A group of young dudes from our Middle School Youth Group decided to spend their Martin Luther King Jr. weekend serving, learning, and exploring Washington D.C. with an organization called City Service Mission, who connected us with a local congregation called Faith United Church of Christ. We heard Civil Rights stories from real life members of the movement, aided in Faith UCC’s support and outreach to the unhoused of DC, went on a prayer tour of the city, worked on a garden, and got to enjoy some excellent local restaurants.

Here are some thoughts, takeaways, observations, and dispatches from MSYG’s trip to DC:

  • In the weeks leading up to our trip at Youth Group, we focused our lessons of the concept of the “ministry of reconciliation,” as we understand it from 2 Corinthians 5. Since we are reconciled to God through Jesus, how can we ourselves participate in reconciling with the isolated, marginalized, the “them.” I was thrilled and thankful that while in DC this very verse was referenced in multiple different settings, reinforcing it’s meaning. More on this later.
  • This was a phone-free immersive trip. How did the team handle it? It was freeing! They played chess, and Uno. They told jokes, built forts out of extra bunkbeds and mattresses. They had conversations debriefing what they’d seen. They did some good ‘ole fashioned rumbling. They can handle a technology detox – I would encourage we all try that from time to time!
  • Learning how to share our stories is powerful and is best learned by being in the presence of someone else’s sharing. We were extremely fortunate. We were able to witness Civil Rights Stories from three heroes of the movement; Deacon Brenda, Deacon Lula, and Deacon Sia shared their eye-opening experiences from the front lines of sit-ins, marches, protests, and arrests in Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina as young people (elementary through college, respectively). They brought visual aides, allowed space for questions, and even invited our team to do some sharing. It was a truly a sacred time that sparked a lot of conversation from our Middle Schoolers for the rest of the weekend. When’s the last time you’ve shared your life story with someone? Does your family know your Faith story? If it’s been a while, or you’re not sure, I would encourage you to find some space to share and listen with loved ones.
  • One of the purest, and most joyful moments occurred outside of Ben’s Chili Bowl, where our group of guys, and one of the chef’s participated in a Tik Tok inspired dance off through the service window. All parties were cracking up, it was hilarious!
  • Our kids were incredibly disturbed about hearing just how “at-risk” young people are in some of the wards of DC, and deeply moved by efforts to offer children support, safety, and laughter. If you have a student-age person in your house, you might consider engaging in efforts happening here in southern Westchester that support at-risk youth.
  • One of the greatest gifts from God that I received on the trip: A deer trapped within the fence of a Monastery. We had just finished pruning and caring for a garden that provides fresh produce to folks living in “food desert” neighborhoods (meaning, the neighborhood does not have reasonable access to fresh food). The boys remained with, let’s call it, a lot of energy. Our guide Tyler pulled me aside and shared this delightful nugget, “we’ve been trying to get a deer out of here for weeks, it’s eating all the young trees. Think the boys would like to try to chase the deer out?” Fastest “YES” I’ve ever muttered. 30 minutes of sprinting later, they almost did it!
  • Our guys all responded to the invitation to pray aloud in front of the group, they just needed some instruction in what to say.
  • The worship service we attended featured a bit more dancing, swaying, and raising of hands than most were used to, but they really enjoyed it. It was one of our participants’ first ever Church service. What a gift to get to be with him for that.
  • In a surprise end to our time in DC, while we were paying our respects at the MLK Jr. Monument (which is a stunning must see on your next DC visit), we were asked to participate in the wreath laying ceremony by American Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s team. Our guys walked with her team, civil rights members, and relatives of King Jr, as they sang “We shall overcome.” I hope and pray that the honor of that moment is never lost on them.

Friends, thanks for reading about our time in DC, so much more can be said, if you’re curious I’d love to tell you about it. As a parting moment this morning, read these powerful words that encourage us to build bridges of reconciliation with one another out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us, and to be Ambassadors of God’s love to all we meet.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21.