and their stories, we are giving them proof that they are valued,and we gain the opportunity to show them Jesus.


I think what the kids are looking for is kindness. They need a safe place to belong and fit in without being criticized.They long for relationships with peers and adults where they don’t have to change to be loved.


The #1 weapon that kids use against kids is to point out faults and then kick them out of the group.

Also, what is the worst part of Hell? It’s not fire, it’s being alone and unloved for eternity. We are hardwired to need the kind of healthy, stable, loving relationships that are difficult to find in the world.


Satan and all the evil in the world are going to try to steal these kids away from us through temptations. He will primarily attack them by telling them they will end up being alone, without friends, and unloved if they don’t do what “everyone else” is doing. That tactic has been working for thousands of years, and the only way to overcome it is with a solid foundation of Kindness and Love!


Ask a 14-year-old kid if they are planning on becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict, or if they are planning to spend the first 20 years of adulthood tumbling through bad relationship after bad relationship only to produce another generation whose life-foundation will be built on shaky sand, and of course, they will say “no,” but experience tells us that for those without a solid foundation, the likelihood will be “yes.”


The presenting problem is what the Bible calls sin or immorality. If they build their lives on the foundation of what “everyone else” says is right or wrong, then many of these kids are headed toward addiction and a series of heartbreaking relationships. It’s not what anyone wants, and it’s not what Jesus died to give them.


These are great kids, but honestly, they do not share our concepts of right and wrong.They live in a world that does give anyone the authority to say whether something is right or wrong. They don’t share our values our morality. Why would they? They come from a culture that thinks the Church is negative, judgmental, and mean (which sometimes it has been). Many of them are coming from families that have been un-churched for at least 3 generations because they view the Church as narrow minded, arrogant, and even hateful.


Sadly, as Christian parents and as a Church, we have done a less-than-fantastic job of getting our own biological kids to buy into Jesus’ teaching about right and wrong. Perhaps it’s because we have been telling our kids to “behave” without telling them why.


In past times, the church at large presented a message that said, “Believe what I tell you, Behave like I tell you, and then I will let you Belong like I do.” If all we were saying was, “You need to stop doing that, or I’m not going to love you as much!” then who would blame them for rejecting us?


Thankfully, our Wed. PM program has created a sub-culture where our kids, many of whom have been marginalized by their peer groups at school and online, can belong and be valued without having to look or act a certain way to earn their place.


A safe place to fit in is what they desire when they get together with their friends, and more importantly, it’s what they need from the adults in their life. By showing them the kindness they crave, we are gaining the opportunity to show them Jesus, the One who loves them best and most. It is through a relationship with Jesus that they will ultimately find the love, security, and satisfaction for which they long.


Our goal now is to say, “You Belong here. Here is the One we Believe in and Behaving His way will give you a much better, unshakable LIFE.”


Look at the message of Jesus to the people around Him.


Consider the Disciples. “Come follow Me, and I will Make you Fishers of men.”

Consider Zacchaeus.  “I’m coming to your house today.”

Consider the Lepers.

Consider the Woman at the Well.

Consider the Woman Caught in Adultery.  “Then neither do I condemn you.”

Consider the Rich Young Ruler.  “Jesus looked at him and Loved him.”


I think the goal of The Bigger Trip and our Wed.PM is:

  “To demonstrate the Kindness of Jesus so that we can tell the Goodness of Jesus.”


If we are going to make a lasting, meaningful difference in anyone’s Life, we have to first meet their most basic need to be valued. We are digging the footings for a more unshakable, firm foundation for life when we welcome, accept, and love them even before they make the first positive change in their Life.


If these kids are going to avoid the pitfalls of High School and early adulthood, they are going to need good friends who share their commitment to following Jesus, a safe place, and good relationship with adults who genuinely, selflessly love and pray for them.


If one of them thinks they are alone and unloved, they will be targeted, and Satan’s job of crashing their LIFE becomes 100% easier.


On The Bigger Trip and at Wed.PM, our kids are building bonds with other kids who are also learning to follow Jesus and with adults who have already experienced the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ.  These bonds will help them remain steady, stable, and unshaken in a world full of hurt.


They can’t make it through alone. We don’t want them to.  Jesus put us here so they don’t have to.


Friends, we need these kids as much as they need us. Being with these kids is inspiring! Pouring out Love to these kids fills our hearts. Spending time with these kids makes our lives fuller, richer, and deeper. I truly believe what we are doing pleases Jesus and will make an eternal difference!


Everyone craves relationship and community. Let’s give it to them.  We’ll be better for it.


Jesus deserves to be honored by the best LIFE each one of us can LIVE, and He loves these kids. We are making a difference to those whom Jesus is putting within our reach, and it’s changing who we are and who they will become!


Friends, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Gal.6:9


Don’t forget to pray!


“I Love this Church!”

Tim Hill

April, 2019