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Mission trips are about more than the work

Yesterday our youth mission teams shared their experiences during our worship services – an important message for our congregation to hear. They told stories about the work they did like painting, weeding, building ramps, working on a horse farm, and more. They told of the fun they had, like a game where they had to eat an Oreo off their partner’s foot. They shared some about their living conditions and some special things they did. Mostly though they shared about the ways in which God had moved in and through them during their special week of service.

Our middle school youth told about a day camp in an urban area where they got to play with the kids who came. There they learned about the ministry of presence – just being there for someone. Some of them were apparently asked if the kids could play with our youths’ hair, and as they played the kids poured out their hearts. Our high school students talked about feeling God’s presence near when they were thanked by a passerby for what they were doing, and the kids who came by to “help” them paint… and blow bubbles.

The story that most spoke to me was about a garden. Some of our middle school youth were assigned to weeding a garden at the church in which they were staying. That is not exactly the glamour job of a mission trip, like building a wheelchair ramp or doing some roofing would be. Along the way though, they met the founder and keeper of the garden, a woman who had lived a rough life but was following the will of God. I’m not going to try to relate the story here, suffice it to say that it affected them deeply.

Youth ministry has changed over the years. When I was a youth in my home church, my deep spiritual experiences happened at summer camp. Some older youth and some pastors preached, taught, sang, and modeled Christ to me. When I started in youth ministry, our big, spiritual growth experience was a retreat where college students preached, taught, sang, and modeled Christ to high school students.

I am so glad to serve at a church where the deepest spiritual experience for our students is a mission trip. Opposed to the camp and retreats where God shows up exactly where we would expect him to – in church-like stuff, on a mission trip students become aware of God in less-expected places like gardens, kids, just hanging out to listen to some people who aren’t regularly listened to, and maybe even pew cushions (see last Wednesday’s post). No one has to explain this to the youth, they experienced it. My guess is they will not be forgetting it anytime soon.

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