Monday, March 09, 2009

Migrant Workers

Senior High Work Camp is a Really Big Deal at our church. We're a relatively large and affluent church in a relatively large and affluent community, and the work camp - which has been happening for 2 weeks every summer for the past 40 years - has varied in terms of how seriously participants take it. Some years in the past there have been a lot of kids on the trip, not all of whom are church members or participate with the life of the church in any other way. Sometimes there have been problems (allegedly!) with smoking, drugs, alcohol, or respecting the authority of the chaperones. New leadership, stricter rules, and time have successfully addressed many of those issues. But sometimes the "work camps" just sound a little . . . cushy to me. Sometimes it seems more like a sight-seeing hostel vacation than an actual work trip. Sure there's painting and hammering and you're sleeping on a church floor, but . . . there also an awful lot of special events fun stuff.

I was excited to learn that our kids are going to Alamosa, Colorado this summer, and I think this summer's work camp will be great. Part of their work experience will be field work. This, I believe, has the power to be a hugely significant experience for the participants.

See, I have this idea that work camp is - ideally - a transformative experience. A time for introspection and reflection, a time of hard physical labor, a time of being exposed to things so far removed from your own daily experience that it changes the way you see the world.

I remember traveling to Chinle, Arizona, in the Navajo Nation as a teenager on a work camp. Obviously, we couldn't sleep 8 hours and work 16; there needed to be a constructive way to fill the time. We went on hikes and nature walks, we explored nearby national parks and monuments, we had outdoor prayer and meditation services, we had communion under the big western sky. It was an immersive experience, and it was transformative.

There does have to be some fun; there does have to be a way to blow off steam. But how much is too much?

One church I attended as a teen "bribed" kids to attend events by paying for things. The youth group leader would pay for movies and ice cream out of his own pocket - an expense I did not find trivial. The Sunday School teacher would take all kids with perfect attendance to a concert in the city at the end of the year. I had a good time at the movies and concerts, don't get me wrong. But I am uncomfortable with the feeling of bribing kids to do what is "right," especially within the context of a work camp experience.

One year our youth were working in Michigan, and spent a couple of afternoons in Chicago sight-seeing. This seemed incongruous with the work camp experience, to me. But maybe it wasn't.

My husband and I disagree on this. What do you think? Is it OK to drive a few hours to a nearby big city and go to expensive museums and shows? A major league baseball game? What is the right balance between "work" and "play" in a work camp experience?


B-W said...

I'm curious as to your husband's opinion on this. I can't really tell what it is, other than that it doesn't agree with your own. As I read this, though, I think I'd side with him. If all work projects were as I see you describing them here, no youth member would ever come back for a second trip!

Don't diminish the need for the work, by any means, but I don't see paying for snacks, or a side-trip to see the sights, as at all inappropriate.

Stushie said...

I think what Sarahlynn is suggesting is that on some youth group ministry trips, the mission is the side trip.

Sarahlynn said...

Stushie, yeah, I'm trying to figure out where I think the line should be.

B-W, I agree that side-trips, sight-seeing, and recreation are an important part of the experience. But how much is too much?

For me, part of it is money. I have a hard time with the idea that a church group would expect their participants to be able to afford expensive side-trips like professional sporting events. I have just as much trouble with the idea that church donations for the "mission trip" are going towards big-ticket recreational events.

And part of it is scale. Sight-seeing nearby? No problem. Stopping off somewhere neat on the way? Probably OK. Working 4 hours then spending the rest of the day recreating? Well, maybe once during the mission trip.

Where would you draw the lines? Are any recreational activities too much/too big? Is there a ratio for how much time should be spent working vs. playing?

Anonymous said...

My husband does a lot of this type of work with kids from our church, and I believe their trips' "fun" things are inexpensive or free. You can see a good many sights for free, and recreation can be of your own making and cost nothing. Expensive things, I agree, are inappropriate. ..

paulboal said...

Here's "the husband's" opinion.

I think the "work" at work camp should be at least 8 hrs / day. 10 if practical. By the time I made it down to Katrina, PDA (or someone else involved in organizing the volunteers) had put an 8hr/day limit on how much we were allowed to work. But following that standard seems to make sense to me.

I think the "entertainment cost" should be something like <10% of the revenue that would have been earned if the work were being done at a fair rate of pay. So, if campers worked two 5-day weeks (80 hrs) at a rate of $10/hr, then spending $80 on entertainment would seem fair to me.

Maybe that calculus is a little too strict. But I think putting real numbers into the conversation is the only way to objectively measure it.

Of course, everyone should go into the work with the intent to work, not the intent to party or be entertained.