In the years since I’ve been serving as Youth Leader, the amount of information out there about mission projects and service projects and cultural experiences has exploded and everyone has an opinion. Some service projects can teach others to be dependent, not independent. Others teach them that the accepting the Gospel leads to earthly rewards, such as candy and cookies. Some groups go to far away places expecting to teach and lead instead of hoping to be taught and grow. For sure, there are great service/mission trips, good ones, and then there are others. For the most part, experiences are what you and your youth make them, and I urge you to go into intentional service.
I urge you to do a few things to guide your youth into lives of service & ministry. I don’t mean this to be a complete list at all, just things I’ve learned from older wiser people along the way.
1. Think Glocal. We live in a global community, but it is right outside our door. Serving does not mean getting on a plane, bus, or even in a car. One service project that my youth love doing is Adopt-A-Highway where they have to wear orange vests and hard hats.
2. Be intent on what your service values are and then work towards those values. One of mine is that I strive to find projects that teach and inspire our youth to recognize and therefore fight against injustice. Obviously this is not always possible, but it is on my list, so those projects get high priory.
3. Give many and varied opportunities, everyone has different strengths and not all volunteer organizations are run with great efficiency.
4. Prepare: Not just the details (though obviously that is important), but their hearts. talk to them about what they are doing and why it is important. Help them to come up with reasons for what you are about the undertake.
5. Recognize that though you lead this group, you are not always in control. Expect for plans to changed, situations to arrive, and people to be flaky at times. Not all organizations are run with the efficiency that we would like.
6. Be open to new cultures, new ways of doing things, and new ideas. No matter what you do, be respectful of those you are serving (I use this term with caution). Their traditions, ways of life and values are not backwards, just different, and we do not know better, we just know different.
7. Remember that we are called into the ministry of accompaniment. It not just about them, its not just about us. Its about the relationship we have with each other, and with Christ. With your group, remember the people/situations you have met along the way in prayer. When possible, encourage the relationship by serving with them again.
8. Unload/Process: I’m not always faithful about doing this, but it is important. When it’s over, where did they feel God? What made them feel all warm & gooey inside? What relationship was formed that they would like to build on (some of my best friends live in Haiti) And sometimes (this has happened to me) there are bad experiences & feelings that need to be talk about too.
Are you planning a service/ministry trip this summer? I would love to hear about it!!