I was in Detroit for a mission trip with junior high students last week. So some thoughts about mission trips based on this experience.
Starting with free time.
Too much down time is a problem for service trips and for retreats. It is perhaps the most argued for program component on evaluations–“more free time!”–, yet I suspect the students clamoring for it have a very good sense of how and with whom they would fill that time. The problem is the effect that unstructured time has on the others.
Some of the youth who come on mission trips are experiencing this kind of ’round-the-clock community for the first time. Some have never been away from home. For these students, too much time to fill with their own activity is a prison sentence. Homesickness and anxiety easily fill the space that a structured interactive activity otherwise would.
Free time is a must. I don’t believe every moment must be scheduled; part of the value of trips and retreats is an unplugging from a frantic rhythm of activity. I don’t want too much free time though, and I want some structured options within what free time I offer. That’s actually better for forming community than allowing (or demanding) youth to fill the time themselves.