Being the oldest sibling has its perks. One perk is having the most well-documented childhood out of all your brothers and sisters. Photo albums? I have 3, like BIG ones. Home videos in which I am the focus and star? I have closets full. Blow up poster-size pictures of my face? I have an embarrassing amount. If I fail to remember a single memory, I can most likely find it in the dusty archives in my grandmother’s attic. Now, while I joke, I must admit that I am extremely grateful. That picture of my double, maybe triple chin, will always remind me of the experience of trying Krispy Kreme for the first time. While you may not be the oldest child or have a ton of childhood photos, you do have a mental “photo album” of the significant experiences of your life that consist of hardship, heartache, and longing. There are experiences of enlightenment, wonder, and joy. Moments in our life in which we learned and grew but when there was transformation; the renewing of your mind, heart, and soul were the intimate, authentic experiences you had with Jesus.
For me, I had many of these experiences while on a mission trip. Those moments where my eyes were opened to who Jesus is and what He is doing. Moments where He was not just the God of my heart but also of the people in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the world. Experiences in which He moved from just an idea to someone tangible and real! As youth pastors, this is something that we pray for our students to have. So when it’s time to go on a mission trip, how do we prepare our students so that their minds are open and hearts are willing to experience Christ and serve others authentically?
While there are so many ways to answer that question, I am going to share two things that will help in creating an authentic mission experience. Before I do that, I do need to say that besides being a youth pastor, I also work for Encuentro Missions. This has allowed me to work with some pretty amazing and talented people, so while I wish I could take credit for the things I am about to share, they are all things that I have learned from them.
As a leader, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the logistics of a mission trip. Things such as wondering if there is going to be enough work, do you have all of your team, what is for lunch, will the project get fixed in time, did little Timmy run off again, and the list goes on and on. All these things are important but we must never forget the other side of the coin- the spiritual impact. When we step out of our comfort zone we are opening ourselves to experience growth. It might be the growth of a new skill, like learning how to shovel (yes, one of my students didn’t know how to shovel, he was 18, it was embarrassing). Or it could be the growth of relationships but no matter what the case there is an opening and the chance for spiritual growth is there. So take time at the end of your day to speak into the spiritual life of your team. Ask questions of what they experienced, who they served, where were their thoughts throughout the day? Take the focus off of what they are doing and turn to their why. As I said, it is so easy to get focused on the logistics of everything but don’t neglect the spiritual impact the trip can have on our students even if it means handing one half of the coin to someone else for help.
The last thing that I would leave you with can be applied to all aspects of ministry but has its roots in missions. We must listen, observe, and seek ways in which God is already moving. We are not bringing God into the areas in which we serve. He is already there. He is moving and working through people that already have their feet on the ground. When we approach missions with this mindset we move from the dangerous “savior” mentality to the mentality of partnership. When we teach this to our students, when we take the time to prepare and challenge them before the trip even starts, it can shift their focus. Seeking out the ways in which God is already moving means they will see Him and to see Him is an experience that is transformational to be a moment that will be added to their “photo album”.