Jefferson Street youth get spiritual high from trip

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NATCHEZ — Roller coasters and rides at Six Flags, visiting the St. Louis Zoo, pictures at the Arch and a stage show in Branson sound like the makings of a fun-filled summer vacation.

But for a group of 38 from Jefferson Street United Methodist Church in Natchez, those were secondary to what followed.

After spending five days in Missouri, the group headed down the road to Eureka Springs, Ark., for four days of spiritual revival.

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The summer trip is an annual youth-planned excursion that combines fun, service activities and worship. For the youth, the pay off for the hard work is the “spiritual high” that is felt after the trip.

“You work hard all year on it with fundraising and planning,” 18-year-old Joanna David said. “But now that I’m packing for college, I look at my bulletin board and all my favorite memories are from summer trip.”

This year’s memories will include a day spent with the children at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis. During the annual trip at least one day is dedicated to serving the community they are visiting.

In the past, the service day has been spent doing manual labor but this year the group was able to spend time indoors doing activities with the children. Some group members helped with a dance class, others assisted during an art project and others played games with the children.

“They split us up to work with different groups and that was really cool,” said Guy Wimberly 17. “We got to really just hang out with the kids.”

Youth coordinator, Judge John Hudson, said the children at the Boys & Girls Club enjoyed having different faces around.

“They would get totally mobbed by the kids,” Hudson said. “They kept asking if we were coming back.

“It was great to see the light in their eyes.”

Unfortunately for the children, the group was only able to stick around for one day. Soon after leaving the Boys & Girls Club, they were back on the road and headed for Eureka Springs for four days of reflection.

The theme for the trip was “Find Him, find yourself” and focused on discovering God’s purpose for each person. There were four separate sessions during the trip. Each consisted of worship, prayer and Bible study.

Highlights of the trip for many were the reconciliation service, near the beginning of the trip, and the affirmation service at the end of the trip.

During the affirmation service, each person recognizes three others for being a special influence on them.

The reconciliation service gives the students on the trip the opportunity to apologize to others and talk out differences.

For Chesley Coffey, 17, the trip taught him that reconciliation is a necessity.

“You really have to learn to get along with the group because you are pretty much isolated with them,” said Coffey, a junior at Trinity Episcopal Day School. “It gives you the opportunity to pull back together.”

Getting away from the distractions of everyday life and being able to relax and reflect was a welcomed opportunity for Martin Charboneau.

“They take your cell phone and your music so during free time you really get to relax and focus,” said Charboneau, a 15 year-old sophomore at Cathedral High School. “Your mindset is so different.”

David agreed that the environment was a special part of the experience.

“It can’t be duplicated,” David said.

During their time in Eureka Springs, the group visited the outdoor passion play, “The New Great Passion Play.” In addition to seeing the drama, the group took part in a tour called “The New Holy Land.”

“The New Holy Land” is a interactive Biblical teaching tour that allows visitors to meet and interact with Biblical figures and to learn about the Middle Eastern culture.

During the tour, the group watched the “Parable of the Potter” in which a potter molded a piece of clay into pottery while telling a faith story of how God shapes his followers like a potter shapes the clay into pottery.

“He really gets into it and you can see him tearing up at the end,” Charboneau said. “He had a bowl of water and he kept relating the water and clay back to how God pours his soul into shaping us.”

Now that the group is back in Natchez the feelings are mixed.

David, a freshman at Ole Miss said her feelings are also mixed because this was her last summer trip.

“It is bittersweet because for the last four years the youth group has been my life,” David said. “But now it is time for other people to experience it.”

Grant Benoit, who will be a freshman at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., has different feelings about his final summer trip.

“I’m looking at it for all the good it has done in my life and all the great memories I have.

“It was a great spiritual awakening.”