Each summer we end our youth mission trips the same way:
“How will you take this trip home with you?”
“What can you keep doing at home to continue living missionally?”
I, along with students, usually have well-intentioned ideas and plans. We have the desire to serve our neighbors and to volunteer at a food pantry. We want to be more conscious of how we spend our time and listen to God’s promptings.
Then we get home. Life happens. We get back into normal rhythms. Those big plans get drowned out by daily life, and integrating a mission lifestyle into our normal patterns proves to be challenging.
When COVID-19 changed Higher Ground’s summer mission trip plans, we had two options – take a summer off or see what God could do in spite of our change in plans. Our Higher Ground students chose to take a risk and experiment.
We always say, “You don’t have to leave home to go on a mission trip.” So we set out to see if that is really true. On Sunday, July 19th, we kicked off our first Virtual Mission Trip. Thirteen students signed up to be pioneers, and the experience far exceeded any of our expectations.
“I had a lot of fun doing this mission trip. I love how Emily and Renata put together a fun mission trip even though none of us could see each other face to face. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot with the Shattered video series. I really loved the videos and I would definitely do this again if we couldn’t do another normal mission trip.” – Morgan, 8th grade.
Thanks to Next Step Ministries, we had access to a week’s worth of devotions, a video series, and worship songs. Every morning students watched a video devotion by Renata Jaeger and were given morning projects. At lunchtime, small groups used Zoom to check in with each other, talk through another devotion, and find out their afternoon projects. In the evening, we met all together via Zoom to debrief, watch a video series from Next Step, and worship. Each of the work projects were grouped into 4 themes – Encouragement, Sharing the Workload, Acts of Kindness, and Material Needs. Some of the students favorite projects included a neighborhood food drive, covering the neighborhood with sticky notes of encouragement, and delivering cookies and flowers to friends and neighbors.
“I was really dreading to do this because I thought it wouldn’t be fun since there wasn’t going to be other people to do it [the projects] with, but it ended up being really fun. My favorite project to do was the food drive and I really want to do it again sometime. I learned that serving in your own neighborhood is a lot different than going somewhere else to do it, because I felt a lot more motivated to do things when people I knew were benefiting from it.” -Kylie, 9th grade
The interesting part of this experience, for many students, was that they truly were working the projects into their normal routines. Many still had to go to work, do chores at home, and go to sports practices. They learned to be flexible, to take advantage of the time they had, and to see each of their environments as a way to share the love of Jesus and to do good. One student wrote encouraging words on the napkins she gave out at her job. Another took the children she was babysitting along with her to pass out food drive flyers.
It wasn’t an easy experience. We learned that sometimes it’s harder to serve (and take risks with) people you see every day versus strangers in faraway city. Students had to motivate themselves to do the work projects. They didn’t have other students or leaders next to them, pushing them on to the next task. It was hard to know what we were missing (an in-person experience) and to let that go so we could embrace the blessings of this experience. Challenges offer opportunities for growth, however, and I saw incredible maturity, responsibility, joy, and a commitment to Jesus in the young people who embarked on this neighborhood mission trip.
“I didn’t really know what I expected from this “Trip”, but it was definitely better than I thought is was going to be. There were different fun and challenging activities that helped me grow in my relationship with God and my neighbors. I now know many more neighbors and how to serve at home. Though it wasn’t the same as an in-person Mission Trip (which I have come to miss even more in quarantine), it still was a great way to get centered.” -Sophie, 8th grade
So, it’s true. You don’t have to leave home to go on a mission trip. In fact, the Higher Ground students and I want to invite you to spend the rest of your summer trying out the projects we completed this past week. They are all safe, can be done from a distance, and will give you a renewed heart for your home, neighborhood, and city. Below is our full list of project assignments. We are challenging you to sit down every Sunday and pick 2-3 projects to complete during the week and set aside the time when you will work on them. We want to hear your stories and pictures too! Send me an email or post on the Church’s Facebook page (email@example.com)
MISSION TRIP AT HOME
- Do 5 secret acts of kindness during the day (both in and out of the home).
- Pass out flyers for a neighborhood food drive. Indicate the date and time you will come back to pick up donations. Invite people to leave donations on their porch for you to pick up. Take donated items to a local food pantry.
- Donate books you aren’t using to little free libraries in your neighborhood.
- Support a local small business (purchase something, share their social media, write them an encouraging email, etc.)
- Make cookies for a neighbor.
- Do chores at home that are normally someone else’s job.
- Prayer walk
- Video call a family member you haven’t seen in a while.
- Write a letter and mail it.
- Deliver flowers to someone who could use encouragement.
- Use sidewalk chalk to fill your neighborhood with encouraging messages.
- Leave sticky notes of encouragement on mailboxes, doors, etc.
- Ask neighbors how you can help with yardwork (wash windows, mow, pick up sticks, weed, etc.)
- Pass out water while you pick up trash at a park.
- Make dinner for someone.
- Other creative ideas……?