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J2A Reflections
A sermon preached by some of our teens about their summer pilgrimage to Alaska and mission trip to El Salvador, on September 23, 2012

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

Pilgrimage Sermon – Emily McDowell

Hello everyone, my name is Emily McDowell.  I am one of the unlucky J2Aers that had a parent with them on our Alaska trip, this past June.  While there we did some amazing things.  We did lots of community service projects, and had lots of fun while doing it.  But out of everything we did together as a group, I can’t say any of it was my favorite part of the trip.  No, none of that planned stuff or the things we did as a group or even all the laughs we had together, though I do have to say the boys are great at reenacting Monty Python movies.  I have to say that my favorite part was when we were given an hour to do whatever we wanted.  We were told we couldn’t talk and we could go anywhere on the property.  We could write in our journals, or just sit and relax and think out our experiences so far.  I decided to go exploring a little.  I grabbed my jacket and headed outside. 

I really couldn’t wait to be alone, not that I didn’t like the people there; it was just that I needed some time alone so I could be alone with God instead of always being with people all the time.  I don’t know about everyone else, but sometimes I feel like I overlook God’s world around me when with other people.  And being in such a beautiful place I didn’t want to miss my chance to get a great look at my surroundings.  I headed straight for the woods, which is one of my favorite places to go and walk around and think and connect with God.  At the end of the path was an overlook of the ocean and all the boats out crabbing.  There was a little clearing with a picnic table.  But off to the right of the clearing was a small, barely distinguishable path that lead right between two big pine trees.  I know I probably “crossed the line,” as Kit would say but I was very curious as to where this obscure path lead.  So I followed it between these two big trees, and they practically engulfed me.  But on the other side was like a whole different world.  There were more flowers on that side of the trees, because they hadn’t been crushed by people, and on that side the land melted right into the shore.  Huge rocks, which were usually covered at high tide, were exposed, and the barnacles that had attached themselves to the rocks made them appear bleach white.  That’s where I had found God that day, in that cove, untouched by man, God’s creation in all its glory.

One of the scriptures this week really reminded me of this special experience.  In James’s letter to John he says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”  I feel that is exactly what happened to me in my hour of solitude.  I went out into God’s creation, open to him, and he led me straight to the heart of his creation, where man hadn’t yet disturbed.

Now the other scripture for this week talks about Jesus telling his disciples that he isn’t just a powerful being that sits in the sky, he is more of a humble person to all.  So I thought about how that related to our pilgrimage to Alaska and I realized that we had been surrounded by it all week long.  The place we had been staying was full of humble people.  The owners Marian and Naomi had graciously let us use their home for the week.  They didn’t have to let us and other groups stay at their house but they did anyway.

But then I realized that we had also been humbled that week.  We had been brought closer to Jesus and God with all the community service work we had done.  Some of the projects we did were help clear a path and one of the nature emporiums, and we also helped Marian for a day doing all his projects around his property.  On Marian’s property the girls helped to clear a spot in the woods used for camping, and the boys sang songs while moving “branches” that had been cut off some of the trees; at least that’s how the girls saw it.  That day was a very humbling day for all of us because we weren’t just there to discover God on our own, we were also there to serve God and give back to the community that we had been so warmly welcomed into.

Throughout that whole week we were there, I couldn’t help but realize that God had constantly been there with us.  I realized that God’s creations aren’t just an individual thing to experience, like during my hour of solitude, but could also be something that you experience with friends and family.  People that are also on the humble path to find God just like my J2A trip to Alaska.  But to be able to have God connect with you, you must meet him half way and open yourself up to him and humble yourself before him, just like Jesus did.  Just like we did as a group in Alaska.

And speaking on behalf of all of J2A, we very much appreciate all the love and support you have shown us.  Thank you.              

Pilgrimage Sermon - Ben Hunt

God is everywhere, in everything, in every way. He speaks to us and he guides in times of uncertainty. On my pilgrimage to Alaska, the mission just as it was in the reading, was to draw near to God so God would draw near to us. It would be a new experience for everyone. I had been there once, eight years earlier, so the thought might be that the experience wasn’t new for me. I thought it for a certain amount of time, but by the end of the week I had no feeling that was true at all. The trip to Alaska was not my first, but the experience was and that’s all that truly mattered.

We had spent the week doing several different things, from community service, to sea kayaking in the open water. We met nice people, heard many stories and we came together as a group. I don’t believe fear was a major factor, but there was comfort in knowing you had your friends going through the same experience right next to you. We wanted to seek God. No one really knew or realized at the time, but the reason we did all of these things together and went to all these places on our adventure was because we would find God in more than just the place. We would find it in ourselves and in each other.

Seeking God is not just a game of hide-and-go-seek. There are many obstacles and many new experiences in life you will have to surpass and it will be challenging at times. When facing something you haven’t dealt with before, the question is what to do next. There are many ways to react. Many give up. Personally, I have been raised in a family where giving up is never an option. If you commit to something you stick with it and never quit. “It is easy to give up,” as my father always says “…but it never helps you move on in life.”

Another approach might be sitting down and planning out the next step, but sometimes you have to take a risk and face the obstacle head on. At times you will fail and at times you will succeed. That’s just part of life and often times, failure is an obstacle in itself.

On our pilgrimage, we had one day that we went to a labyrinth. Molly, who was our director for the week, walked us silently through the labyrinth. We stopped several times as she read to us poor human qualities that God wants us to let go. On the way out, she would stop and read positive qualities that God wants us to keep. The idea was that if you let go of these poor qualities that you will become selfless and modest always doing the right thing and always willing to help and serve others. “Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all and servant of all.”

God is in everything, yet the struggle is finding him. If you do as he says, by being as modest and kind as you can be and sacrificing everything you have. Once you do this, finding God is just that much easier. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” When you find God and realize he was always there, then you know he will always be there. It’s likely that the question will be why it was ever a struggle, when he was with you all along.

El Salvador Reflection – Janel Romagnoli

The week before the mission trip to El Salvador, I was on vacation with my family and old friends in New Hampshire, a trip we take every summer. We usually go for two weeks, but this summer, I could only go for the first week because the trip was the next week.  I left Friday night at ten o’clock to make it home by eleven thirty so I could be at the airport at two in the morning on Saturday.  There was a campfire the night I left with all of my family friends around it.  They were all talking, laughing, listening to Steve play his guitar, while I was walking down the hill coming to say goodbye.  I sat down on a chair next to my mom who said we had to leave soon so I had to say goodbye.  I got up and walked around the campfire giving hugs and goodbyes to everyone there.  They all wished me luck, good health, and to just have a good time and a great experience.  It was hard for me to leave them all. I went back and got my things, said goodbye to my dad who started to tear up, causing me to as well, and left with my mom and one of my friends who both saw me off at two in the morning at Logan.  The plane didn’t take off until five.

Throughout the trip I was homesick.  I had never been so homesick.  I missed my family and my friends. I missed the comfort of home.  I was nervous that I might get sick and wouldn’t have my mom with me or that I would get injured and would not have my parents to help me and take care of me.  I missed my family.  But throughout the trip, I realized that I was with a different family, a community, built of my fellow YLA-ers and the Salvadorans.  Spending time with them helped me feel less homesick.  Feeling the sense of community that the Salvadorans had made me feel comfortable.  They made me feel more at home.

On the Sunday we were in El Salvador, we visited Los Calix, a community of many youth and families, a shrimp farm, and a true sense of community.  We went to a service that Sunday at their church. It was Susie’s- a YLA-er- birthday.  We enjoyed the service, but during the service I was distracted by the little boy who was sitting on the floor near the wall to the right of me.  I noticed that both of the boy’s sandals were broken.  During the service he was moving around on the floor, occasionally talking.  The only time this boy stood still was when he tried to recite the Lord’s Prayer.  At the end of the service he got sick and threw up out of the window.  It was his brother’s birthday too.  I remembered walking into the church and seeing this little boy playing with a marble on the ground.  After the service, while we were given a tour of their town, the little boy went up to Mark, one of our leaders, showing him a handful of marbles.  This little boy loved his marbles.  They kept him entertained.  Something so simple as marbles this little boy held so dear.  People I know, especially in the town I live in and the school I go to, cherish their big houses, fancy cars, iphones, video game systems, and status.  In a country with so little, this boy managed to find something to hold dear.  I found God in this little boy that day.  The way he found something out of a thing that people I know would think nothing of made me think this, and how he tried to recite the Lord’s Prayer, even though he didn’t quite have it down.

Last Published: September 26, 2012 11:10 AM