What I Learned From Day 2 of a Middle School Work Camp

We picked potatoes today and all I could really think about is how I want to make french fries and gnocchi.  We drove up north to Freeland, MD to First Fruit Farms a Christian organization that basically grows crops and then gives them to the MD food bank, food kitchens, etc.  Last year we helped them pick tomatoes and zucchini, this year we took on potatoes.  It was hot again, getting close to 100, the teens didn’t bring much water so they depleted the water jugs we had pretty quickly, fortunately it would be a short day.  In the afternoon we headed over to Beaver Dam so the teens could go swimming and cool off.  Overall the day was fun, but quick; however, there was an interesting observation one of our adult chaperones pointed out:
She pointed out the different work ethics amongst the students.  For most of them working outside almost seemed like a new experience, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering the number one discussion around the water jugs was about which video game was the best, “Call of Duty” and some other one I don’t remember.  To break it down, the majority of the students stayed by the water cooler (and drank most of the water), then a slightly smaller group did the bare minimum picking up potatoes but only enough to look busy and then there was a group that was small but strong.  They actually tagged themselves as the “Jesus Rocks Team”.  They picked the potatoes like they were picking gold, they enjoyed the camaraderie and the challenge.
Later on I surveyed the students to see what they thought about the day’s task and many of them couldn’t understand how people could enjoy actually picking crops.  They thought it was hard and mundane.  I can see where they are coming from because how can you feel joy in something that doesn’t give back?  When we go to a soup kitchen the minimum expected is a, “thank you”.   When we build a house we see a completed project, but picking potatoes?  It was probably frustrating because they didn’t see the fruit of their labor…feeding the hungry.
I don’t think anything is wrong with these teens, they are just acting like teenagers; however, I believe we as adults need to be providing opportunities where students experience work that shows instant fruits and work where it might not be apparent.  It’ll challenge them to seek vision and purpose for what they are doing.  It will teach them patience and humility that comes with knowing God’s work isn’t about filling a need to be affirmed right away.
We might have missed an opportunity to do that with this year’s camp, but something we can do better in the future.  It’s a lesson in solidarity with a group of individuals you’ll never see.  It’s believing that what you are doing now is going to affect someone in a positive manner down the road.

In what ways do you teach your students solidarity with those they don’t see?