Home > Missions, Youth Ministry > Youth Ministry and Missions Trips

Youth Ministry and Missions Trips

It’s that thing that every kid loves to do: missions trips. At least in my brief experience with youth ministry, everyone wants to do a missions trip. Everyone wants to be involved in going somewhere else to work. In fact, I love missions trips.

My first was in 1996 at the age of 10, when my dead led the youth group to Mexico. I still remember those experiences. Seeing kids stricken with poverty. Praying for a Hispanic lady from our church who was having border issues every time we went in. The size of the roaches in our dorms. The lack of communication and the frustration I felt.

In 2000, I was able to go to Puerto Rico, experience things I would have never imagined experiencing, and again, being left in awe at poverty. In fact, while I was there, we canvassed an 18 story apartment building that was essentially the projects. While there, I saw three drug deals and a teenager waving a pistol around. I was 14 years old at the time, and the only adult in our group of 14, 17, 17 year old boys, was a 75 year old former missionary to Uruguay. Safety was of concern.

In 2001, I went to St. Croix, Virgin Islands and fell in love with the place. Yes, the tropical paradise was sweet, but the people – they impacted me. I felt touched by their desire to know us. I can remember returning after the trip, looking up at planes, and wishing I was a passenger headed back to the V.I. because it was such a great trip.

Then I entered college in 2004, and things were different. Not in a bad way, but instead, I was just busy. I was working full time my junior and senior year. I was poor, because I was a college student. From 2001 til 2007, I was uninvolved in missions. Not that I didn’t take notice or lack the desire to go, but I just didn’t have the finances or opportunity.

Then, in 2007, my life changed as I entered the country of Haiti for the first time. The love for the people quickly grew. In 28 days, I’ll go back for the 4th time, and now as the director of our children’s home for Mountain Faith Mission.

Needless to say, missions has played a big part of my life. Even in 2009, I was able to visit some FWB home missionaries to just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and be greatly impacted by their service, dedication, and the excitement of new converts.

I have been fortunate.

But now that I am in the role of planning and executing trips, I have to question: are we always doing things right?

There are multiple articles out there that suggest maybe some things should change. What is the lasting impact on the students who attend missions trips? How does it increase giving? How many students who attend missions trips end up being missionaries? How many students who attend missions trips pay attention to missions the rest of their lives?

Now, this might be overthinking, but my wife and I are fortunate to know quite a few people on the mission field. When I look at them, I have to ask: Are groups really of great benefit to them?

I asked one friend if they had been having groups come up. He said yes. Then I asked if any ever came up and just didn’t do anything. He quickly said yes again. It broke my heart at that point. Have we lost the vision of missions even within our own church? What do missionaries think of groups that come in to “help?” What percentage of groups leave the missionaries with a sense of accomplishment? What percentage of groups leave missionaries with a sigh of relief when that church van goes over the horizon?

How should we go about planning trips? Should we go about it focused on how it will impact our students? Or should we go about it on how it will impact the missionaries and their work? Should we always have a trip planned, even when in the end, the money it costs to go will outweigh the lasting impact? Or is that even able to be quantified?

There are a lot of questions running through my mind, but the one thing I feel that I have going for me, is that maybe a lot of youth ministries go about it the wrong way.

Praise God when students go on missions trips and maybe a specific student is so impacted that he/she answers the call to full-time ministry. That’s awesome! But honestly, should we always be focused on what will impact our students? Because this is the way that it seems a lot of ministries focus on their missions trips. The focus and result is placed upon the student. How will it change them? How will it impact them? Whereas, I feel the better questions will be “How will we impact the world we are visiting with the message of Christ?” Now, I know that’s cliche and every youth group thinks that is what they are doing – but honestly, are we?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Input?

Categories: Missions, Youth Ministry
  1. David Mizelle
    August 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

    These are great thoughts and as a student pastor you should be asking these questions. My experience is over 12 years in student ministry and 10 mission trips under my belt, many that you have taken. I too was concerned, “was this another event or trip.” I put a few things in place that some did not like, but gave me a better sense of ease when justifying short term missions with students. First, i realized what it did in my own life. I realized that I was not called to a “foreign” place but many of my friends were. I realized that the senders of missionaries are crucial for the spread of the gospel truth. I realized that education and experience in missions was one of my roles as a student pastor and now pastor. Second, I set a high qualification for this trip. Short term missions should be something that you work for and train for. I began 8-10 months prior. They would have to prove their committement to church, missions training, and lifestyle to be involved. This came after a few bad experiences with kids who didn’t care. This allows you to have those who are seeking God rather seeking a cool place to go. Allow them to research their area, talk about cultural sensitivity, and other important life changing things that God could use in their life. Last, I always gave our leaders of the group the job to watch and identify needs of the missionary. We would always take extra money to invest in the lives of the missionary. I allowed my student leaders to identify the need and carry out a plan. Some times it was watching missionary kids and giving the missionary money for a meal and a date while we were there. I encourage you to be an encouragement to those who are tirelessly serving in other cultures. These simple things create a life changing trip rather than a cool event. Great thoughts! Keep asking questions!

  2. Brad
    August 5, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Good points Ryan. It seems that you are mainly focusing on overseas or long distance mission trips, which are great (and costly). A good alternative is local mission projects, which could help open the eyes of the teens to problems and lost souls in their home area. Many service projects can be completed in the home area for little money, but can have a major impact on the area and the kids.

    Unfortunately, not all kids will be affected by mission trips the same way. Some will use it as a vacation, and others will take it seriously. I think what takes place prior to and after the mission trip is what helps determine the impact of the trip. We have to reinforce the goal and purpose of missions, and the role we all play. Couple that with a trip and hopefully the impact is long lasting.

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