Well, there are only four more days of project. Wow. It's still hard to believe that the end of project is so close, but I'm feeling ready to go home. This last week has been pretty hard, but also had some of the best moments of project.
The rest of the week at Tabernacle was pretty fun. We kept playing and reading with the kids, and also did gospel bracelets with them. It was very chill compared to running 7 hours of VBS at New Beginnings, for sure. I know that God used me there and hope that the kids really felt His love for them by our being there and providing attention.
But the past four days have been crazy busy, and I don't even remember much of Tabernacle after all that happened. I've been working on the project newsletter during most of my free time, which has been tons of fun. It's really hard to distill everything that happened, all the people we connected with and ways we saw God at work, into four pages, but it's going pretty well and I'm excited to be done and send them to everyones' family and supporters. It has summeries of our ministry and other weekly events, as well as stories of people that really made an impression on us. After it's finished, I'll see if there is some way to post it here. (But in my mind this blog is really the complete story, anyway)
So that was what I worked on Friday after our last day of ministry at Tabernacle. It was pretty strange to be done with ministry, and in a way I feel like the project ended with our ministry on Friday. I've had to trust God to still work in and through me, and to have a purpose for keeping me here. The last social on Friday evening was a "Christmas in July" party at Jack's house. There were extensive Christmas decorations, a holiday ham for dinner, and a white elephant gift exchange. Unfortunately, keeping up their usual secrecy the social team only told us to bring something we didn't want to keep to the event with nothing on what we would do with them, so I picked the kite that everyone had been given at the beginning of the project, which probably wouldn't have been in very high demand.
During all the community building and time spent with my friends on project, God has been teaching me more about myself. More specifically, I've realized that I have a real need for times of solitude and reflection. Not that I don't need fellowship or don't enjoy being with friends, but I need occasional time alone with God to recharge and just be with Him. I was feeling this need acutely the whole evening and was unable to do anything about it, to the point where it was really hard to have fun when all I wanted to do was have some quiet time. I don't know if this need for solitude is something I share with the others on my project, but it kind of ruined the party for me.
Saturday was even busier. I managed to get to the bank to cash a check that would get me through the rest of project financially. That day, we were having an outreach with City on the Hill Chapel, a largely Nigerian church planted by Eastbrook that Tim randomly ran into during our park outreach. They were having a barbecue, kind of like what COAH did, and we were helping out. We arrive and met with Pastor Taiyo, a fascinating man with a real heart for God and a good deal of wisdom. He led us in some prayer and shared his heart for what his church was doing. After that we got to work helping set up and pass out flyers in the neighborhood to invite people.
Soon enough, people started coming in and eating. I'm not sure how many were with the church, but I don't think the turnout was that good. I hadn't had much to eat for breakfast as our floor is trying to run out of food before we leave, so I ate a huge lunch and became pretty lethargic for the rest of the afternoon. Due to that and the loud-ish music and blinding sunlight, I kind of wandered around the barbecue in a daze, unsure what to do or how to serve. I really like having a definite task to pursue, so this wasn't too fun. I did get to pass out the meat to people, which was good, but that went pretty quickly. At least everyone else seemed to be having more fun, talking with the people or playing with the kids. (One kid kept biking around trying to bring people in by shouting "FREE FOOD!", even when no one was nearby)
So that was kind of discouraging. I was ashamed to feel kind of glad to go. Luckily, we had a definite mission to pursue after that. I think it was Tim who had the idea of honoring the women on project by giving them picture frames with Ezekiel 16:14b painted on them and cards telling them how much we appreciated them. We therefore stopped at Walmart under the pretense of 'bro time' on the way home to buy the materials. things were kind of dicey due to Katelin and Kiera showing up at Walmart at roughly the same time as we did to buy food or something; I did recon to ensure they didn't stumble across the men looking for picture frames and painting supplies. While there, Pastor Taiyo called Tim to let him know that they had apparently made some rice for us, so after getting supplies we went back to City on the Hill to pick up the rice--over 20 pounds of it! The completely full pan took two people to carefully carry to the trunk and we still have lots of it to eat. It's delicious. We only managed to find nine picture frames at Walmart, so we went to another one, which happened to have the remaining four! That taken care of, we had just enough time to get home and get dressed up to go to Applebee's to celebrate Kristen's 21st birthday.
Applebee's was a pretty good time. We were going to Eastbrook Church the next day, which was much less formal than the churches we'd been visiting (for that matter, so was the Lao church), so Saturday night was our last chance to get dressed up. We randomly saw Gloria's brother while eating outside, which was funny. After getting back we had a 'mocktail' party with margarita and pina colada mix (minus the alcohol) and the Christmas in July decorations. That stuff was DELICIOUS. (Mom, if you're reading this, please get us some) Unfortunately I was really full from Applebee's, but we kept some of it in the freezer and have been enjoying it since. We played a few rounds of Never Have I Ever, which I am apparently really good at due to all the things I have never done or tried, particularly foods and drinks. (i.e. cheeseburgers, mashed potatoes, and coffee)
The next day was Eastbrook. I'd already spent two weeks of ministry there plus the prayer night, so I was really glad to return. It was by far the most familiar church we'd been to, with projected lyrics, a praise band, and printed programs! It was really diverse, which was cool to see; they really seem to care about promoting diversity as the talk on the prayer night was about. Pastor Marc Erickson did a great sermon on Acts 8; it was a really multifaceted lesson and it was clear that he has a real gift for delving into scripture and pulling out insight. I hadn't been feeling God's presence as much since finishing ministry, and He definitely answered my prayers for restoration and healing at that service.
After church we got lunch at Bayshore before going to a park to pray over the city. It was on a big hill that literally looked out of the whole city; amazing view. The group picture of us with the Milwaukee skyline in the background is going front and center on the newsletter. I prayed with Tim, Arron, and Jacob; they spent the first while just talking while I prayed silently before we each prayed something for the city and our project. It was a really reflective time and it hit me how all our ministry was in God's hands now; we've done all we can and have to trust Him to use our efforts as part of His plan.
After we got back, it was time for more 'bro time'. In reality, this meant painting the picture frames. Luckily we had Aaron, Tim, and Bryan the painters to instruct and lead us in this effort. We laid out paper towels on the kitchen table and got to work with Man vs. Wild (a new favorite of the project men) playing in the background. We put on two coats of white paint as Jack the calligrapher put each lady's name on the frames, then penciled in the verse. We got roughly halfway through psinting the verses on before we had to eat and get to our last set of ministry and committee meetings.
Apparently all our 'bro time' had made the women pretty suspicious. At the vocational meeting, Anna (who, as associate project director, has keys to our floor) was interested in seeing what was going on on our floor and almost used fetching Jack and Jacob as an excuse to do so. It was pretty funny, as we'd already hidden all the painting stuff in a vacant room and she wouldn't have found anything, but I still pretended to be slightly suspect. Apparently they were even more suspicious at the marketplace meeting, believing we were planning to take them somewhere Sunday night. During committee meetings, some of the men formed a plan to satisfy their suspicions. We would take the women on the Riverwalk path downtown, give them a fun time, let them know how much we appreciated them, and most importantly, make them think we'd spent our 'bro time' planning it. In the 15 minutes before leaving, we managed to get a basic plan down and rewrite the lyrics to one of our worship songs to sing to them.
So that night was basically awesome. Riverwalk was really scenic; we didn't tell them where we were going and just drove there slowly packed into Jacob's car, letting them follow. We went a little ways on it before stopping at some steps. We each managed to say something about how much we'd been blessed by them on project; even though we'd thrown together the whole event at the last second, we really meant what we said and I'm glad we got the opportunity to express it. After this we sang our song with Jack playing guitar, which they really loved, and then just did some worship songs for a while. We had some people on the other side of the river and on passing boats get excited and clap with us, which was awesome. I'm really glad the women gave us the idea of doing that, as it was really nice to do something nice for them. And, of course, they absolutely did not expect that we had something else planned for them. After getting back we finished the painting of the frames before going to bed.
The next day we sort of had a mini-outreach in the form of packing "Powerpacks" for needy students in the fall. We went to the vacant room behind the chapel and carted in dozens of boxes filled with school supplies. After much opening of boxes and packaging, we got an assembly line going and turned the backpacks out pretty quickly. I was opening notebooks as fast as I could; they were unfortunately plastic-wrapped in packs of four and each backpack got five, so they went through them pretty fast. The room was a total mess afterward, and we underestimated how many notebooks we had, but we put together several hundred backpacks. This was more the kind of service I'd been hoping to do when I signed up for the project, and though I'm glad to have been stretched in loving on people so much for our ministry, it was nice to just do some basic service.
That afternoon, Aaron took our action group out to Beaver Lake, where a house he and Tim had painted was situated. They had really been building it up as "the clearest lake you'll ever see" and beyond gorgeous. When we finally managed to find the public access to the lake, it was a little dock for hand-launching boats with private property on each side. Milwaukee may have some beautiful lakes, but those lucky enough to have lakefront homes didn't seem too willing to share. Unfortunately things didn't get much better from there as we wandered around looking for a park for several hours, the six of us crammed into Jacob's two-door car. We finally found a park and struggled to grill dinner with a wood fire Bryan made with his mad survival skills while fighting off bugs. (Luckily I don't seem to attract mosquitoes for some reason) Personally I would have liked to just stay at COAH and have an ordinary evening rather than try one crazy scheme for having a lakefront barbecue after another, but I seemed to be the only one who didn't think it was the best action group ever, so oh well. (I stand by the one where we went to BWW)
We luckily returned to COAH away from the bugs for the actual Bible study, which was great after we got out of the room with mold I was allergic to. (I was puzzled as to how my allergies only started acting up after we got back inside) After going over applications of the key passages in Philippians we studied, we wrote the cards for the ladies to accompany their picture frames. The plan was to have Tim and a few other guys stay up late and leave the gifts in front of their doors so they would discover them the next morning.
Today I finally got some free time. We got a text at 6:47 AM expressing thanks for the gifts (no idea what they were doing up so early); it was really great to see our crazy awesome plan to surprise the women finally happen. After getting up and having quiet time and breakfast, I buckled down to get the newsletter as close to done as I could. I have the fourth draft printed, and except for some help with the pictures it's looking pretty close to done indeed. Lots of people are out seeing more of the city and getting Tim a fade (really short haircut), but I'm enjoying the chance to have some time to reflax and reflect. I hope to finish the newsletter tonight or early tomorrow. With only four more days on project left, pray that God would help us make the most of our time here and bring the lessons and joy He gave us on project back home!
Composed ~1:00 PM, Tuesday, August 3rd
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