Sometimes we get ourselves into situations that aren’t at all what we’re cut out to do or what we expected and they end up being highly educational.

When you get to be my age in most cases when things don’t go well or you just out and out screw up you always should have known better. So in hindsight, I should have known better.

I should have known better than to agree to be a job site supervisor for our church’s high school mission trip. I should have known better than to try and navigate Savannah, Georgia using the rudimentary map we had been given. I should have known better than to try and make a last, final, grand gesture to the teams that had been working so diligently all week in the hot sun. I should have but obviously I didn’t.

I had signed up to travel with our high school youth on a mission trip to Savannah, GA. It wasn’t my first rodeo. Our family had been on several of these trips, long affairs in 15 passenger vans to places 20+ hours away from home. Our church was working with the same company again this year as in previous years. The week was set out for work Monday through Friday with a half day on Wednesday. This was the same sort of trip; same ages of kids, about the same size of group and roughly the same accommodations on the trip so nothing new there. The red herring occurred when two days before the trip our youth director said, “So, they’re short of “red-shirts” (site supervisors) and since we have so many adults they’ve asked us to provide one for this camp. Would you be willing to do that?” All my experience and all my lack of construction knowledge should have clearly made my answer “No” so of course I said, “Sure”. I clearly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

As I said I had been on these trips before and I knew how they operated. There were multiple job sites with many teams of youth and adults doing a variety of light construction work, lots of painting and some roofing. I had been involved in all of this before and yet I had really no idea of what went on behind the scenes. I had just agreed to find out what did. Arriving at camp us “red shirts” were briefed on our schedule for the week. Our days would largely be the inverse of the work crews’. When they were working we would be visiting their sites to check up on them and make sure progress was being made and they had what they needed to complete their jobs. When the crews were finished working, we really went to work making sure we were getting supplies, supplying tools and materials supplies and tracking what was getting done. As a result our busiest time was when the adults and youth and leaders from our group were spending time together, getting to know each other and sharing in the meaning behind why we were all there that week. Those times had always been why I came on the trips.

I have a huge heart for kids. To me, they’re full of potential and curiosity and promise for the future. Even though they sometimes appear to be know-it-all or jaded teenagers, their minds are still open to possibilities. Most of them haven’t been banged around by life so much that they’re cynical or pessimistic like some in my age group. They have a capacity for fun and I took great satisfaction and joy in getting to know our church’s kids better during the trip. It was clear from the outset that those experiences would not be part of this trip for me. My group would be the “others” that made our group’s experience positive hopefully. However, I would have to find the worksites I was in charge of overseeing first.

If you’ve never been to Savannah and you don’t have a GPS or Garmin or Siri’s assistance I would recommend hiring a local guide or just not going. The city is made up of small boroughs, most likely what used to be small towns. This in and of itself isn’t a problem, except that as they grew together or were overcome by the city they were allowed to keep their existing street numbering and naming system. So, it’s absolutely possible in the space of one block to go from crossing 56th street to then crossing 1st street. One can follow Bismarck Street for multiple blocks only to realize that now you are on Walnut Street. Highway 50 becomes county road 3; you get the picture. Similarly, cross streets come at you from all angles and 90 degrees is a rarity. As a country boy used to nice, neat, one square mile sections I was completely out of my league. The first day, driving seemingly aimlessly around for three hours I actually made it to three of the seven sites I had been charged with overseeing.

By the last day of our time at Work Camp I knew that the role I had nonchalantly accepted wasn’t the one for me. I hadn’t been all that effective in providing guidance to my work teams but they were managing to make progress anyway. About the only thing I had been really good at was bringing popsicles late in the afternoon. That was a big hit. Naturally I wanted to provide that same treat for my campers’ last day on the job so I stopped at the nearby Piggly Wiggly and loaded up on ice cream treats.

I had gotten my route to visit my sites down pretty well over the course of four days and was feeling cocky about getting out there for one last feel-good moment to send everyone off on a good note. That was until I realized I had locked my keys in the pickup when I went into the store. Now, luckily I had the cooler in the bed of the pickup and ice in hand so I could hopefully keep my treats from becoming mush in the hot Georgia sun. I had my cell phone so I could call for a locksmith to get the keys out of the pickup. I even had the helpful guidance of the Piggly Wiggly people (there’s an interestingly named group) in getting the number for the locksmith. What I didn’t have was the ability to get the locksmith there any faster. I waited three hours.

Three hours of sitting outside of the Piggly Wiggly on a bench. Three hours of wondering what was going on at my sites as they finished up their long week of work. Three hours of knowing it was my responsibility to pick up any supplies or tools that my crews couldn’t bring back to our camp’s home base at Savannah State. It was three hours to question my fitness for the job, the example I was setting for the kids and my worthiness as an adult, someone who was supposed to be responsible for others. I had a long time to ponder all this and much more as I greeted the Piggly Wiggly patrons that afternoon from a bench in Savannah, Georgia and here’s what I realized.

If we never take a leap, if we never venture out of our comfort zone, if we never say yes to an adventure we almost certainly confine ourselves to reading the same page of life’s book over and over again. Yes, it’s true that I realized the supervisory role on our mission trips was not one that I desired however it identified exactly why I went on these trips in the first place. I was never more aware of the value of the trips than I was as I watched our kids and leaders head off to the nightly program while I headed off to the paint store. I didn’t understand the important opportunity to interact with our kids until I spent breakfast and dinner in the supply room while they ate together. If I had never gotten so hopelessly lost I would have never experienced the grace of my roommate, Greg, who wrote out directions for me to get me to my work sites.

Throughout the week, this guy that I hardly knew from our church took care of me. He literally brought me along and showed me the way more times than I could thank him for. Finally, if I had never spent those hours outside of Piggly Wiggly I would never have realized that our plan is not necessarily God’s plan. I would not have had to accept the mishaps and the mistakes and be okay with it. I would not have had to face my own screw-ups and accept the grace of others and I would not have been forced to see that even when you miss closing up your sites and have to have Greg go out with you to do so that the silver lining is providing mega numbers of treats to all the guys in your dorm rather than just the teams at your sites.

Call it fate or God or just the hapless bumblings of a guy out of his element, the year I went to Savannah, Georgia with the high school youth on our annual mission trip will forever stand out in my memory. I would like to think that right along with the kids I learned and grew in my understanding of myself and my relationship with God. I got stretched and shown things that my 40+ year old mind had never considered. My own know-it-all opinion got banged around a bit and it was a humbling experience. I hope that someday you too are lucky enough to go through just such a trip. You have no choice but to come out on the other side, changed.

Ever get in way over your head and out of your element? Did it turn our all right in the end or teach you something about yourself? I’d sure be interested in your story if you’re willing to comment below.


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