With COVID-19 vaccines being widely distributed, more and more churches are considering taking groups of youth on trips to engage in mission (aka “the mission trip”). Like with so many things at church that we had to stop because of the pandemic, we are now in a position to consider, Do we want to go back to “business as usual” or do we want to take the opportunity to think about this differently?
We at Youth Mission Co encourage our colleagues in youth ministry to use this time to consider
the “Mission” of our Mission.
Often when I talk to adults about our work of engaging youth in mission, they remark about how important it is…
Because our young people need to know how others are living
Because our youth should learn to be thankful for what they have
Because giving feels good
Because Jesus told us to do such things
All of these responses are valid. All of them are true. But they only represent half the picture.
Engaging youth in mission is indeed a great way to help them see problems in our society… that there are people who are struggling. However, much of the work we have our youth doing remains centered in band-aid solutions. We feed people for a day. We clean up a space for a day, or paint a building. My colleagues and I believe this is only half the mission. Here are some our thoughts about the other half.
Part of the mission is to dispel the myths. The biggest of these being that people are poor or homeless simply because they didn’t work as hard as the rest of us. This requires us to not just feed someone a meal, but to understand the life of someone who is food insecure. It means we have to do more than help clean an apartment for a new recipient, but to understand the difficult journey new recipients have taken. In that learning, our youth discover that some folks are facing additional obstacles that many of us don’t. They see the strength and resilience that many of our underserved neighbors exhibit daily in the face of adversity.
Another part is helping youth see the systems that create the symptoms. In our society we are given an incomplete narrative that “we all make our own way in life” and that “our choices have consequences.” While it’s very true that our choices matter, it’s also true that some of us have lots of good options to choose, while others have fewer. This is not by fate or chance. It’s by design. America has a long history of giving power and access to some, while intentionally holding back others. We are all downstream from that history, and it is more pervasive than many of us realize.
A final part of the mission is exploring what the Kingdom of God looks like, and God’s work of bringing that kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” This requires deep Bible study, particularly in texts that can make us uncomfortable. We have to walk beside youth as we consider Jesus’ unwavering solidarity with those who are oppressed, and his consistent critique of those who use their power and privilege to hoard and exclude.
This fuller kind of mission experience causes youth to be transformed. The lens widens. Mission goes from isolated acts of charity to a lifetime of seeking justice. Scripture goes from some stories about being nice to each other to a challenging blueprint of how the world should be. A youth’s perspective goes from “counting their blessings” to discerning God’s call to change things for the better.
As we begin to exit this pandemic, we look forward to working with our friends in youth ministry in this ongoing mission—not only on a “mission trip,” but throughout the year!
Rev. Bill Buchanan is Executive Director of Youth Mission Co. He lives in Asheville, NC.
Rev. Buchanan has offered from Youth Ministry Co a description of their summer programs and a year-long partnership program with churches on these same themes, called “Journey of Justice,” both of which you can explore by contacting him at Youth Mission Co.