Reflections of Highland’s fifth annual High School Mission Trip. This was Highland’s third summer at Touching Miami with Love.
The bass booms and all your senses attune to the feel of the room. You may not know the group dance that the kids begin to enact but you can’t help but begin to move with them, picking up the dance moves as you go. Our third summer at Touching Miami with Love, we have learned that an essential part of the experience is dancing collectively in uniform movements in a crowded room where the music drowns out any outside thoughts or concerns. At any moment, one could find a member of our group singing or dancing. The songs have a sticky and persistent permanence about them.
It’s not the type of moment usually highlighted in stories from a mission trip. The popular dances are rarely anything we have prepared in advance and brought to share. They are always what is the latest obsession of the children we serve that they share with us. You might catch a glimpse of one at the end of HBC Got Skillz but the irreverence of it fools the outsider into believing that it’s “just a dance.” But it is not just a dance. The music holds power. At both TML locations, when the lights dimmed and the opening notes echoed onto the concrete walls, all people, no matter the age, began in unified fashion to dance. Shaking off any frustration from a previous infraction, uniting all no matter the life circumstance, the music called us to One Body.
Our week serving in Overtown and Homestead had the same effect on our group as the bass pumping out “The Church Clap”. It drew together youth of different ages, backgrounds, and interests to serve together in unified fashion full of energy, enthusiasm, and life. The normal school-year insecurities were nowhere to be found. Day after day, each person blossomed into the full version of his or her true selves. It happens every time, for our true selves emerge when we lose ourselves in the service of others.
Split into two groups for the first time on our High School Mission Trip, our 9th-10th graders served in Homestead at Open House Ministries, a forty-five minute commute from Overtown in downtown Miami. Since 1992, Open House Ministries has served the community by offering support, spiritual accompaniment, and advocacy for the impoverished neighbors Homestead’s middle class would like to overlook. Unlike Overtown who receives a lot of media coverage of its violence, Homestead’s media turns the other way and rarely reports on the level of crime and violence within its own city limits. Wanda Ashworth Valencia (CBF Field Personnel), Becky Blanco, and their staff of adults and teens courageously and tirelessly work on behalf of those who need a voice. Their spirit was infectious and their trust in God’s guidance was inspiring.
The bass rhythm that united us was the love we developed for the children of Homestead who are seeking health, joy, and liberation while living in sub-standard housing while their parents work tirelessly in the fields picking squash, avocados, mangoes, and countless other produce and fruits that feed our nation.
Our 11th-12th graders served at TML’s Overtown location where we served in 2012 and 2013. Overtown is full of wonderful people with caring hearts. However, the name “Overtown” is known throughout the area as a place of great danger and violence. Outsiders are warned to not drive through Overtown for fear that they might not make it out with all that they entered in. It is true; our 11th-12th graders did not leave with all that they entered in. They left a part of their hearts on the blacktop outside the small building with “love” painted all over it. Our youth enjoyed renewing relationships from past trips, digging deeper into the questions and frustrations of injustice that persists, and fostering fellowship will fellow TML teens.
The bass rhythm that united us was the love we continued to grow for the children of Overtown who seek the security, provisions, and education needed to find financial, social, and emotional independence amidst corrupt systems built to keep them down.
A week later, our group from Highland is now dispersed and has returned to the living of their lives. Eight are off to college in a few weeks. Five will begin their senior year. Nine will enter back into high school where they have two or three years left. One is back to work in downtown Louisville and one in downtown Nashville. One is back to finish divinity school and one is back at work in Highland’s office.
Throughout the city, the state, and beyond, the music lives on. They carry the memories in their hearts, the sights in their minds, and the tunes that will inevitably come spilling out of their mouths when their mind recalls the time embodying God’s love as experienced most profoundly through serving others.
The same factors of injustice, the same call for advocacy, and the same invitation for compassion are at play throughout world. We trust that when they sense it again, their bodies, minds, and hearts will begin to dance again. They will carry these experiences on so that they might be known as people who are touching the world with love.