Thank You

This blog really has a dual purpose. First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved with The Hills Church of Christ 24:7 Student Ministry, to any degree, for changing and shaping my life. The second purpose is to brag on what an amazing student ministry 24:7 has been, and will continue to be in the future. But first, a disclaimer..

*In no way, shape, or form does my declaration of immense gratitude to all 24:7 related parties signify  the end of my contact with said parties, or the participation in said ministry. I plan on staying active in the lives of those at The Hills, and will be as involved as humanly possible while living three hours away. You can’t get rid of me that easily.*

Now before the tears start flowing, thank you…

The Hills Elders and Senior Staff: Thank you for being possibly the most loving and caring church leaders on the planet. While The Hills is the only church I’ve attended regularly for the last 13 years, I’m well aware that many church leaders do not look upon the youth of their congregation with the same fondness and respect I have seen from you. I love that you have thrown out the old saying that “children are the church of tomorrow” and have actively sought to make us a part of the church today. I can’t imagine other churches having most of the senior staff speak for the youth group on an annual basis like Rick Atchley, Cary Branscum, Mike Washburn, Charley Taylor, and many others have now done the past few years. Even more incredible is the way you have attempted to integrate teens into the church wide ministry boards whether it be Men’s ministry, Women’s ministry, or Missions. Saying that we are the church of today is one thing, but asking us to take responsibility for what is going on in the church is another level of confidence that means the world to me and many others who want to feel like an important part of the church. Thank you to the elders who constantly prayed over us before retreats, camps, mission trips. The words of blessing sometimes spoken at 7am or earlier on a Saturday morning mean more than I can fully appreciate. Thank you for the way you treat the youth staff. From watching and hearing stories of how my dad was treated by elders and senior staff as a youth minister, I should have no desire to become one. But because of the love and respect I have seen you give Dave, Jason, Darin, Melanie, and Nicole, I have hope for my future church to want show Christ to all they meet, regardless of age.

The 24:7 Youth Staff: Thank you for literally changing the course of my life. I have no idea where I would be going and what I would be doing with my life if it wasn’t for your love and example. It was 8th grade when I first decided I wanted to become a youth minister. At that point it was just cause I loved worship and liked the idea of going to camps and retreats and getting paid for it. But over the last four years, especially this past year, you have taught me what being a youth minister really means. It is so much more than anyone on the outside could ever imagine. You have let me in on the heart of 24:7. You’ve shown me hearts aren’t always pretty; tensions flare, stresses rise, patiences are tested, and heartaches happen. But the joy I’ve seen radiate through you in spite of all you have seen is what is truly inspiring. Thank you Darin and Melanie for getting me hooked on 24:7. Until E-camp my 6th grade year I wanted nothing to do with 24:7 and the OKC and Little Rock mission trips made me realize the joys of serving others. Thank you Jeff and Jason Allen for being a light in my life from another campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with each of you on trips. Southlake and WFW are in excellent hands with the two of you at the helm. God is doing amazing things through you. Thank you Nicole for the impact you made on so many teens lives while you were here. I learned a lot from hearing stories of you counseling students and watching you work in the lives of many of my friends on incredibly intimate levels. Nashville is ridiculously blessed to have you changing lives there. You and Melanie have been shining examples that women are needed in youth ministry. Thank you John for all the things that you have done with the band and your creative inputs throughout the ministry. Also thanks for helping me realize I could sing. Leading worship with you is one of my absolute favorite experiences in 24:7. Thank you to Jason and Dave for putting so much into my life to help me grow foremost as a man of God, but also as a future youth minister. The experiences you have given me I wouldn’t trade for anything. Whether it was letting me on staff at e-camp, taking me on speaking engagements, letting me teach lessons, or just talking with me about life, you have shaped the way I look at life and at ministry specifically. If I could be half the men you are, I would be perfectly content with my character and my ability to minister. Thank you to all the staff on each campus for being an example of Christ to so many teens over the years and for years to come.

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The Adult Volunteers: Thank you for being what likely separates 24:7 the most from other student ministries. I have never seen such a large group of adults care so deeply about kids that were not their own. However, many of you have treated me like one of your own and because of that I am truly blessed. D-groups have shown me what it means for the body of Christ to raise children. The love that I have felt from The Wards, Halls, Peschells, Jones, and all the other parents of my class involved has kept me on the path for years now. I love knowing that just because I’m farther away the relationships don’t end and you will continue to make sure I’m on the path. Thank you to the Herrera’s. Brian and Angela, you have been actual family to me and I often forget we aren’t actually related. It feels like I have known you forever but its really been less than three years. But in that time you have opened up your home and opened up your lives for me and so many others. Your transparency is inspiring and your willingness to give advice and encouragement is wonderful. I don’t know what I would do without your family. Thank you to all the volunteers who have simply talked with me and encouraged me throughout my 24:7 experience. Without you 24:7 would not be the safe place it has been for countless teens who desperately needed caring and Godly adults in their lives.

The Students: Thank you. I am honestly at a loss on how to display the affection I have for all of you. I have been blessed by so many who have come and graduated before me but blessed my life and gave their friendship to me. I have so many dear friends in classes behind me who consider me a role model but I learn more from them than they possibly could from me. Awesome things are going to happen through 24:7 because of those of you who will be leading in the years to come. Thank you most of all to my fellow graduates. We did it. We made it through the hell that was middle school and thrived in the joys and pains of high school because of the bond we have with each other through Christ. I have no doubt that I have been a part of the greatest class to have ever gone through 24:7. The things that you all will do with your lives for the Kingdom are limitless. I don’t know what to say other than each one of you has my undying love and regardless of us going separate ways, we are still the body of Christ. In times of joy, we will be there. In times of pain, we will be there. In times of normality, we will be there. In times of uncertainty, we will be there. When time is no more and Heaven has come to earth, we will be there. 

 

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“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” -Jeremiah 24:7 

 

 

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Camp Barnabas: The Tale of Two Jareds

Now that I have had ample time to process, I would like to share the life-altering experiences I had at Camp Barnabas.

Backstory: Camp Barnabas is a christian camp designed for special needs campers aging anywhere from 8-40 years old. Needs vary from the physically handicapped to those with genetic disorders but all campers have something that would make it difficult for them to function at a typical christian summer camp. The newest camp that we worked at had only those with autism, downs syndrome, or other disorders that were a handicap but did not limit them to a wheelchair (the camp was on a lake and almost entirely rocky terrain so wheelchairs would have been extraordinarily difficult). Each volunteer aged 16-29 was paired up with one camper who would be their responsibility for the week. We could help each other and there were full time staffers who worked in each cabin as well as a cabin parent (adult volunteers) who was there for support as well. However, while we weren’t alone, we each felt extremely isolated and burdened with the seemingly impossible task of caring for, entertaining, and, most importantly, sharing/showing Jesus to our specific camper.

The Anxiety Before the Storm: We arrived at Barnabas with very little training (not at the fault of anyone, just simply unaware of all that faced us) and we received a very minimal amount of training when we arrived: how to deal with biters, hair pullers, how to change diapers and clothes, how to brush teeth, and how to deal with a crisis. Now I look back and question how instructions could have been generalized enough to apply to every kind of crisis we faced. The answer is they can’t be but I don’t blame them for trying to give us a basic blueprint. Throughout all of this time and training at the camp prior to the campers coming I was about as panicked as I have ever been. The idea that I was going to be responsible for any other human’s well being for a week, let alone one with a disorder that would make it even more challenging, scared me to death. Add in my perfectionist tendencies and you have the royal mess in my head and my heart when campers started to arrive..

THE CAMPERS ARE COMING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (go crazy)

Jarrod: The night before campers arrived our cabin volunteers picked our individual campers based on some very basic (and we found out later, inaccurate) camper applications filled out by the parent/guardian. The first sheet I picked up was one for a kid named Jarrod (spelled incorrectly but no one’s perfect). I don’t know if it was just the name at that point or the Holy Spirit already working on me, but I felt like he was the camper I absolutely had to be paired with. Everyone else agreed that  “The Jared’s” would be an excellent pairing for the week, and so my journey began.

Jarrod is 10 years old, but his mental and social ages are similar to a 2 or 3 year old. He was born with xyy chromosomal disorder, autism, and cerebral palsy. Jarrod is non-verbal, meaning that he doesn’t know how to communicate with words, sign language, or frankly any means of basic communication (pointing,grunting,etc.). He is also entirely ADL (Activities of Daily Living) dependent meaning I was in charge of feeding, bathing, changing, and essentially anything else needed for him to survive. All of these were quite necessary: he was a choking hazard so all food was cut into small bites, he was only mildly potty-trained so he wore pull-ups that had to be changed multiple times every day, and he couldn’t communicate anything he needed so I had to be acutely aware at all times of how he was doing. The biggest blessing/curse about Jarrod was that he was so autistic that he lived almost entirely in his own world which consisted of him, a couple of small toys he never let leave his hands, rocks, sticks, and anything else interesting he found on the ground. All day, every day he sat down somewhere and would simply play with the things he had or things he found and would take with him to the next place. It was a blessing that he entertained himself so easily for literally hours on end and that he wasn’t a runner, but preferred sitting in one spot. It was a curse that he rarely made eye contact and had barely any interaction with me during the week unless I sort of forced (nicely, not as maliciously as that sounds) my way into his little world. It was also incredibly difficult for me personally to interact with Jarrod because he is the exact opposite of me. I want to engage in every activity; He doesn’t engage in any activity. I want to be in the center of groups of people; He wants to be on the outskirts of any group of people. I want to interact with everyone; He wants to interact with no oneIt a conflict of polar opposites that took many shapes throughout our week together.

Fun Stories: Because Jarrod didn’t do much I don’t have lots of exciting stories but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the simple time together, so here are a couple of the more interesting stories.

I don’t know why our culture enjoys bathroom humor so much but even autistic kids get in on the jokes. When we would go swimming, pull-ups have to come off or they would just fill with water and sink like an anchor so Jarrod was only in his swimsuit before, during, and after swim time. On three separate occasions, Jarrod decided this was his opportunity to prove his manhood and pee wherever he stood or sat. It didn’t matter if we were standing on our second floor porch where his urine would rain down upon the unsuspecting porch on the first floor where it would narrowly miss creating a yellow puddle inside of a volunteer’s hammock. It didn’t matter if we were sitting amongst a crowd of people on benches by the pool and I had just dried him off. I turned back to him and saw a waterfall dripping off of his swimsuit and down his leg but it took me a mine to realize, no I had not just dried him poorly; he had to go, so he did. Awkwardly enough one of the biggest smiles and giggle attacks he had all week was after peeing by the pool. I guess he just loved bathroom humor, but couldn’t tell the jokes so he had to just create some!

Jarrod loves water. While he can’t swim at all and its really a miracle he never drowned since he hasn’t really figured out not to swallow all water that enters his mouth from the pool, he wanted to be nowhere more than around water. The legitimate biggest smile I ever saw from him was when we took him out for a boat ride on the lake. Something about water all around and wind blowing in his face combined for an enjoyable experience he may have never been able to enjoy before.

Not So Pleasant Stories: The part of Jarrod that frustrated me more than anything was the lack of an ability to communicate with him and vice versa. One of the main ways he communicates at all is by scratching and pinching. For the first day and a half he made me so mad by pinching and scratching me. He would get my attention by scratching and do nothing or would have my attention and pinch me randomly. It wasn’t until I had a heart change that I realized that this was the only way he could communicate mildly effectively with me whether it was pain, frustration, hunger, or just wanting my attention. After that became clear to me whatever pain he caused me didn’t bother me because I knew it wasn’t out of some irrational hatred of me, but out of desperation to be understood. What did bother me was the way he would communicate frustration, pain, or other troubles by self-mutilating. He would get upset and begin to pinch his arms and legs and even his temples till they were raw and red. What hurt me the most was when he was at his breaking point he would slap himself in the face. Not weakly, but actual slaps. When he became upset the red mark created by his hands on his face would be flushed out and every time hurt me because I didn’t know how to help him.

There was one night that Jarrod had developed a slight cough so we gave him some medicine to suppress it. During the talent show that was our event for the evening he let out a pretty big cough and immediately started crying. I was really surprised because these were the first tears I had seen out of him during the week and it seemed so sudden. He began sobbing and he started to pinch and scratch at my arms and hands. He also instead of slapping himself chose to beat his fists into the concrete floor as hard a he could. At this point I had learned that I couldn’t stop anything like this but that my one job was to protect him. So I sat with him for a solid 15 minutes, maybe longer, letting him pinch me and punch my hand instead of the concrete below. The thing that will always bother me is not the violence; I would gladly take the pain as opposed to him taking it. What will always bother me is that I will never know what happened. He couldn’t communicate what was going on, what started the melt down, or what I could do to help. I felt so helpless and like a failure because I couldn’t fix what was wrong.

Things I Learned: Selflessness- In a way that I don’t think can ever be duplicated, I was taught what it is like to be completely selfless for another person. Barnabas teaches selflessness like going and living in another country teaches you a language: full emersion. There is no better way to learn French than to go live in France and try and learn the language by experiencing it 24:7 and being forced to use it. In the same way I believe there is no better way for someone to learn how to be truly selfless than to spend a week caring for someone who is completely dependent on you. It takes a very special person to be able to handle caring for special needs people on a regular basis but I fully support the idea that everyone should experience it for a brief period during their life.

I can’t fix everything- Being a perfectionist and someone who just prefers to be in control, working with someone who can’t communicate issues to you was very difficult. I want so badly to be able to fix his problems. I want him to be able to live on his own. I want for him to be able to even say simply yes or no to me so I can help him, but he can’t. I had to learn that I can’t fix him. I had to love him for who he was created to be and do what I could for him, nothing more. This lesson may be the hardest one I had to learn but it could make the biggest difference in my life.

Everyone Needs Jesus- All people need Jesus. We are all broken in one way or another so we need a savior. The overall goal for the week was to show our camper what God’s love for them looks like and if we didn’t accomplish that, we failed, no matter how much fun they had. Even Jarrod needed to hear about Jesus. We had a designated time to talk to our camper about the Gospel and even Jarrod and I needed to participate. I don’t know what he understood but I went straight through the story of Jesus and how he died so that we could live in Heaven with God. I don’t know how sin works for people like Jarrod, but I know regardless of how he fits into the Kingdom, he does. He is loved by God just as much as I am and therefore needs to be told how much he is loved just as much as I do.

I had one moment that really defined my week with Jarrod. During our talk as the NRH Hills campus during our short break one day we were talking about why faces were so impactful on us. I mentioned that in my case that week that faces were all I had to communicate with Jarrod and faces were all I would remember since no words were spoken. Jason then told me the thought that had been running through my head since gospel time- One day Jarrod and I will be in Heaven together and we will be able to talk to each other and do things together worshipping God. That is the thought that made the week worth the effort and heart ache. That one day, because of the impact I made on Jarrod, we will get to talk together in Heaven.

I’ve left out a lot of stories and moments that I just couldn’t all fit in this blog. Frankly I could write a book on my experiences if i had the time, skill, or will power. Feel free to just ask me about it. When I say everyone should experience, I mean it. I fully support The Hills continuing to work with Camp Barnabas in the future so that more people can have the experiences I had with their own Jarrod.

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