Like last year, I went to Tulsa, OK to help out at a church’s VBS, teach their youth and college, and train up members of the team that went. Also, like last year, I am morally obligated as a Longhorn to make jokes about Oklahoma:
“Why did Oklahoma raise the drinking age to 25? To keep alcohol out of their high schools.”
“How do Oklahoman brain cells die? Alone.”
“Why do Oklahomans have a hard time dialing 911? They can’t find the number 11 on phone.”
Now that I have fulfilled my obligation, I can say this: Tulsa was another great experience, even though I was very tired, because the people there were great, hospitable, and encouraging :).
We did not bring as many college students as we would have liked, but we brought a team of four guys and four ladies. Three of the girls we had never met before but came due to the recommendation of a mutual friend; two were from Louisiana and the other from South Texas. It was an interesting dynamic to try to get to know these new team members as we were also trying to serve, and they were very helpful and brought fresh eyes to what we were doing.
At least we had girls come with us this time rather than just have a team of dudes like last year.
What we did
Once again, we helped out at the Tulsa Chinese Christian Church’s vacation Bible school in the mornings before teaching the youth and college students in the afternoon. It made for long days and I also had a ton of grading and ministry stuff to do on the side, but it was still a good experience. I had a group of kids that I led around during VBS time, and overall I did enjoy being with them even though I don’t have a ton of experience working with children.
As usual, VBS featured many cheesy songs and hand motions, but the overall message was alright and the songs kind of grow on you as the week goes on. Similar to last year, I was impressed by the level of effort, organization, and service the members poured into VBS. It was encouraging to see them want to serve the kids as well as reach out to their families who were around the area.
The youth/college “conference” was good, if not tiring and challenging. Since it was after VBS and lunch, one can imagine how tired everyone was for this part, so I don’t begrudge the young people at all for struggling to fight off sleeping. This is why when I taught on Hebrews 12:1-3, I made up a silly illustration of them running around the gym with backpacks on that tied back into the lesson. The intent was to wake them all up, but it might have just made them more tired. Shrug. Still, I enjoyed teaching them and interacting with them all, as they are a bright group of youngsters. It is unfortunate that some of them have to settle for OU ;). For the other sessions, we had two team members share their testimony and my co-worker Zephaniah teach a couple of times.
On Friday night, we had parents’ night and I gave a short message from Mark 10:13-16 to the parents. I was pretty exhausted by then, having to stay up several nights in order to grade assignments, but God gave me enough energy to be more upbeat and active than I normally am when I speak. It was challenging to speak in a way that was directed at the parents but also mindful that there were a bunch of kids in the sanctuary with short attention spans, but I think it went well enough and I finished inside of 20 minutes (luckily, there was no need for a translator so the message wasn’t elongated). After that, the parents got to tour the different stations for VBS and have refreshments.
On Sunday, Zephaniah preached at the church’s morning service, we had lunch, and we took off for home.
We stayed at a fairly nice hotel and still got to have some down time for working out, talking, and hanging out with some of the youth. Some of us went to two of the youth girls’ house, where the rule was that we had to participate in the Just Dance video game. I was quite bad at it, but rules are rules, I suppose. They did this last year too, though I stayed back at the hotel that time. They had a cool dog too, if not very hyper.
On Thursday night, we joined members of the church to go to a homeless ministry, where an organization sets up dinner and services under a bridge for local people who may need them. It was a little hot and humid, but it was a neat experience conversing with some people and trying to show them God’s love. I kind of felt like I was the lazy one, though, because one regular, who is known to love chess, there challenged me to a game that lasted like an hour (he literally picked me out of the crowd and said “You look like you know how to play chess,” which I didn’t know was a compliment or an example of Asian stereotyping). Because I have not kept my chess skills up at all, I was fairly rusty; I started poorly, caught up to take control, but then made a big mistake to lose control of the match and lose. Oh well; it was fun, though I did not intend to spend most of the night playing chess.
On Saturday, we went out with the youth to Main Event where we bowled and played lots (and lots) of laser tag. We were treated to the sight of strange middle-aged men taking laser tag overly seriously, which I thought was a myth, but those guys only played one match with us. There was another activity at Main Event called “Gravity” I think, which is a ropes course that is suspended above everyone’s head. It’s all very safe because you get harnessed, but since I am terrified of heights, it was a bit challenging for me. On one particularly loose rope, the rope started shaking uncontrollably and I turned around to yell at the person behind me for messing with the rope… except nobody was. Turns out my legs were just shaking. Everyone laughed at me, but hey, at least I tried it :).
This was the second straight year at Tulsa, and I enjoyed it again. I was very tired; on some days, I had to pray in the morning for God to give me the energy to get through the day, and he always did. Given all the things I had to do (partially my fault for letting it pile up), I really learned to rely on God more on this trip rather than just trying to power through it all on my own.
I was thankful for the team that came, and I hope it was an overall positive experience for them. Everyone brought something important to the table, and while there are always things that we can do better, I think everyone learned something from the trip. The kids and youth there are smart and fun, and it’s always a pleasure to see them and serve them.