“Everyone, listen up.” Mrs. Arden was standing in the front well of the bus with a bullhorn, holding on to the step rail, trying to keep her balance. “We are almost at the host church so I need you all to pay attention so we can get in and out as soon as possible.”
The culmination of two long days on a bus was about to conclude and all of us were ready to stop moving. I looked around as Mrs. Arden shouted instructions and couldn’t help noticing how worn out we looked. Our youth group was on their most ambitious mission trip ever, traveling from central Florida to Buffalo, New York and, from the looks of the rumpled hair and dark encircled eyes, we were wearing all 1183 miles. But now it was time for the energy to ramp up and our enthusiasm to rekindle because we were going to meet our host families and find out what our host church had planned for us during our five-day stay.
As we shuffled into the sanctuary of the small church we put on our best, smiling faces and greeted the families who had volunteered to house and feed us while we fulfilled our missionary obligations. I was matched with two of my best friends and we were introduced to the Cichowski family, Polish and proud. Shirley and Lee were short and heavy and their large grins and full body hugs made us feel welcome right away. We barely had a chance to introduce ourselves when Mrs. Arden called for everyone to find a seat and get quiet. She then introduced the pastor of the host church and she told us he would let us know our assignments.
“I’d like to thank you all for making this really long trip in the middle of summer to help us out.” He seemed nice enough, young and energetic, wearing jeans and a golf shirt. “We have a lot of things planned for the week and I think you’ll enjoy your assignments. The first two days we will be canvassing neighborhoods around the church and getting the residents to fill out a survey…”
That was all I heard. The rest of the pastor’s words faded into blah-blah land. I attended every meeting, every practice and every class in preparation for this trip and not once did anyone mention going door-to-door asking complete strangers to answer questions about Jesus. I was prepared to help with Vacation Bible School. I was prepared to help paint the sanctuary or pour concrete for a new wing. I was even prepared to visit old folk’s homes and read to other people’s grandparents but I was not prepared for that form of hand-to-hand combat.
The next two days were miserable, spending hours walking our assigned neighborhoods and trying to convince people to take the survey. I was immediately bothered by the format because it was deceptive. If by some crazy chance we were able to convince a person to agree to answer the survey, each subsequent question moved farther away from statistics gathering and became obviously more about soul gathering. Most of the time it resulted in the interviewee feeling like they had been tricked into their own personal sermon. I wanted to warn the suckers but decided to follow the rules and do as I was told. By the end of the first day I could barely force myself to walk down the street, embarrassment and guilt waging a caged death match inside my gut. I hated the assignment but I was thousands of miles from home doing God’s work so I knew I should suck it up and march forward with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. Instead, I couldn’t lift my feet and I was gritting my teeth. God’s soldier was dejected and in dire need of reassignment.
As we pulled out of the church parking lot at the end of the week, starting our long bus ride back south, Mrs. Arden began the debriefing by asking through her bullhorn if anyone wanted to share what they learned during the week. To my shame, several people stood to tell their stories, most dealing with life changing epiphanies and their new relationships with some kids in wheelchairs. That was the moment I first feared hell because all I could think about was my first addicting bite of real Buffalo chicken wings and how good their local pizza tasted. I spent most of the ride home praying I would never have to conduct another door-to-door survey and that I would one day be able to, yet again, taste a chicken wing from the great city of Buffalo, New York.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…