While I may not remember much about being a high schooler, and especially less about my days as a middle schooler, I do know for a fact that I would have been hard pressed to sacrifice my last few glorious days of summer break in order to serve the city I’d lived in all of my life. Yes, it seems selfish, but I just don’t think I can give myself the credit for being that selflessly involved in my own community way back then.
So, with those memories in mind, it was far more amazing to me when I began to see students showing up early in the morning, eyes not quite giving up on the hope of more sleep, ready to pull shrubs out of the ground despite the oppressiveness of a July Florida sun. I couldn’t have done it, but they did. A week-long service camp may not always parallel the ideal nature of “fun” that is supposed to be a significant part of a student’s summer, yet as the days went on and students and leaders walked alongside one another and worked through projects that often stretched their capacity, they began to see themselves growing deeper into community by serving together.
As a volunteer leader for Surge in the City and edgeSERVES this summer, I got a unique chance to see students come alive as they began to understand how God was using them where they were to make a tangible difference in their city. So many times students in middle and high school hear over and over again that they should leave the work to the adults; that they will one day make a difference when they “grow up”. Sure, maybe one day they will grow up and change the world, but the problem is that planting the “when you grow up” assumption in the minds of these young men and women leaves them wondering what they can do right now other than simply going to school, getting good grades, and staying out of trouble. Opportunities like Surge in the City and edgeSERVES provide that chance for students to see exactly how they can make a difference contrary to what the rest of the world says middle and high schoolers are capable of accomplishing. Despite being soaked in sweat, dealing with shoes full of mulch, and getting blisters on their hands, students can walk away, a cold, sweet gatorade in hand, turn around, and see through their own eyes just how capable God has made them.
This summer students made deep connections with how they best serve, and why they serve. As leaders we wanted students to work through the question of why we, as a body of believers, serve in various places. As a lack of sleep and a steady physical schedule right in the middle of summer break started to prove more challenging than anything, they began to realize that they couldn’t keep going without each other—and particularly without God. On the last day of Surge in the City, I asked a group of 6th graders the biggest thing they learned during the week and one raised his hand to say, “I learned that I can’t do this on my own. I need Jesus to do this.”
And so, after corralling students and keeping them motivated in spite of the disturbing redundancy of pulling weeds (which is exhausting in and of itself), I was able to look back on the week and know that students were making the connection that we serve and love because God first served and loved us.