by Lisa Pierce, Executive Director, Alabama Rural Ministry
What really can happen on a mission trip? In what ways are youth impacted and how does that impact translate into a more mature disciple of Jesus? Can this be a space for students to make first time faith commitments? We believe these are important questions youth leaders might be asking.
Recently Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) hosted a small youth group from another rural community in Alabama. Using their break after Christmas, they weathered the cool temperatures and rain in order to serve with one of our families, Ms. Woods. ARM was working to install new flooring, exterior doors, a new HVAC system, and replace unsafe cabinets. One of the evenings I was with youth group, we discussed the challenges that elderly people, particularly women, living on fixed incomes faced, especially when confronted with expensive but vital repairs that would keep their homes warm, safe, and dry. The youth discussed how families can be taken advantage of and exploited. Their acts of kindness in partnering with Ms. Woods had several ripple effects.
First, they met a genuine need. The cost of the repairs were over $6000 and Ms. Woods, with a social security benefit of $800/month, does not have a way to fund this on her own. Secondly, they came with warmth, grace, and generosity. Each day the youth prayed with and for Ms. Woods and sat down at lunch to share a meal and devotion. Ms. Woods loves the Gospel! Her TV was always tuned to a church program and she was constantly encouraging the students. Finally, the team lived out our mandate to love our neighbors, even if those neighbors are in a different community. Ms. Woods and her family so enjoyed having the youth in her home and it was a welcome encouragement to her.
We believe that getting youth outside of their context provides an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak in a fresh way. At ARM, we realize how youth coming on a mission trip may not have made a commitment to Christ yet. He or she is certainly “in the zone” and in the right place to make that decision but still holding out. Witnessing their peers solid expressions of love and grace might be the final example they need of receiving that love for themselves.
That’s actually what happened with the team I just mentioned. One of the young youth girls just had not made that commitment as of arriving at ARM. After their worship together on the final night of their time with us, she turned her life over to Christ. What an amazing moment for her! The following day in talking with them I was able to hear the details. It was so moving. I shared with her about how the angels in heaven throw a party when one sinner repents and comes to Christ. (Luke 15) We needed to throw a party! Although a little shy, you could see the light in her eyes. Her peers were equally excited for her decision and you could see their commitment to the overall discipleship process and journey.
Mission experiences provide so much! It creates a bond between our families and the youth and builds needed bridges between young and old, different ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. Everyone gets to give and receive! Furthermore, it could be the space where youth continue to mature in their walk and hopefully for some fully begin that walk.
Our prayer is that we get to be a part of helping alleviate material poverty as well as spiritual poverty. As you consider future mission experiences whether local or far away, we hope you will also see the place where one of your students may develop a relationship with Christ. If already a follower, it may further their growth and maturity so that they can lead someone else into a loving, lasting relationship with our Lord and Savior. What a great testimony!
We are hearing from numerous youth ministers that during this season their plate is just too full. Caring for others is a ministry staple, but often it comes at the expense of caring for oneself. Self care for the Youth MInister is so important. If you don’t take time for yourself and your own relationship with God, not only will you suffer, but eventually your students will too.
We’ve created a Pandemic Youth Week curriculum bundle that combines elements of both a summer camp and a youth week. Many youth are missing out on both of these due to cancelled camps and trips among other cancelled important events your youth would usually attend. We’ve written this curriculum such that it can be used in person while socially distancing, online, or some combination of both.
Despite all the challenges the pandemic has presented to youth ministries, it has also created an opportunity to allow youth more involvement in worship. Although youth sunday will look very different this year, it is a great opportunity to empower our youth to be leaders. Youth’s comfort and familiarity with technology make them a great resource for churches who are seeking to move their worship services online for the first time.