Mission trips push teenagers physically, socially, and emotionally, as they do intense work the likes of which many of them have never attempted with people they may have never met, and all of it far away from home, which, for some younger teenagers, is a big challenge.
Yet mission trips also push teenagers intellectually and theologically by confronting them with people whose stories challenge childhood assumptions. We leaders from their churches have precious little control over this, and we’re doing this assumption-challenging work at the same time.
This becomes a question of scale for me. We clearly can’t expect the 12th graders indignation about urban homelessness and “systems of oppression” to scale down to the incoming 9th grader who is just completely disoriented by meeting people who live on the streets for the first time. Neither can we expect the nuanced view a 40 year-old pastor has worked out on it to scale down to that railing 12th grader.
Everybody feels this challenge differently, and nobody on the mission trip, from the youngest youth to the oldest adult, arrives at a final resolution of the challenge.
That’s why I still go.