(ym360 Note: this was originally written last year, but as Summer camp and mission trips are happening right now, we thought this was a good time to break this post back out. It has some great application. Check it out for yourself.)
Right now you’re probably in the middle of fundraising for your mission trip(s) this summer. You’re booking transportation, planning meals, nailing down service opportunities, and sketching out what you’ll be doing for fun in the evenings. (What, you’re not doing any of that yet? Better get on it!) Some of you are weeks or days away from a Spring Break mission trip. And still others of you are on a Spring Break mission trip this very moment.
Regardless of where you find yourself, now is the time to start thinking through how you will help your students process what they experience on the mission trip.
Short-term missions are powerful in their ability to radically (re)shape worldview and change hearts. The students who serve on your mission trip will touch people in the name of Christ. When that happens, your students will be touched as well. Unfortunately, the experiences that change your students can start to fade almost as soon as you get home. As they fade, so will the changes those experiences foster. Helping your students process their mission trip experiences will enable your trip to continue transforming your teens long after the trip is over.
Here are a few ideas that can help your students wrestle with their mission trip experiences in meaningful ways.
I know, I know: not everyone is into journaling. But if you prepare the journals well, they ARE effective. You can buy your journals (there are plenty to be found online) or you can make your own. If you create your own journals, make sure they look good. Include a devotional section with some questions for your students to answer. If you know what you’ll be doing each day of your trip, tie in the devotional to the experiences of the day. Our journals also always include a page for each day with the phrases “things I touched, things I heard, things I saw, things I tasted,” and “things I experienced.” This gives the students a space to write or draw experiences that are outside of your devotional thoughts but that they want to remember.
Plan your evenings in such a way that everyone is required to take 15-20 minutes to go off by themselves and journal about the day at the same time. This exercise will help them solidify memories of the day while they’re still fresh, and you will also be help them tie their experiences to the mission of God.
We did this for the first time last year, and it was a HUGE success. Before you leave, create a mission trip blog. (You can do this for free at Wordpress or Tumblr. It’s super intuitive even if you’ve never set-up a blog before.) Then, depending on how many people you have on your trip, figure out how many people will need to blog each day so that everyone does it at least once. We made it known at the beginning of the trip that everyone would be contributing once, and then we let people volunteer to go each night. Your students will type or write a short blog post about the day. We encouraged them to ask themselves three questions: “What was my favorite part of the day? What challenged me or pushed me outside my comfort zone? Where did I see God moving today?” These questions helped keep everyone on track and focus their posts. Once they give you their blog posts, you can edit them and publish them on your site.
When we tried this over the summer, I was shocked by the response. The teens loved doing it, and we had a surprising number of people reading the posts. Our congregation read them, but so did the congregation where we stayed. Our students couldn’t wait to see who responded to their posts and what people had to say, and our readers couldn’t wait to hear how our teens served.
You probably already do this, so let me encourage you to simply be creative in your approach. Rather than taking all the pictures and putting the slideshow together yourself, have a couple teens do it. It will increase their buy-in, they’ll take better pictures than you, and they’ll make a great video.
Not every church can do this in the same way, so you’ll have to figure out how it works in your context. Select a few students who are comfortable in front of people and have them report to the church (or smaller groups within the church) about how the trip went. At our church we try to get a couple teens on stage during our Sunday morning worship service, but you can also do this in adult classes, or even just up front at your next youth gathering. This encourages your teens to think critically about how your group served, and it’s a great way to inform and thank the groups of people who gave money to help your teens to on the mission trip in the first place.
None of these ideas are overly difficult, but they do take forethought to pull off. The good news is that you still have plenty of time. By thinking through how you will help your students process their mission trip experiences, you will make your trip an opportunity for even greater spiritual growth and maturity.