12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Today marks the beginning of day three of our mission trip to Yarnell to help with the fire recovery. Our theme this year is Serve, Sweat, Grow. After two days we have had no problem serving and sweating, and today I asked the students a little bit about how they are growing.
They have talked about meeting people who had lost everything in the fires. They mentioned stories about how they had heard that before the fires there wasn’t much sense of community or community pride in Yarnell - but now there is. They talked about some people who weren’t so nice to work for, but how they did it anyway because that is what they were asked to do.
The thing that struck me the most was that many of them talked about our visit to the Shrine of St. Joseph on Tuesday. Before the fires, the Shrine of St. Joseph was the one thing that Yarnell was known for. Much of the area in the shrine had been destroyed, however the 14 stages of the cross that are depicted there remained; showing signs of fire damage, yet still remaining.
We headed up the shrine going through all 14 stages. We started with the Last Supper, then quickly moved to Jesus praying in the garden, his arrest, trial, carrying his cross etc. The story of the cross was nothing new to anyone in our group. We all have heard the story and we all know how it ends. As we were going up one of our leaders noticed a sign on the station where the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes. It said, “Jesus did not have a lot, but what he did have was taken away from him. So no matter what you are dealing with, whether you have lost your job or your home, Jesus knows how you feel, as he, too, lost everything.”
Our leader made the comment that the plaque wasn’t new, it had been there for years. She could imagine the impact of those words, written years earlier, on the people of Yarnell who would come there seeking to find answers to why they lost everything. Instead they would find Jesus. She then went on to say how it really puts life into perspective.
As we exited the 14 stations we come to a tomb with Jesus laying in it. One of our students went in to the tomb to look at a statue of Jesus laying in the tomb. He said when he was in there it hit him how big that moment was in the history of man. God coming to earth and dying for our sins really hit him and he couldn’t really explain what he felt, but he felt something.
The reason we serve and sweat on missions trips isn’t just to do work, but to GROW in our understanding of who God is. For many of our students, the Bible has always been a book about Jesus, but they are starting to see it for what it is - a love story. The cross isn’t about punishment or judgment but about love and God’s love for us.
Being my first mission trip with the youth of Pinnacle, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I am finding is a group of teens who love to serve, and want nothing more than to grow in their experience and knowledge of God. I can only hope that the words of the Psalmist run true for our students; that they will flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. That they will remain planted in the house of the Lord and continue to flourish in the courts of our God - and when they get older they will draw on these experiences, these moments they have with God, and not walk away, but still produce fruit.
In reality, this isn’t just a hope for our youth, but for all those who have experienced God. No matter where we are in life, we must continue to grow in Christ so that we might produce fruit, so that others might also experience the love God has for us. Amen.