Editor’s note: The following is a reflection by Director of Student Ministries Steve Dickson about a recent Southside UMC, Jacksonville, youth mission trip to the Madison Youth Ranch.
Kids these days…
Anyone who has ever uttered those words, or any other disparaging words about ‘this generation’ in my presence has, at best, received a befuddled look from me. For a fifth consecutive year we once again had an army of committed teenagers that PAID to give up five days to travel to the Madison Youth Ranch to serve. This trip was just as amazing as the previous four years.
|Mike Moore, aka Pops, leads devotions during the Southside youth trip to the Madison Youth Ranch.|
The students of Southside UMC pressure-washed decks and stables, weed-whacked everything they could find, chopped down branches, weeded gardens, painted, cleared brush, edged roads, painted rocking chairs, assembled furniture, hung blinds, and I’m sure there is more I am forgetting. And this was just the list from this year! I’m not sure I could remember everything from the previous years.
So that’s why I’m confused by the statements made about this younger generation.
In the five years we have done this trip, 96 different people have come with us to work, 46 have come twice, 26 have come three times, 13 have come four times, and there are nine that have come on all five trips. If you’re curious, we work about 18 hours per trip, so if you do the math that is 3,438 volunteer hours that the students of Southside have worked over the last five years at the Madison Youth Ranch. So, careful if you choose to make false claims about ‘kids these days…’ around me.
If you are unfamiliar with the Madison Youth Ranch and their mission, it is the north campus of the Florida United Methodist Children’s home and is set up to provide children from families in need a place of peace. It is run by some amazing staff that care deeply about their mission.
The staff we work closest with are Ruth and Mike Moore (aka Pops), Keith, and Dave. Pops, Keith, and Dave have done a tremendous job leading our unskilled, but teachable teenagers and showing them how a task is to be done and then correcting them and guiding them throughout the process. These men do a great job of keeping our kids safe, but also allowing them to try new things and helping them build new skills and confidence. They are also all godly men that are willing to pour into our students’ spiritual lives at times, and we have been incredibly blessed and fortunate to have devotions at our lunch break each day led by Pops. These have been powerful and direct stories from scripture that are told in a way that speaks directly into our students lives.
In addition to Pops devotions each day, we were also blessed by four of our own teenagers leading us in our end-of-day devotions. Tiffany Mossuto, Isabella Nolan, Caine Burleson and Kylie Dearing all opened up their hearts and shared parts of their testimonies, scripture that is meaningful to them and inspired the rest of our students and adults. I couldn’t be prouder of these four for leading us in this powerful way.
Now I do have to confess, it isn’t all work and no play.
Each afternoon we do get a few hours free time to explore all that Jelly Stone RV park has to offer. Pools, putt-putt, gaga ball, basketball, boats, fishing, a 60-foot waterslide and more. The park has served as a great spot to allow our kids to unwind and rest after a hard day at work, and it is a great place to have the children and teenagers from Madison to come and enjoy the park with us one night each year. It has also served as a great place to have men and women from our church deliver food to us each night. In five years and 20 dinners, we have had to provide only a single dinner to our students out of our budget. Every other dinner was donated and delivered by a Sunday school class, small group, family and even the local co-op in Madison that wanted to find a way in which they could let our crew know that they are loved and supported in their efforts. I can’t express fully how grateful our team is for this act of love. Thank you to all of the amazing groups that have helped to feed our workers every year!
I could go on and on about this place, this trip and all of the students that have continuously exceeded my expectations through their words and their actions, and all of the adults that have chaperoned and worked and fed and poured into our students each year and all of the people back home that have prayed for us and supported us in many different ways. Anytime you would like to hear more about it, please stop me on a Sunday, and I’d be glad to share even more.
Since our first year, we have made sure to emphasize the importance of our work even when it seems insignificant and even when we can’t see any immediate results. We have expressed to our students that even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor, we need to trust in God’s will and understand that He will use all of our efforts for His glory!
I thank God often for allowing us the opportunity to continue to do His work in this place and hope that this mission and our connection with the Madison Youth Ranch will continue for years to come!