I planned to write a blog post complaining about Millennials.
Last week I was one of three adults who accompanied eleven kids from our church on a short-term mission trip to Chesapeake, Virginia, where we spent four days scraping walls, painting porches, trimming bushes, climbing up extension ladders, and — in my group, anyway — killing wasps with a tennis-racket-shaped contraption that fried insects on contact and was subsequently used by the boys on our crew to fry each other.
When you arrive for the experience, the powers that be divide the members of your group among a half-dozen different crews, so you spend most of the week with people you don’t know. In the evenings you reunite with the kids from your church for worship and devotions. In the few free hours left, you stand in line for the six showers in each locker room and flirt and text and do your hair (teens) or furiously answer emails, return phone calls, and try to sleep (adults).
Overall it was a positive, if exhausting, experience, but after a day or two on the work site I found myself turning into one of those stereotypical Busters who’s fed up with the next generation. Although the majority of our crew worked pretty hard pretty much of the time, it was not uncommon to turn the corner, my arms full of sticky paint brushes and plastic tarps, and find half of them sitting on the porch. It was also fairly routine for them to stop after every task and stand around passively until you gave them another one, and for me and Bryan, the crew chief, to have to break down “complex” directions like “Get the paint stirrer on the tarp, find a clean paintbrush, and bring back the dark gray paint” into shorter requests that involved only one action at a time. These children can memorize entire rap albums but it was just too much for some of them to remember “get stirrer” and “get paintbrush” at the same time.
See? I told you I’m turning into a stereotype. To be fair, it was approximately two degrees warmer than the surface of the sun on the days we were working outside, and the kids from our youth group who were in my crew each worked hard. And I’m sure that back in 1990, when I participated in one of these trips with my own youth group, I was just as flighty as the kids I met last week. But their passivity? laziness? inability to walk faster than a turtle? did bother me enough that I had planned to write a post about it.
Then I went to church on Sunday, where Matt, our youth group leader Lysia, and several of our teens shared an overview of the experience with our congregation and where we played this video created by Aidan, a high-school student in our group. (Yeah, there’s a typo or two – he was working on about five hours of sleep like all the rest of us.) And as I sat on the second row, trying to quickly blink the tears away in time to do the communion meditation, I decided it was more important to focus this post on how Aidan stayed up late the night we got back so we could have this video the next morning for church; how Nina sat and talked to an older lady at the community dinner for a half an hour or more, attentively and respectfully listening to the lady’s stories; how Miles volunteered to lead some of the group devotions and mentored other kids so they would try it, too; how Allie fought homesickness and fear just to come on the trip at all; how Jonathan wrote an encouraging note to every single one of the 100+ teenagers who participated in the trip; how all of the kids in our group were kind and patient with all the other kids in our group, even the high schoolers with the middle schoolers, even the brothers with the sisters, even when the air conditioning went out in the SUV and the sleeping rooms in the same afternoon.
I still empathize with the employers who will have to supervise millions of these young people as they join the work force for the first time in coming years. But I like these eleven Millennials a whole lot.