Mission trips have become a staple for many youth ministries. All school year is spent raising money for the trip. Youth leaders spend time recruiting enough adult volunteers with the right skills. Vans are rented. Then the time comes for everyone to pile in for the selected destination to do God’s work for a week. You sleep on an air mattress for a week, take cold showers and pray that no one gets hurt. All for what?
Changed hearts. It’s why we do it. Sure we go thinking we are going to somehow, through the grace of God change the hearts of the people we serve. But by the end of the week, we are in tears as we watch how the people we serve actually changed our life. (The tears could also be a result of lack of sleep, but just go with it for now!) And, our teens come back with a little more of an understanding of how God can work miracles, (after all…we put a new roof on a WHOLE house all in the matter of 4 days!?) and just how fortunate their lives are. We also hope they gain some compassion for those who are not like themselves.
There have been articles written questioning the effectiveness of short term mission trips. When I served at a local church I saw a lot of growth happen in my teens from our mission experiences. I still believe service is an important part of faith development for teens. So, how do you make sure that the trips you take help, not hurt a community? Do the research of the organization you are using to be certain that this is not transactional ministry. This means, someone is not there just for the summer to paint their house, but there are relationships being built and the needs that are being met are helpful for someone. The United Methodist Church has so many wonderful opportunities for service through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. Check out the website to see all the options available in Ohio and the surrounding areas.
Mission trips can really be a wonderful opportunity for teens to be the hands and feet of Jesus while helping others, Now is the time to start planning for summer!