“We’re on a mission from God” – Blues Brothers
Someone asked me recently what were some of my favorite moments as a youth minister. In a instant thousands of images flooded my mind, everything from crazy Life Night skits gone horribly wrong, to late night talks with teens drinking entirely too much caffeine, to retreat pranks involving gorilla costumes. My work in youth ministry has been so richly blessed. But there are images and moments that rise above them all. Some of my favorite times in youth ministry were on mission trips with teenagers.
My first mission trip was to Akil, Mexico. I had just been hired as the assistant youth minister at St. Ann’s in Marietta, Georgia. I had no idea what it meant to be a youth minister, let alone how to lead a group of teens on mission in a foreign country. But there I was. That week (and every week since then) God showed me that He is in control. During the week, we helped build a new Church for the community, we repaired damaged roofs, we played with the children and encountered the face of Christ in some of the poorest yet happiest people I have ever met.
The next year, I was the head youth minister at St. Ann’s and still had no idea what I was doing. The teens asked if we were going to do another mission trip and my initial thought was, “there is no way we can plan, fund raise, and go on a mission trip – there’s just no time.” But the teens were persistent, and I caved (see Luke 18:1-8). I did some research and decided to take a group of 15 teens and five adults to Kingston, Jamaica to serve at Mustard Seed Communities.
Mustard Seed Communities was founded in 1978 to care for abandoned children with severe disabilities. Today MSC cares for hundreds of children in five countries. As missionaries to Mustard Seed, our group raised funds and awareness of the community and then traveled to Kingston for a week of life-changing service. We cared for children who could not walk or talk, children with pediatric AIDS who had lost both parents to the disease, and pregnant teenagers who had been thrown out of their homes. For teens who had only known middle-class suburbia, the poverty was astonishing. What was even more astonishing was the lack of bitterness or anger from the children. They had nothing, but radiated joy at a simple touch. We served and worked, but the real miracles happened as the teens gathered each night to share and pray. I watched the hearts of my most difficult teens melt as they encountered the living God in the children they served. My ministry took on new depth by the experience of missions; not just for the teens who went on a trip, but in the way I ministered to all the teens.
For the next four years, I returned to Mustard Seed with a new group of teens. It took a lot of work and preparation to make these trips successful, but I am convinced that it was worth every sacrifice. There are now college students and college graduates who are seeking to serve as youth ministers, Core members and missionaries because of their experiences on mission trips. God has blessed the efforts with tremendous fruit.
Mission Trips: How to Get Started
So… thinking about taking teens on a mission trip? Have no idea where to start? Don’t let the great “unknown” keep you from following promptings of the Holy Spirit. Here’s a couple of suggestions on how to get things started:
- Pray. A mission trip, domestic or foreign, is a huge undertaking and is not for every youth group. Take time to discern whether or not the Spirit is leading you in that direction. Bring to prayer the needs of your teens and the ability of your community to support a mission trip. Bring to the feet of Jesus any fears or hesitations. Invoke the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis Xavier the patron saints of missionaries.
- Talk with your pastor and leadership team. Bring the idea to your pastor and parish staff. If a group of adults in the parish already do mission work, consult them as well.
- Go on a mission/immersion trip. One of the best ways to lead a mission trip is to first go on one yourself. This could be with an adult group in the parish or a neighboring parish group. Another option is to attend Life Teen’s Youth Minister Immersion Trip to Nicaragua in January 2009. This trip is specifically designed to give youth ministers a hands-on experience of mission work as well as practical training on how to lead a teen mission trip.
- Research potential mission trip locations. Start by deciding on a foreign or domestic mission trip. From there begin researching mission companies that could host your group. Be sure to ask youth ministers who have used the mission company in the past about their experience. If there is not a mission company going to the area you wish to work in, you could set up the mission work by connecting with a parish or ministry in the area in need of help.
- Pray some more. Allow the Spirit to lead the decision-making process every step of the way. Ask parishioners to begin to pray on behalf of the teens and the mission trip.
The 2009 Life Teen Youth Minister Immersion Trip
I know how overwhelming the prospect of leading teens on mission can be, but I also know what a blessing it is as well. That is why we at Life Teen led the first Life Teen Youth Minister Immersion Trip in 2006. Twenty youth ministers from around the United States traveled down to Mustard Seed Communities in Kingston, Jamaica for an unforgettable week of work, prayer and training. Youth ministers were able to return to their parishes with an experience that gave them confidence to promote mission work with their Life Teen program.
The trip was so successful, we’ve decided to do it again! In 2009 (January 12-16), Life Teen, along with Mustard Seed Communities and Catholic Relief Services, will be offering our second Youth Ministers Immersion Trip. This time we will be traveling to Nicaragua and staying at the Mustard Seed Apostolate called Hogar Belén. The trip will give a first-hand experience of missionary work, the opportunity to learn what Catholic Relief Services is doing in the country, and practical training on how to lead a teen mission trip. I am excited to see what God has in store for this mission trip.
If you want more information regarding the Youth Minister Immersion Trip, please contact me at 404-252-8815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.