“Wow.… Just… wow.”

That is all I could think as we sat together in our work group on the final night of the NOLA mission trip. After a week of painting, digging, sweating, and serving together, after worshiping, dancing, and praising together, and after many hours of sharing our lives together, the mission trip was almost over. Tonight was affirmations night. Ten teens from St Gabriels and St Francis, from all different friend groups and backgrounds sat on pillows in dimly lit office on the floor. We were all exhausted from the weeks work, we all looked just about at our absolute worst. Girls wore no makeup, the guys mohawks were unkempt and wild, but no one cared at all. We weren’t here for attention.

“E.C. Your spirit is just so beautiful. All week long, the way that you served was just so moving to watch. On day one when we had that rain storm and you just kept working through it was just amazing. You were always so happy, you never complained about anything.”

The guy that spoke now was a great bear of a teen, nicknamed “Juggernaut,” by the guys. His parents had dragged him to the mission trip kicking and screaming, but now he was arm in arm with Trevor, his new brother in Christ. He wasn’t the only one in this small group who had met Jesus on this trip. We all had. Each teen had a turn to receive affirmations from the other nine. It was E.C.’s turn now, and so she sat up, smiling, receiving the love that each and every teen in the group had to offer her.

As a full time youth minister who grew up going to youth group, went to seminary for a year, went to a tiny Catholic school for collage and spent my summers camp counseling and running youth evangelization teams, I’ve seen a lot of ministry. I’d never before this moment felt love so tangibly present in a small group. There is something about a weeklong mission trip that takes kids off the beaten path. No cell phones, no makeup, no muscle shirts, no pretenses. My mom used to say that you’re not a family until you’ve seen each other at your worst. We had certainly seen that, and it was true. Jesus prayed over his apostles at the last supper. He said:  “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” – John 17:10-11

This was Jesus’ hope for his body, that we would be one. This is what the youth group is meant to be, a place where you don’t have to be beautiful, you don’t have to be funny, you don’t have to be anything but you as Jesus made you. This year our goal for St Gabriel’s youth ministry as a whole is for Jesus prayer to be true for us. That we would be one. And until next year’s mission trip, for those of you who were blessed enough to go I’ll just leave you with this: “QUADSACK!!!!”