As this week draws to a close, so does the annual visit of Bear Valley Community Church’s youth group to Mission First. I had the pleasure of speaking to Lee Johnson, pastor of the church, about his experiences with Mission First, and about what brings them back year after year.
“This is the biggest event for the youth ministry every year,” Mr. Johnson explained over the shuffling of his students grouping up with clusters of kids. We stood to the side in Mission First’s gym, leaning against cinder blocks that Mr. Johnson himself helped paint years and years ago. As we spoke, we watched students crouch down and settle on the red gym floor, leaning in to speak to the kids more one-on-one. “They’d rather come here than anything.” To them, he said, getting to come help out at Mission First every year is bigger than youth camp--even bigger than getting to go on vacation to the beach or Disney World.
Watching his students, it’s easy to see what he means. Even while mowing lawns or scooping pine straw, they had a clear sense of purpose and a visible enthusiasm. Their joy when interacting with the kids was infectious, as was their intentionality--when a kid got out of dodgeball, someone would come to give them a high five. When they needed a partner for a game, a crowd of volunteers would arrive. When they were alone on the sidelines, a student would come sit next to them.
I asked Mr. Johnson what it was about this place that drew his students so strongly.
In his words, “There’s a greater meaningfulness to helping other people.” During the day, he said, the students would help out with all the physical work that needed to be done and find ways to reach out to the kids. At night, they would study spiritual gifts and talk about how each of those gifts is used to glorify the Lord. Mr. Johnson described a special connection that comes from not just spending time together, but spending time together serving others.
It was a blessing to get to see the heart of the Lord so clearly displayed through the way these students served, and I can say with certainty we’re looking forward to seeing Bear Valley Community Church next year.