I am continually amazed at how experiences, like snowflakes, are all different. Recently I ventured to Washington D.C. with four traveling companions from the Stewart Center. Although, thanks to family trips and my years with the U.S.D.A , I had been to D.C. on numerous occasions I had never visited the Nation’s Capital with three middle school boys or while playing tour guide. At the trip’s outset I was intent on providing the young men, along with our chaperon, Austin, with learning opportunities that would broaden their minds and etch long lasting memories into their brains. Minds were enlightened and memories were made but to my surprise the most important aspect of the trip was the bonds formed within our traveling party.
During our four days in Washington we visited the Capitol, the White House, the Holocaust Museum, numerous memorials and several Smithsonian museums along with other attractions. Each stop on our tour brought new questions and knowledge to the minds of our young men. Equally important as the knowledge gained is that the adventure has now become part of our group’s identity.
As we boarded the plan in Atlanta it came to mind that for these young men everything about the trip, even their first plane ride, will always be associated with the Stewart Center. As we stood in silence for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as we stared in disbelief at the Holocaust Museum’s disturbing images, as we cheered the Washington National’s game winning home run and as we spent nights sleeping on the floor of Calvary Baptist Church we formed bonds that transcend our time in D.C.
I have been on educational trips with school groups and mission trips with church groups but I underestimated, or had forgotten, the powerful effects separation and adventure can have on relationships. Disconnecting from familiar people, routines and surroundings coupled with activities unique to distance places creates an atmosphere where relationships can grow deeper than they do in everyday life.
The three young men that went on the trip are back at the Center this summer participating in camp, and although we have returned to our accepted roles at the Stewart Center our relationships with one another are much different than they were during the school year. At the Stewart Center we are intentional about celebrating people’s identity and building on the strengths of our community. The D.C. trip, more than any other experience I have had during my nineteen months with the ministry, opened my eyes to the connection I have with the people of southeast Atlanta and the children with which we serve.
Randy, Marcus and Ty’mon are no longer students I minister with at the Stewart Center; they are friends and young men I hope to be in relationship with for the rest of my life.