the Power of Youth Missions

I can’t take too much credit for it—it began about two years before I arrived at the church. The previous youth director took the students on their first mission trip. This short term mission’s trip would forever change the DNA of the church. The trip was really nothing out of the ordinary; a group of students went to a small Caribbean country to work on a few projects. However, what this trip inspired is truly an act of God.
Within a few years the church felt different, as justice and mission became words on many people’s lips. The church began to view mission as something we are all called too and the opportunity for mission was all around us. Looking back on this trip, I realized that it was critical to our church community because it produced a mythology for the participants, it brought forth unity and purpose among the church, and it left an impact beyond its immediate context.
This trip, like all great mission experiences, created a mythology of its own. Not only could the students recount stories from the trip, but members from the congregation could recount the stories as well. The students were given the opportunity to share there experiences directly from the pulpit. Many of these stories were funny and silly, but at the same time they celebrated God’s acts of justice over the course of the week. This mythology became imbedded in the ethos of the church.
The students also used this trip as a rallying cry, speaking about it whenever possible and inspiring the congregation to greater acts of faithfulness. This trip helped to motivate adults to begin to build mission-based relationships both locally and internationally. Long time members began to examine ways in which they could get involved in God’s acts of justice, stirring them to not only become concerned about the world but to lead others and help them to become drawn into God’s work.
Finally and most importantly this experience moved beyond the immediate context of the work completed at the mission site. The experience helped launch the congregation into a missional mentality. It became an expectation that not only the youth group participated in missions but that it was part of the foundational teaching in both children and adult Sunday and School. These new ideas about mission changed the congregation and the students who were involved. Since coming to the church as the Youth Director, I have followed the missional call and taking the students down the street and around the world to do work and spread the Gospel. I have watched as students had their hearts broken by the world and embraced God’s opportunity for them to bring healing to hurting people. It has caused some of them to choose colleges and change majors based not on making money but what would give them the greatest opportunity to serve during and after college. Mission experiences change students and expose them to wider a world, helping them to understand the global context in which we live today. About six months ago one of the students in the youth ministry experienced a death in her family. In the midst of her grief, she received a sympathy note in the mail from one of the members of a church in Belize where our youth group had worked a few years previously. Several of the students still remain in contact with members of that church, sending cards and letter back and forth; clearly, that experience moved beyond the short term mission trip to a true, life-long friendship.
In any congregation, it can frequently feel like we as youth directors have very little power to make a change, but I have seen firsthand how a short, week-long mission trip can change the DNA of a church. Mission experiences need to become more then a one-time event. Instead, they need to create their own mythology, become a rallying cry, and move beyond the immediate context, if you want them to truly have a long-term impact.

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