Teens discover higher mission
EDWARDS – Tenth graders Rachel Sibley and Molly Brooks were trying to understand what the 21-year-old woman was saying. The brain-damaged woman had just received major surgery to her jaw and couldn’t speak easily. But slowly the teens came to understand that the woman had been in a car accident a bad one when she was about the girls’ age. The woman had been on her way to the prom. “That just hit home because she was 16 when that happened,” Sibley said. “She was so similar to us. It was hard to think it could happen to us.”Sibley and Brooks met the disabled woman as they spent the day working at a Denver center for people with acquired brain damage and multiple sclerosis. The day at the center for the disabled was just one part of a week of work for the sophomore class at Vail Christian High School. Trip with a missionEach year, Vail Christian takes a week to disperse its students around the globe to serve. While most of the students stay in Colorado, the seniors travel to Costa Rica for their mission trip. Easing into mission work, the freshman students go to a Christian camp in Buena Vista where they spend most of their time doing manual labor. The sophomores up the ante significantly, challenging themselves by working with the homeless, disabled and elderly in Denver. And the junior class travels to Greeley where they work with Habitat for Humanity. While Costa Rica is most popular as a beach vacation destination, the Vail Christian seniors work primarily in the grimy, landlocked capital of San Jose as part of Youth With a Mission, an organization that sends Christians to volunteer around the world.
“(Mission trips) are definitely one of the activities that makes us a unique education experience for high school students in the valley,” said Vail Christian Principal Linda Isbell. A rocky startBattling a snow storm, it seemed like the sophomore’s mission trip might not have the chance to get started. But the 24 students and chaperones lucked out and eventually made it to Denver, where they unloaded their gear at the Wheat Ridge United Methodist Church and got right to work. Spitting into groups of five or six students, each group spent the entire day at a work site, the most challenging of which may have been Christ Body Ministries, a homeless outreach center and soup kitchen where the students served meals and handed out toiletries.”It was the scariest place,” said Kim Ehleh, the school’s guidance counselor and trip chaperone. “Right when you walk in, there’s like 12 guys, and first of all they’re black, and these kids don’t see black people. They’re so sheltered up here … These guys are homeless, and they don’t look nice, and there’s this back alley entrance. It was definitely not a comfortable, safe-feeling situation.” The students were cautioned to “dress down” and avoid designer labels. They also stopped telling people they were from Vail, opting for Eagle or Gypsum to avoid the “rich kid” stigma. But as they worked, the students and homeless got used to each other. “I thought the homeless shelter was the best place to go because it made me feel really blessed,” sophomore Hannah Morris said.
(Don’t) swing your partnerThe teens also went to a day center for the elderly, a place where senior citizens go to hang out, play bingo, socialize and dance.Student Davis Engle went a little overboard with his dance partner. Swinging an elderly woman around, he was chastised by staff who hold him hip replacements are pretty pricey.”But the lady loved it,” Engle said. During a stage in life when being cool is oh so important, the students were forced to sing the “You Are Wonderful” song to every senior they met. Days later, they good-naturedly chorused, “We are wonderful, we are wonderful, and we’re going to stay that way.”Still a little embarrassed, they laughed at themselves anyway.
“That’s the one where the kids were most out of their comfort zone because that’s the one where the kids had to do lots of cheesy stuff,’ Ehleh said. Life lessons While the homeless and elderly centers challenged the students, working with disabled people resonated most strongly with the teens. “These people, when you sit and talk to them, they have amazing stories … It’s like, ‘I was drunk driving,’ or ‘someone else was drunk driving and hit me,’ or ‘I was 16, and I was showing off driving fast in front of my friends.’ That’s the one at the end of the week … where they say, ‘Wow, I learned to be a lot smarter.'”Taking a break from the highly interactive work, the groups also spent a day making Easter baskets for the homeless at the Denver Rescue Mission. While the baskets contained the usual sweet treats, they also had hygiene items like soap and shampoo. For shyer students, like Britni Beagly, six hours of making Easter baskets was a relief, she said.
Not all work and no playAt the end of each grueling day, the students still had energy for some fun going to the mall, to see a movie or just play basketball at the church where they stayed. Every evening they held devotions a time to pray and reflect on their day.”I would open with a prayer and leave it open for them, and usually, even in a Christian school, that’s small, but almost every single one of them would say a prayer,” Ehlech said. Their work brought the students together and social clicks and pressures of being a teen melted away as they experienced how those who are less fortunate live if just for one week.”I don’t know why, but from a counselor perspective, I love that,” Ehleh said.
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or email@example.com. Vail, Colorado