§ 160 middle and high school students
§ 300 volunteers
§ 25 different projects
§ 3 counties
§ 14 different churches
§ One Awesome God!
That’s Erasing the Lines in a nutshell! I’m in awe each year at how God shows up and shows off during the week. It is truly amazing to see and even more amazing to be a part of it. For those of you who are new to Kinston and not familiar with Erasing the Lines, allow me to share a little about it.
In 2003, Sammy Hudson (current Director of Son Set Ministries, sponsor of ETL) was a youth pastor at Queen Street UMC. He was returning from a mission trip in Philadelphia with his youth group when one of them asked the question, “Why can’t we do this same thing in Kinston?”
“Yeah, why not?” Sammy replied. He immediately began to call around to see if other churches would also get involved in a local mission project. In June 2004, after much planning, Kinston held its first Erasing the Lines mission week. There were three churches involved- Queen St., Westminster and Grace Fellowship. Thirty-five students and around 25 volunteers made up the first year’s campers and staff. We all stayed at Rochelle Middle School each night to give the feel of being away on a mission trip. Daily projects ranged from building wheelchair ramps, to playing with kids at the Boys and Girls Club, to leading VBS at Southeast School. The students enthusiastically jumped in, painting, doing minor home repairs and cleaning up yards, all the while knowing these projects were just an excuse to be in the neighborhood. Each project was a vehicle to build a relationship. It was a way to show the love of Jesus, and God amazed each of us over and over as people responded to that love.
Actually, ETL was meant to be a one-time event. We had no plans to do it again the next year. However, the City of Kinston recognized the impact of serving others and wanted ETL to become an annual event. Sammy Hudson, Rick Kearney and I all met and agreed. The next summer, it quadrupled in size with 125 students participating. Amazingly, here we are in 2011, and we’ve just completed our eighth year of ETL.
What makes ETL unique? Why do students want to be involved in it? What keeps our volunteers coming back year after year? Why does ETL have such a huge impact on the city and the people we serve? I believe the key is that ETL has always been more about relationships than service.
For example, our relationship with our community is important. For most of us, we are giving back to our own city. We are demonstrating that Jesus and the Church cares for our city. We are familiar with the streets and sometimes even serve people we know from our churches, schools or other groups. There is joy, a certain pride in doing for your own town. There’s also an awakening. When we serve the homeless and broken in our own city, we can no longer deny their existence. They have a face and a name. Many students are shocked the first time they see the way others live. They have no idea people in Kinston live in such poverty and brokenness. They see the struggles and challenges that others face and hopefully, they begin to see all people through God’s eyes.
Just as important as our relationship with our community is our connection to each other. Each day in ETL, we serve together in a group, and no one is doing their own thing. This year, there were 17 small groups consisting of 9 -10 middle and high school students from different churches, a college-aged leader and an adult van driver. Every day the groups worked together, played together, ate together, traveled together and worshiped together. They prayed together and grew in their relationship with God. Ultimately, students built friendships to last a lifetime.
In addition to our community relationships and friendships with each other, the most important component to ETL is our relationship with God who prompts us to serve. We serve others because of our love for God and His love for us. We also serve because we want others to be in relationship with Him. Our desire is for others to see Jesus shining through us and to seek to begin or renew their own relationship with God. The service is simply an excuse to point others to Jesus.
Each night at ETL, students are asked the question, “Where have you seen Jesus today?” Answers range from witnessing random acts of kindness to working together as a group. Many times students share that they’ve had the opportunity to tell someone else about Jesus. What sweet moments these are to witness.
What about you? Where have you seen Jesus lately? What are some ways you can find to erase some lines and point others to Jesus? You don’t have to wait for the next ETL. Volunteer at the Homeless Shelter, the SAFE House, the EPIC Center or Daybreak. Get involved at the Refuge or in any other local ministry. Help your neighbor with yard work or a repair project. The truth is, God is at work all over this city! Will you ask Him where He wants you to join Him?