Incredible Silence

This past week, I had the privilege to lead a mission trip – on which we served our neighbor, learned more about who God is calling each of us to be, and how to share faith in ways we might not see in our traditional setting.  What a blessing to see friendships forged and strengthened, young people stretched, and minds open to new ideas.  A week filled with noise – of the city, of the harbor, of work, of excited young people, and slightly stressed adults!

One of the most poignant experiences I had was in our visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.   I have never seen such an exuberant and giggly bunch of youth turn into a somber, slow walking and reverent group of mature adults so quickly – and with no verbal prompting.

Before we entered the permanent exhibit, our intern pastor explained that this was a place for reflection and respect, though once we entered I am certain what we saw was enough to put each one of us in a state of, well, shock.

A visitor starts by waiting in line outside an elevator designed to look industrial, dark and scary.  One notes at each point the amazing amounts of architectural detail put into every element of this museum, even the passageways from one level to the next.

Each person gets a passport with the name and story of a Jew alive during the Holocaust, which you follow up with as you go along.  When you leave the elevator, you are at the fourth floor, greeted by grizzly photos of the remains of innocent people, who did nothing to deserve this horrible fate.

The fourth floor, first that you see, is full history to educate the visitor on what let up to the events, and although we, in hindsight, can say we’d never fall for Hitler’s lies, it is shocking to see how easy it was for people of the time to believe him.  My heart sank with each new fact I read, and watching teenagers actually stop to read what was posted next to photos told me they understood just how much this impacted the world then – and how important it is for us to know today.

As the levels went on, we learned about different populations that were taken to concentration camps, what happened to people there, along with video and photograph illustrations.  At times I wondered why anyone would record such horror, but I think it’s important to have proof, so that we never forget that real people suffered the way so many Jews did during this time.

I saw many visitors that needed to sit and have a good cry, to see the brothers and sisters that were valued so little, and to get a glimpse into the absolute terror they experienced, was more than hard to see.  I choked back tears many times – especially reading (something I already knew) that handicapped persons, mentally or physically, and children too young to work, were sent straight to gas chambers.

As a person who feels memories tied to objects, I couldn’t hold back the tears when walking through the room that held just a small amount of the shoes that belonged to beloved children, children of God, neighbors to you and me.  I felt guilt for crying – I had not suffered the way these people had suffered, and I had not felt the loss their families had felt, but I do think that I could mourn the loss, and mourn that the world let this happen.

When I left the exhibit, I was surprised to see that the person in my passport survived – she lost a child, and her husband though.  I went to the memorial area, lit a candle, and said a prayer.

I remembered what the intern pastor said – these are OUR brothers and sisters.  We share a past – and even if we hate someone, they are still our neighbors – meaning if we truly want to glorify God, we show them love.  The last exhibits, talking of liberating the camps, had a large number of names of people who helped the Jews – even people who did not like Jews took them in, knowing this is what God would ask of them.

I recommend the museum to anyone – but especially those with a faith and questions about who is their neighbor.  Fear and hate can be used to push an agenda with a guise of God – it is up to US to pay attention, to do what is right, never forget the Holocaust, and to honor it’s memory by preventing anything like this from happening again.

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Recharge!

A few months ago, my Children Youth and Family (CYF) Cohort leader at Luther told us about some options for our spring retreat – including “Recharge.”  I didn’t give it much thought – so many of the options were either Saturdays or during my CPE unit, and I was avoiding schedule negotiation at the time.

Not too long ago, I got an email from the Youth Ministry director at Augustana, Don Marsh, inviting people who work with youth at our church to go to the Recharge – and he’d cover the cost.  This is my second invitation – perhaps I should listen!  So Don signed me up, and I let my husband know that he’d be with the boys all day while I was “recharging”.

Now, as a person who promotes the health of honesty, I will tell you I wasn’t looking forward to it. Saturday is one of the days I have with my husband, and he works two jobs, so it’s precious time.  I’m also not a huge fan of large crowds of people – I can be in front of them no problem, but in them, I get itchy.  Lastly – I love my CYF people, but sometimes they are a little intense when I just want to lay back and be sleepy on a Saturday morning.

Thank God I was given the opportunity, and reminded that I should go – because this event was a lovely example of why I need to push myself out of the comfort zone of laziness and avoiding crowds.  While the crowd was HUGE, and navigation between sessions could be tricky, I was very happy to be in this crowd!

Opening worship was lead by a leader of the Upper Room worship community, Stefan Van Voorst, who opened with a ton of self deprecating humor – my FAVORITE kind, and a great tool to humanize yourself an build relationship with an audience – and he did so without being TOO mean to himself.  We sang, and then we heard from Karen Powell, co-author of the Sticky Faith book and studies – and she had some awesome things to say.  Things that I’ve been thinking in my head for a long time and wasn’t able to articulate – so thanks to her, I have some new ways to approach these ideas!

The workshops I went to were so helpful – Karen Powell talked more about “Sticky Faith” tools – keeping youth engaged in church by getting them to build relationships with adults, give them space to have doubt, and talk about stuff – LOVED it.

Tiger McLuen gave a helpful talk about what leaders do to themselves to impede themselves – and he did so with “snake” and “garden” illustrations.  While snakes FREAK me out, and there were pictures, I appreciated not only the tips to watch out for in our own lives, but his honesty in sharing how he’d experienced these things, and why you should be careful to avoid them.

My last session was with Kari Lyn Wampler about adolescent suicide and depression, and coming away from that, all I can say is again, we need to be open and honest with kids – even adults.  Be willing to be vulnerable and admit your down times and failures, share that it will be ok even though it might not seem like it, and let them be honest with you about what they feel – it might be scary, but you being a safe person to talk to can be SUCH a help!

Thanks to the Recharge Ministry, blessings to all the Children, Youth and Family ministers, paid or voluntary, and thanks for all you do!  I’m so excited to put new ideas into practice!