Pastor’s eNote: The Youth Service Trip Report

The Power in the “Water”

The 2019 Blackwater, West Virginia Team trip has come to a close. Time to take a look back and reflect. One fact became very clear to me as the days unfolded; God was well ahead of us on this trip.

For several years a team of youth, pastors and volunteers have come together to travel to Davis, West Virginia to perform service with the guidance of host pastor Rev. Ruth Bullwinkle of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

I had heard about the trip and was invited to be part of the team and jumped at the opportunity! The charge team was made up of the five youth who made up the 2019 confirmation class at St. James UMC, Coburn, one of their youth family members, Colleen Bush as an adult volunteer and me, the pastor. The rest of the team included Rev. Mark Messner of Grace, Centre Hall and Grace youth Elizabeth, Martin who is a Quaker pastor, and Martha, Tim, Mallory, and Tere who rounded out the adult volunteers.

Day 1: We Have Arrived!

Our first day was originally planned as camp set up followed by a hike. When we arrived at the Blackwater Falls State Park we learned that due to rain some campsites were a washout. The park offered to “upgrade” our team if we would be willing to offer our sites for those who were to camp in the effected areas. Our upgrade was quite the blessing; the executive cabin! With four bedrooms, large conference area, two full bathrooms, full kitchen, washer/dryer, large covered porch, large deck and backyard space with fire ring we were tremendously blessed! (I noted just how much so the Monday and Monday night when it rained quite heavily and stormed most of the night. I thanked God many times that night for this wonderful place.)

These “digs” made dealing with wet packs and shoes and everything else unnecessary and allowed a lot more time for devotions, team building, and rest. Day 1 was all about settling in and getting to know each other. There was a lot of giggling, dancing, games and eating. And we made our way to the falls the park is named after, and it was AWESOME!

Day 2: Worship and Getting to Know Davis

After a hearty breakfast we made our way to the park’s Lodge for 9am outdoor worship led by Pastor Ruth and a message from Pastor Mark. The overlook there was amazing and the beauty of nature all around made for a breathtaking “sanctuary”. Some guests from the Lodge joined us.

Next, we moved on to Pastor Ruth’s church for the 11am worship service with Nash Shawver reading scripture and Pastor Mark sharing a second message.  After worship we had lunch downstairs to power up for a tour of town and shopping excursion in Davis and a trip to another town, Thomas. It was a joy to meet the people in the church.  Nancy, a wonderful lady, stayed to help with lunch.  I enjoyed chatting with her over lunch.  She has amazing stories and a heart for Jesus. 


Every small town is unique. Davis, West Virginia is an old town with period homes, neat shops that closely line the street, and very friendly folks. There were limitless opportunities to reach out to new people because EVERYONE was new to our contingent of the team! After some shopping around and sightseeing we headed back to the church for dinner and to prepare for the first night of the adult Bible study “Just Walk Across the Room”. This being the first night, the youth and adult volunteers participated, too. After the study, we all went back to the cabin for a devotion then more dancing, games, and getting to know one another.

Day 3: Whitewater, HERE WE COME!

Brave adventurers prepare to take on the rapids,
they don’t look nervous at ALL!

Ever since I saw Charlie Brown and Snoopy raft through rapids in “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” I’ve wanted to go! The kids were in for quite an experience and you are free to check out the photos that the Blackwater Outdoor Adventure folks took and offer for purchase online. Click here to view the album. Some are pretty funny. 🙂

During the rafting excursion it began to rain off and on. After, as we made our way to the pizza place for a late lunch, well it seemed like the sky just opened up. We were damp, but the pizza was hot and everyone was hungry. Pepperoni pizzas all around with one half cheese/half ham and pineapple, which was something new for a few.

After reaching the cabin to deal with wet clothing, the youth went to a local dog shelter to play with, walk or read to the canine residents. It was ruff. (LOL!] After walking, talking and playing with their new friends, and after Pastors Mark, Martin and I returned from night two of the Bible study at the church, we all had walking tacos for a late dinner and got ready for bed.

Day 4: If You Want to See What Few See, You Have to Be Willing to Do What Few Do

The sun was back to “dry up all the rain” but the shady places were, well, muddy. “Well muddy” is an excellent description! After breakfast we all put on whatever hiking shoes we had along to tackle a four mile hike to Pase Pass. Did I mention it was muddy? The view we enjoyed at the destination of the hike was well worth the mud. [Fun fact: Coolest thing I saw was an old horseshoe buried mostly in the mud. Looked like it had been there forever so I left it there. Maybe next time I can see it again. It set me thinking about the horse that once wore it. I never said a word about it during the hike.]

Jackie, who is as in tune with nature as anyone I’ve met, offered insight into the trees and wildlife.

After hiking, we had lunch at the cabin then a walk to the Nature Center to see snakes, do crafts and other fun stuff. The crew returned to the cabin and prepared to visit the Lodge’s indoor pool and hot tub.  The pool area is surrounded by full length windows to remind you of the beauty that was all around.  Wrinkled as prunes we headed back to the cabin for dinner.  Afterward, the pastors three and those taking the study returned to St. John’s for night three while the teens stayed back for time together.  Upon the pastors’ return, it was mountain pies and s’mores for everyone!

Day 5:  The Wrap Up

Our final day began with breakfast and a trip to another overlook for a devotion with Pastor Martin.  Martin shared a portion of Acts, when the disciples really came into their own in ministry, sharing what they had with the understanding that all we have is a gift from God that is intended for our use or for our giving.  And that God will bless that giving with a many fold return.  We are in this way equipped to do whatever God wishes us to do.

Following the devotion, we drove back to the church to park vehicles and make one more shopping trip through Davis.  We met up again at the church to meet Pastor Ruth and others to head to a hall where a senior lunch program was to take place.  A Civil War remembrance monologue was the featured entertainment.  The woman wearing full period clothing talked about the trials and human reality of that war and the division that nearly tore our young country apart, drawing parallels to the current flowing today. This was part of a very special day for the group, recognizing their past and need of passing along to future generations the true and honest facts of our history. 

Following the performance and grace, a potluck lunch was enjoyed and many in the group got to know the people who attend this lunch each month.  I talked to a sweet and faith-filled woman who had a very tough but blessed life marked by God’s leading and healing.  She wrote a book she titled “God Turned My Scars to Stars” and she’s sending me a copy!  I’m very excited to read it!

Our next stop was a nearby nature preserve where Davis resident, Jackie, who kindly showed us some of the specifics of nature on our hike the day before, would guide us.  This would also be the first stop available for the day’s activity, a “photo scavenger hunt”!  Things like “shortest team member eating a pickle, team crossing the street duck-style, team doing the chicken dance in front of a chicken restaurant, showing a stranger some pics of our trip while both of you laugh” and more like these were the means to win.  

After walking through the preserve, it was back to the church in Davis to head off to complete the scavenger hunt before 4pm.  With 7 minutes to spare, team one arrived and shortly after team two made it back.  After much scrutiny the first place team was announced.  Then we all enjoyed more delicious, delicious pizza!  After dinner, the prize was revealed…ice cream for everyone!  The fact is this was a team building event not a competition.  It was meant for all to simply have fun getting to know each other better, work together, and rely on one another.  When we do, we all win.

We walked together to the ice cream shop, enjoyed mass quantities, and returned to the church for one final potty break and load up for home.  Pastor Ruth offered a blessing for our travel and the majority of the team headed off while Pastor Mark stayed behind to finish the study with the church.  Shortly after the study concluded, he returned home as well.

REFLECTIONS on the youth service trip

The purpose of a service trip has several parts and for me they are…

To prayerfully consider what God needs us to do for the people he has put into place when we are there. 

To prepare mentally, physically and spiritually long before the trip. 

To be a part of a team in every sense of the word; respecting the needs of others before your own, stepping up and stepping in when stepping is needed, and making every attempt to enjoy yourself in the process.

To support each other during the trip.  Thank God for every blessing and learn from our missteps.  (Success is never an absence of failure but the ability to harness failure as the means to find out what works.)

I had a great time.  Overall, the experience offered me the chance to minister to a lot of people and to share the love of Christ with as many as would allow me to.  I had more time than I’ve had in the past year to sit with God’s presence, breathe deeply and consider nothing more than how well the greens of the trees fit with the blue of the sky.

It wasn’t all blue skies and puppies.  It’s clear that we are living in troubled times with division and questions about inclusion and who qualifies for the love and the grace of God.  The bottom line is this, we must do what we are able to show that the Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion.  Be the example that we are all called to “go and make disciples of all nations” which means of all people, period.  This shared commission means that it’s possible to make disciples of all nations.  Jesus wouldn’t say it if it were not truth.  And it’s possible when we all do our part in our sphere of influence.  Sometimes, extending that sphere on purpose to a place you’ve never been before allows His purpose to be realized there along with with a renewed appreciation for His plan to those who choose to “go”.


What Lies Ahead?

With Pastor Mark moving on to a new appointment, we don’t know precisely what God has in store for this ministry.  With God’s help, we all will prayerfully consider what it may look like a year from now.  My wish is that it will be similar with enhancements that add to the service offered as well as spiritual renewal for all.  If it is agreed to go forward, I will offer my God given gifts to the effort.  One thing is certain; if this ministry is to continue we must raise funds to support it.  Any ministry that is intended to prepare our young people for a life of service in His name is an investment we cannot afford to lose.

The trip to Blackwater Falls and Davis had powerful water running through it in a multitude of ways.  Water led to our staying in a cozy cabin which was nothing short of a gift.  The water fall the park is named for was a powerful example of what water can do to landscape.  The Just Walk Across the Room study with the people in Davis quenched souls thirsty to become better evangelists of God’s truth.  And the whitewater rafting adventure inspired seven teens to want to come back again. 

Thank you for your prayers and support and God bless you!

With hands to the plow,

Pastor Theresa