Day Six: Serving and Playing Until the End

Today was our last day of work here in Cincinnati, and it was packed! We started off doing a mailing project for SOTENI, an organization housed in Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church that focuses on clean water projects in Africa. When we finished the mailing, they provided us with a delicious pizza lunch as a thank you for helping.

After lunch we went to the Community Center where we’ve had our showers, but this time we went to help with their Day Camp program. All afternoon was spent playing dodgeball and basketball, dancing, coloring, singing and laughing with children from the neighborhood. It was an amazing time where everyone’s unique gifts and talents could shine.

Our final service location was a program call Off the Streets that helps older women with a variety of services. We provided snacks and played bingo with some of the women, who won prizes that would be useful for their homes. They were lots of fun and we enjoyed talking with them while we played.

After our work day ended we took super fast showers and then went to dinner at a German restaurant just across the river in Kentucky. This whole area has a strong German influence, so it made sense to enjoy some German cuisine on our last night in Cincinnati.

We’re packed and in bed now. Tomorrow we’ll get up, eat breakfast, clean up, load the vans, and head for home. It’s been a great trip and we can’t wait to share stories and pictures in worship on Sunday, June 30th!


Day Five: Packing and Feeding

Today we got up early for breakfast and then headed to the Freestore Food Bank to work a shift on their summer food box assembly line. In a couple of hours we packed food boxes that will be distributed to 760 children around the Cincinnati area over the week of July 4th! It was fun work that will hopefully make a difference.

After the morning shift, we picked up lunch and ate at the church before taking naps. Then we headed out to the Francis Center, where we served a meal to homeless and/or food insecure people.

This work was different than the food boxes most notably because of the human interaction. We could look people in the eyes and greet them while putting spaghetti, meatballs, and corn on their plates. Sometimes that interaction made things easier and sometimes it made things uncomfortable — and God was present in all of it.

When our work for the day was done, we showered and then drove across the river into Kentucky for a pizza dinner. Goodnight for now. We’ll check back in tomorrow night!

Day Four: Pantry and PFLAG and Zoo, Oh My!

Today our work began in earnest, but not before a little celebration. It is Luke’s birthday, so we started the day with fancy donuts for breakfast. After that, we divided into two work groups and headed to our service opportunities.

One group served at the St. George Food Pantry, where they met amazing volunteers and visitors. The work included lots of cleaning, sorting food donations, and even some painting. When all was said and done, the pantry looked great! It felt like a job well done and helped the regular workers a lot.

The other group met with Dan (AKA: Sparkle Leigh) and worked on a special project for PFLAG. PFLAG stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” and helps parents/friends have a safe and understanding community to turn to when a loved one comes out. We made bracelets with info tags that will be handed out later this month — and we got to hear Dan’s story while we worked.

(*side note: this work with LGBTQ+ community organizations ties into our focus on homelessness because among homeless youth, forty percent are LGBTQ+)

After work ended, we had a late lunch at Skyline Chili (a Cincinnati institution). Then we went to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. It was a good day there because the rain held off and lots of animals were out.

Tonight we had a special dinner. Lara’s friend Stacey made a reservation at a Korean restaurant where we finished celebrating Luke’s birthday. For many it was the first time they’d had Korean food and no one was disappointed.

We’ve had our debrief and gone to bed because tomorrow we’ve got more (and earlier) work to do. Can’t wait to see what the day will bring!

Day Three: Getting to Know You

Today centered around the work of getting to know this church community that has welcomed us in Cincinnati.

We began our Sunday with worship here at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. The hospitality shown to us was (and is) extravagant. Our youth who enjoy singing were invited to join the choir for the morning and then they sang during worship. Other church folk went out of their way to greet us, learn our names, and show us around. Then during worship we were welcomed again.

Because it is Pride month, and because Pride month is celebrated in this congregation, worship was very different. It included a special story time in which our new friend Dan, performing as Sparkle Leigh, read a children’s book about the work and death of Harvey Milk. Another church member shared his coming out story, and the gathered community rejoiced in the way he had come to know he is both created by and fiercely loved by God.

The rest of worship included hymns and a choral anthem, scripture and responsive readings — much like what we are used to back home. Many a youth and adult remarked that the service was really special and meaningful.

After worship, a couple in the church provided us with a delicious lunch. They also found a way to stream the Women’s World Cup game so that we could watch the US win another game. Some important naps were also had by several among us. 🙂

That same couple, as well another church member, opened their homes to us tonight so we could take showers. That meant even more radical hospitality in the form of snacks, towels and stories.

After showers we returned to the church for dinner. Then we spent the evening playing a massive game of Scattergories before sharing highs/lows, God sightings, and questions. Now we’re tucked in bed. Tomorrow our work begins in earnest, so we need our sleep!

Day Two: Market to Table

Day two of our trip was filled with opportunities to begin knowing this city and her people (plus a little history).

We started with a delicious breakfast. Food is always excellent on a trip when you’ve got Jeff Becker with you! After breakfast, we headed to the Findlay Market to select some of our food for the week.

Youth divided into groups and purchased things that looked tasty or interesting: breads, veggies, cheeses, pasta, and meats. Then we got lunch to go and brought everything back to the church so we could eat and put away groceries.

After lunch and a quick nap, we went to the Cincinnati Museum Center for a tour at the Holocaust and Humanity Center. This new museum tells the stories of holocaust survivors who settled in Cincinnati, and encourages visitors to use their gifts as “upstanders” instead of being bystanders to oppression and hatred.

After the tour we also watched an OMNI film about Ancient Egyptian mummification of Pharaohs and other leaders. Then we came back to the church and spent the evening creating an amazing dinner by pulling together some of the items purchased at the market.

We ended the day by sharing highs, lows, and God moments. Now we’re headed to bed — tomorrow we’ll worship with our host church and enjoy some of their hospitality.

Hello, Cincinnati!

This morning our group of twelve youth and five adults met at the church for an EARLY departure. After an uneventful drive across Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and part of Ohio, we arrived in Cincinnati around dinner time.

Our amazing hosts at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church had pizza arriving as we pulled in. We toured their gorgeous building, ate dinner, unloaded the vans, and settled into the classrooms that will serve as home base this week.

Tonight we’re headed to bed and tomorrow will bring lots of Cincinnati explorations (work begins later in our trip)!

Epic Heifer Ranch Trip, Day 6: Goodbye Ranch, Hello Little Rock!

This morning we loaded our vehicles and said goodbye to Heifer Ranch. It’s been such a great experience, and we leave inspired to do and be differently when we return home.

Prior to leaving the Ranch, our facilitator gave us a surprise. She let us into the show barn to spend some time with the animals!! After snuggling up to bunnies, goats, and a couple of turkeys, we did some shopping in the gift shop. Then we headed out to Little Rock.

In Little Rock we’re staying at a local Disciples Church. We’ve had a couple of fantastic meals at area restaurants, including the pizzeria where Lara and Chuck had their first date. Awwwww…

Now we’re tucking into bed. Tomorrow we’ll bid Arkansas adieu and return home. It’s been a great week. Thanks for sharing it with us!

Epic Heifer Ranch Trip, Day 5: Service is Joy!

This morning after breakfast, about half of our group chose to do some extra weeding on our own and gave some attention to the Peace Garden here at the Ranch. The head of the CSA noticed and let us pick some blueberries and blackberries as a treat. Yum!

For our morning, we did another round of service learning (work) on the Ranch. Half of our group went with the livestock team to clean out the chicken nurseries. The other half finished weeding the field of squash that was started on Tuesday. Both were hot and dirty jobs, but our new mantra is “service is joy.”

After work we had time to shower, eat lunch, and nap. Then our afternoon was filled with a final class on how Heifer International operates around the world. We learned about the differences between vulnerable, subsistence, and resilient communities, played games, and wrote letters to ourselves that will be sent later in the year.

Following dinner, we had time to hang out. Some played card games, others hiked around the Ranch, and others took naps or talked in smaller groups. We ended the day with highs/lows/god sightings and prayer. Now we’re packing so that we can head to Little Rock in the morning. Goodnight!

Epic Heifer Ranch Trip, Day 4: Global Village and Other Challenges

Today we woke up in the Global Village. It was a cool, misty morning and we woke up early after very little sleep. The slums had the job of cooking breakfast for the entire village, but their fire pit was full of water. Thankfully, Thailand still had coals going, so we journeyed to their home and cooked/are our oatmeal there.

Following breakfast, we had to pack our things and clear out the village. After doing so, we all had chores to help reset the village for next week’s volunteers. Then, when everything was clean and reset, the whole group debriefed our experience in the Global Village. It was hard to keep going through chores and debrief with so little food or sleep — another reminder of reality for so many in the world.

After the Global Village experience was over, we ate lunch in the dining hall, took showers, and got some rest. Then our team did some more intensive team building challenges out at the challenge course. Again, fatigue made everything harder, but there was a rush of energy when things went well on a challenge!

Dinner came next and was followed by a trip off-Ranch to Sonic. Then we had a time for devotional and highs/lows before heading to bed. Tomorrow will be another full day, so we need to catch up on sleep!

Epic Heifer Ranch Trip, Day 3: Service and Entering the Global Village

On Tuesday morning we had our first service (work) hours. We were split into two groups, with one cutting firewood and the other weeding rows of squash. Both jobs were hot and important to the daily needs on the Ranch. We tried to work with the motto “service is joy” in our hearts.

After our morning of work, we got ready to enter the Global Village. This hands on learning experience takes volunteers into a brief poverty simulation where groups are split into families, placed in different global locations with culturally appropriate housing, and given small amounts of resources. The goal of every group is to eat dinner and get some sleep in their housing, using the resources provided and by trading/working with other families.

Our group was divided into Thailand, Zambia, and the urban slums. Thailand featured a wooden house on stilts with breezy bamboo walls. Zambia had a round brick home with a cool concrete floor. The urban slums had a few small metal roofed shacks with uneven rocky dirt floors.

Shortly after we found out our locations and entered the Global Village, the rain started. It was a very wet night, but this didn’t change our goals. We still needed food and sleep, and so the work began. Our youth set to trading, working, problem-solving and cooking. There were a few arguments and struggles, both internally and with students from other church groups, but eventually cooperative meals were cooked at three different locations and we all got something to eat.

Sleep was more difficult. Between the rain, the bugs, the discomfort, the sounds, and even the pain from uneven rocky ground, sleep was elusive. We had lots of time to lie awake thinking about the meals we’d have the next day — and the people for whom hunger is a daily reality. For some of us, that thought made sleep even more difficult.