One of the best experiences my students ever had with a mission trip was a week at a church in south Louisiana that somebody from that church and I planned over the course of about nine months. We’d never met, but my church’s youth group had spent two days at her church on a post-Katrina trip only three years earlier, and they couldn’t stop talking about it. So we decided to spend a whole week there.
The trip checked all the boxes. It was a partnership with a congregation. The congregation was culturally and theologically different from the progressive mainline church our students knew; the worship services we participated in were some of the most transformative things that happened. There was meaningful work to do that extended the congregation’s ministry, like painting the church’s preschool classrooms and helping with outreach projects in the church’s neighborhood. The congregation extended a hospitality to our group such as few of us had ever experienced. Students were changed on that trip. So was I.
There are so many good options for short term mission experiences with youth. The best ones are “immersive,” meaning they emphasize the relationships a church has with its local community and invite visiting students to experience and contribute to those relationships. They’re partnerships in which the visiting youth learn as much as they serve. Great programs like the one at my church seem to be popping up everywhere.
The element in these programs that makes the biggest impact on the experience of students and leaders alike is the people in charge of them (we have a good one). Working with leaders at the church in south Louisiana to discern the work we would do together made all the difference, as a good partnership always does.
A partner you trust; immersion in a particular culture; learning that complements service; spiritual depth. These are the boxes I look to check on a youth mission trip, and it’s the time of year to start planning the one(s) for next summer.