Lessons From Taking High School Students Out of the Country
Sixteen high school students, two faculty members, and I went to the Dominican Republic for a week in June to serve with Kids Alive International (please checkout this awesome organization!). Trips like this are always a mixed bag. They come with all the normal challenges that you’d expect trying to get so many people on buses and planes, through airports, and settled into a cross cultural context. But they also provide unique opportunities for personal and communal spiritual development. This trip began with the former.
The next week was marked by surprising elation and expected frustration. There were moments when students were phenomenal - sharing testimonies, working together, enjoying God, His people, and creation. There were other moments that were not. But here is what I’m learning from taking high school students out of the country.
I am just like them. I crave love, significance, and comfort more than God.
“But, but!” I say to myself, “my cravings are justified.” How can it be wrong to miss the love of my wife and kids, long to make an impact, and to give myself permission to take it easy?
But their cravings are vices! Phones, momentary impact, and flirting. Oh they are bad. I’m good.
Here is the reality, I missed my phone too, I’m just a little more experienced in behavior management. I wanted the feels of momentary success and significance of this trip too. If I am really honest, I want people to think I’m attractive, impressive, and desirable too. Idolatry is not pursuing bad things but craving anything more than the presence and favor of God. And I’m still fashioning idols at 32.
And I need the same thing as them. The highlight of the trip was team worship each night. Something profound and mysterious happens when you sing with others. Singing changes the way you look at others and yourself. When you see others singing, it humanizes them. You realize they aren’t the caricature you’ve made them out to be. They are living and breathing; made in the image of God and sustained by His grace. And when you sing, you realize you aren’t so great. Singing about God’s glory reminds you that you have been living very much for your own, and it humbles you. Singing to the LORD confronts us with the message of Jesus. But, the good news that Jesus came to share (and be!) starts with bad news. We are more sinful and selfish than we thought, but we are more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.
‘23-24 School Theme
Our school theme this year is Sing to the LORD from 2 Chronicles 20 and Psalm 100. Singing is risky and makes us vulnerable. Not surprisingly, it can be hard for everyone (and especially students and young adults) to belt it out. But we all listen to music, we are shaped by melodies and lyrics, and there is a strange power in music that moves us, removes us from worries, soothes our spirit. So, God commands us to sing and praise Him so that we can tangibly and communally experience the benefits of being loved and saved by God. We are going to explore and experience the power of singing together this year through corporate worship and special concerts!
Spiritual Life at CHS - Partnership, Participation, and Process
Spiritual life at Christian Heritage is a partnership with parents and churches to help students understand that “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Learning to be captivated by Jesus Christ and His Kingdom means participation. It happens everywhere from student clubs to the science lab and from the sports field to chapel. Learning to love Jesus is a process. At CHS we want our students to live in the hopeful tension expressed in the Gospel of Mark, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom is not an easy road, but it is the path to life (Psalm 16:11).
The flight home…
Our trip home looked like it might be just as nightmarish as the start. We were on the runway and ready to take off when the pilot announced, “The main engine didn’t start right. A heat sensor is not working. We are going to get the engineers to take a look.” Then he added, “It might be a different story if we were in the air.” The ambiguity of that last sentence was not what the passengers were looking for. What followed was no small amount of hysteria and grumbling. Some passengers immediately went to the door and demanded to be let off. They wanted no part in this flight. Finally everyone was asked to deboard. The mood in the terminal was the same on the flight. It was packed. Nowhere to sit. Long lines for food. Spotty WIFI. And no clarity on if we’d have a flight out. Meanwhile, I had no idea what I would do with 19 people in Santiago if our flight was canceled and rescheduled for another day. We waited for three hours with no clear message from the airline (I won’t tell you the airline - this isn’t about them). Then, the gate agent said that the flight was on and we needed to board immediately. I ran back to the students and delivered the message - and their jaws dropped. It was more shock and awe than the joy and relief I was expecting from them. “Chappy,” they said, “we literally just finished praying that God would sort this out.”
Mark Persson, aka “Chappy P,” is the Chaplain at CHS. He is married to Michelle, and they have three children: Karis (starting Kindergarten at CHS!), Micah, and Asher. Mark likes baking (read “eating”) bread, running, reading, and building forts with his kids. He is an elder at his church. And, he is blessed beyond belief to work alongside the incredible staff and faculty at CHS as they serve students and families!