Last summer I put together two summer service opportunities for our youth…a traditional senior high mission trip through YouthWorks to Copperhill, TN…and a YAW:Youth Action Week(end) to a more local place, where we stayed at a United Methodist Camp and served around the camp community. The first mission trip almost didn’t take place because of communication struggles and scheduling issues. Fortunately, YouthWorks was able to squeeze us in and overall it was a (surprisingly) good experience.
I usually start mission trip conversations the fall before the summer we are to go. I include the youth, parents, and youth leaders in the conversation because my ministry vision involves youth, parents, youth leaders, and the church co-creating the ministry together (in order for it to be truly effective and sustainable). I want those involved in the ministry to be part of the planning process because I want to help them develop a theology of missions and to co-create experiences that fit with our theology of missions.
For some reason, such conversations have been more difficult to take place at the church where I currently serve. People seem to always be overwhelmed with what’s going on right now, this week, this month…to be able to have a conversation about next year. It’s so far away…we don’t know our schedules yet…we don’t know when _____camp is going to be yet…etc. When the conversation did take place…I think it was in late fall…it was a communal decision to not go on a week-long trip (and instead do a shorter, half week thing), and to stay local. We even decided dates. Then the snow came.
Because of the “extreme cold” days, the schools tacked on days to the end of the year…the same dates when we had planned on going on our shorter half-week trip. This week. So we came together again after those dates were set, and discerned how to move forward. Everyone decided an August half week would work, so we changed our dates.
When the deadline came a few months later to sign up for the August trip…one by one…by one by one…families responded saying that vacations had been planned and that week was no longer an option. I set a minimum number of youth to make the trip happen (even though I hate doing that), and we reached that number. So the August YAW was (and still is) on the schedule. Yet another youth dropped out even after signing up and paying the deposit (family vacation).
During the original mission trip conversation the group had decided that since there was not a single week that worked for everyone to go on a trip (and more so because we value engaging in service regularly in our local community), we would participate in various service projects all throughout the summer. Today was our first one.
We served at Bernie’s Book Bank in Lake Forest, IL. It’s an amazing organization that “facilitates the collection, processing and redistribution of new and gently used children’s books to significantly increase BOOK OWNERSHIP among at-risk infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.” They have drop-in hours throughout the week for small groups to stop in and help process the books. Not knowing how many youth would show up, this is the perfect service opportunity for us. We had three youth and two adults and spent two hours putting the Bernie’s Book Bank stickers on books and boxing up books to go to various festivals throughout the summer. It went by super fast and the youth had a blast.
We are going to continue to serve at Bernie’s Book Bank once a month this summer. We’re also going to Feed My Starving Children and Connections for the Homeless. I’m also hoping to make lunches to give to either Connections or The Night Ministry to pass out, and to do some gleaning for the Food Pantry. Though I’m kinda bummed to not go on a week-long trip this year (because, for all the ways they don’t fit within my theological framework of missions, I still enjoy the experience as a whole), I’m super excited to facilitate these ways to connect my youth with our neighbors and to use our gifts and energies to spread God’s love in whatever ways we can find.
My theology of missions is simply that – to love our neighbors using the gifts God has given us. As John Wesley said, to “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the place you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” I believe that in loving God and in loving our neighbor, we are co-creating the Reign of God here on Earth. It’s about developing meaningful relationships and honoring one another while helping meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of our neighbors…living into the Reign of Love as God intends it to be.
What kinds of service/mission projects do you do with youth over the summer?
What is your theology of missions?