Forgot My Bag
By Hank Hilliard Posted on August 04 2010
In my 15 years of youth ministry I have earned a reputation among parents and other staff for being organized and prepared. I take pride in this because these things are important to me and I put a lot of effort into them. I make extensive lists. I color code everything. I communicate more than is probably necessary. I confirm and reconfirm reservations and plans. Some call it type-A or even obsessive. I call it an important part of youth ministry.
Several years ago I was leading a group of twenty or so junior high kids on a five-day mission and adventure trip. We were going to spend three days working and living in an inner-city community in Birmingham, Alabama. We’d be painting houses, doing lawn work, and various other projects. Following this, we were to spend two fun-filled days on Pickwick Lake tubing, swimming, and enjoying time with one another.
I had several youth attending who had never been on a trip with our youth ministry. There were even youth who had never been away from home other than perhaps a sleepover at a friend’s house down the street. Because of this, I was giving extra attention to making sure each young person got all of their belongings on the bus along with all the supplies for the trip. After loading all the tools, coolers, and other supplies, and checking and re-checking to make sure all the youth had their personal items on the bus, we piled in and pulled out for our 250-mile drive to Birmingham.
We left rather early in the morning so we reached a point about two hours into our trip where most of the kids, as well as the two interns, had fallen asleep. As I drove in silence, I thought about the plans for the day and many other things associated with the trip and the ministry. Suddenly my mind came upon a memory, a picture in my head that shook me so much that I physically jumped in my seat. My heart began racing and I immediately got a sick feeling in my stomach. That picture was of my bag sitting on the hood of my car in the church parking lot. With all my attention on making sure all the youth had their belongings on the bus, I had forgotten to put my own bag on board.
I had nothing. Nothing but what I was wearing. No clothes. No shoes. No sheets or pillow. No toothbrush or deodorant. Not even my alarm clock or swimsuit. After thinking through options for a few minutes, I decided it was time to pull over for a bathroom break and a discussion of the situation with my interns. As all the youth sleepily stumbled into the convenience store, I gathered my two interns around me.
I began, “Okay, so I did something stupid and I am not sure whether I should be really mad or if it is funny.”
They stared at me in silence wondering what in the world I could have done.
Finally, one said “What? What did you do?”
I put my hands on my head and said, “I left my bag. I have nothing. A five-day trip and all I have is what you see me wearing. That’s it.”
Judging by the fact that they both immediately broke out in laughter, I decided the verdict was in. This was funny.
After a rather embarrassing phone call to the church secretary asking her to retrieve my belongings from the hood of my car and place them in my office, we loaded everyone back onto the bus and continued on our journey to Birmingham.
Since I am 6’5” and weigh 220 pounds, there was no one on the trip from whom I could borrow any clothes. I had decided my only option was to buy replacements for all I had lost. Knowing the church would not be reimbursing me for any of my expenses, I also had decided cheap was the number one priority. Across the parking lot from where we were having dinner was a Dollar General. After dinner, I informed all the youth of my situation and the reason for our detour.
As we walked in to the discount store, an 8th grade girl named Megan suggested, “Hey Hank, why don’t you let me pick out your clothes?”
At first I declined, but then decided that this might be exactly what I needed to “get over myself” and stop feeling bad about my mistake. The next hour was filled with excited youth running around the store searching for items and bringing them to me for approval. At the end of the ordeal I ended up purchasing a Snoopy toothbrush, a package of brightly colored tube socks, various t-shirts with pictures of semi-trucks, wolves, and other assorted screen prints, a set of Thomas the Tank Engine sheets, and several other ridiculous items.
The trip went well. We served, we worshipped, and we grew in our faith and closer to one another. I was thankful for many things, but most of all I was glad that I was surrounded by a wonderful group of youth and interns who made it easy to laugh at myself and turn a potentially horrible situation into a wonderful life-long memory.