A while back after we were featured in Duke's Faith and Leadership publication, I was reached out to by a couple of folks doing innovative kinds of ministry. Below is a post from a ministry that is called Lagom Landing. It is run by Laurel and Rock Nelson in Western New York State. My hope is that something of what they are doing might spark something in you to take a risk to try and do something creative for the sake of the Kingdom!
Lagom Landing is a gap year program that combines an education in the skilled trades with an opportunity to explore what it is that brings us alive. We call it a “one year adventure in building your life.” I have been a carpentry contractor for the past 35 years. My wife is a Presbyterian minister. Five years ago, after talking and dreaming for a while, we formed Lagom Landing, a wild and wonderful marriage of our two vocations.
I had to stumble into the joy of working with my hands at the age of 18. My own gap year involved volunteering in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) for two years. Upon high school graduation, I had no idea of what I wanted to do. When the opportunity to work at a mission that ran a high school in PNG was presented, I impulsively said yes.
Upon arrival I was exposed to the amazing world of putting stuff together. I learned how to weld, solder and braze fittings together as I installed a spring-fed water system throughout the property. I was trained under a master Australian carpenter and was part of a team of indigenous carpenters building teachers’ housing and dormitories. I remember writing home to Mom and Dad 4-5 months after arriving—“I know what I want to do! I love this!”
35 years later, I can say my enthusiasm for the joy of putting things together has only grown. When I look at our educational system I am saddened by the split that occurs between working with the head and working with the hands. There is a stigma that the trades are for those not intelligent enough for the college scene. Unfortunately, many of our brightest, kinetically-oriented young people are never exposed to the fulfilling, actively creative, loaded with opportunity world of the skilled trades. They are “too smart.”
There is therapeutic value in the physical act of creating. Our students discover capabilities, skills, physical endurance, and competencies they never knew they had. Lagom Landing has a furniture making unit in the winter months where students design and build whatever they choose. I love watching the pure satisfaction they experience as their project evolves. There is much patience, perseverance, and struggle as they work to meet the challenge of crafting a fine piece of furniture.
The finished project presents a tangible sense of reward few young people get to experience. We increasingly find that young people live primarily in the virtual reality of the screen, where they spend much time dreaming and processing, but little time experiencing. Our student Jadzia so loved the hinged bookcase/trunk she designed and crafted that she named it Edward, wrote (and memorized) her end-of-the year speech about it, and swore she wouldn’t sell it for a penny less than $8,500.00. Perhaps the pearl of great treasure might be found in the wonder of creating something beautiful.
Our students just finished up a massive deck with a beautiful railing design and two sets of stairs. Digging post holes and moving massive amounts of pressure treated lumber is challenging even to us “seasoned” beasts of burden. There is a strange bond formed in suffering together. Two students who might have had an intense disagreement an hour ago quickly bond when framing together. It’s hard to stay pissed off at your classmate when s/he is holding up the other end of a 2 x 12 x 20’ long beam.
My hope is for a deeper integration and understanding of the meaning and opportunity offered in the gifts of creating with one’s hands. I heard Jesus was a pretty fine carpenter.
I think there is a ton of potential for gap years as we think about ministry and social entrepreneurship. The gap year, at least in my mind, has often been a term associated with privilege. Something along the lines of going to Europe to find oneself. But, my sense is that as we work with students at our Beacon House here at my own church that gap years are critical for many many college age young adults. Not so that they can be ready to go to college, but so that they can be broken open to ask and explore their God given purpose in a way that our school systems simply have not been geared towards.
Blessings on your innovations and inventions! Sail on!