Desiring to Follow His Ways4 min read

In the laziest, hottest days of summer, the last thing you might expect a teenager to do is work willingly. What would compel a 16-year-old to get blisters on her hands from shoveling broken tile from a cracked floor, or suffer the sting of insulation shards? The love of Christ, and a desire to follow in His ways.

One might think that this kind of experience is limited only to those who volunteer abroad. But every summer, a group of kids—my friends and I—can be seen kneeling on a roof, nailing fresh shingles, right at home in our community.

Nestled in the crook of the thumb is the small village of Caro. It is a vibrant, tight-knit community of warm, hardworking people. My church, St. Paul, is the host of the annual “Fixing Up the Thumb” servant event.

In 1996, Director of Christian Education Greg Arnett founded the event and continues to serve as project coordinator.  From 1996-2013, 473 youth from all over the Midwest have attended the servant event. The variety of people is consistently astounding, with groups from Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Nebraska, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, and all over Michigan.

Over the course of one sun-scorched week, we work on five to eight homes in Tuscola County, serving the needy, elderly, and disabled. We paint, install plumbing, and repair flooring, walls, and ceilings.

A typical day begins waking up early to beat the heat and get a head start. It is not always easy to get up in the summer at six o’clock for a group of teenagers, but somehow we manage because we know we serve a purpose greater than ourselves. We work through the morning and break for lunch and Bible study, then push through the heat of the afternoon, working sometimes until sunset.

On every dirt-smeared face is a broad smile that speaks volumes for the impact that the event has on us. My peers and I acquire skills that will last us forever—how to work with our hands, how to work a full, hard day, and how to be compassionate towards others.

Of course, it is not all work/no play. At the end of the day we enjoy spending time with the families we serve, getting to know each other. Because we are so close to the families, we learn what their daily lives are like, opening many eyes to the stark realities of life.

We return to the church and enjoy a fabulous meal prepared by volunteer chefs. Our servant event has served 14,628 meal. The day concludes as Community Life Leader Cathy Arnett surprises us with a fun and engaging activity to keep our spirits high and further build our friendships. These activities include singing along to Greg’s guitar, running around in the grass outside, and a little high-stakes volleyball.

Before we turn the lights out, we hold a group Bible study where spiritual and emotional growth occurs. I have never seen people show so much love for one another as I have during those times. It is a special time to be with the Lord and our Christian brothers and sisters.

Fixin’ Up The Thumb Servant Event has worked on 87 different homes (some of them more than one time) in Tuscola County, and spent around $122,457 on building materials (about 70 percent of our total expenses). The event has always been self-supported (it has never been a line item in our church budget). Special thanks go out to LCMS World Relief, Church Extension Fund of the Michigan District, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Lutheran Housing Support, and all the individuals who have made Fixin’ Up The Thumb possible!

It is hard to say who benefits more, the servants, or the people we serve. It is through this program that I have learned so much about myself, and I know it is life-changing for my new friends as well. I will never forget those times when we served as one family, united in our growth and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate Servant.

St. Paul, Caro earnestly awaits the arrival of this special time each year as the entire congregation prepares to welcome servants from across the nation. I know I am very excited to return for my fourth year! I pray for God’s blessing for all the families that we have served (and have yet to be served), and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the willing hearts of my mentors and peers at St. Paul that continue to give hope to our community.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, teens ages 16-19 volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually. About 41.6 percent of all volunteers, regardless of age, became involved after being asked to volunteer, most often by someone in the organization.

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