Hundreds of churches offer short term youth mission trips as a way to express one of the essentials of our faith: reaching out in Christ’s name to those who are in need. Yet, even if the heart and body are willing to serve, organizing such a trip with all its details can be daunting. Many questions come to mind:
- How do we select a ministry and a location?
- Should we spend the money to travel away from home when local needs are all around us and will cost less?
- What about arranging accommodations?
- How do we raise money to go?
- What is the role of the adult sponsors?
- What are the possible pitfalls?
- What are some ways to be intentional about building community and nurturing our faith in the midst of these trips?
Having organized 29 such trips and learned from each one, I have written “Unbound: The Transformative Power of Youth Mission Trips” to inspire and guide those who are doing this for the first time and to offer new ideas to those who have planned these trips many times. Not only does the book offer details and practical ways to put together such trips, but also it includes stories and reflections from the youth and adults who have been on these journeys with me over the years.
The book explores all aspects of mission trips through the lens of the Lazarus story where we learn that ministry is about unbinding one another and freeing each other from prejudices and narrow life experiences to become all God intends us to be. A false premise for these trips is that “we” who are more privileged are going to reach out to the disadvantaged to help “them,” to unbind “them.” It is false because the biblical mandate to unbind one another is a mutual process. We are to be partners in ministry. On every trip I have taken, I have been the one who has been unbound to the greater degree by those we came to serve.
The call to serve in this way also contributes to adolescent development through the daily give-and-take of community living, such as sharing bathrooms and showers, working together on a project and keeping to a schedule. The realities of group living shift the focus from the self to the community, forcing us to see the perspectives of others.
Included in the book is a resource section with sample Bible study formats, a sample “covenant of conduct” and medical release form, a list of items to cover in an orientation session before the trip, supplies to take along, etc. These resources can be accessed and downloaded as Word documents in order to adapt them for your own use by going to the website unboundmissiontrips.com and using the log-in information printed in the book. As Jim LaDoux of Vibrant Faith Ministries comments, “These detailed resources will save the trip planner 50 hours or more in preparation work.”
“Unbound” will be available by March 31 through a link on the website above.
Jann Treadwell is a retired certified Christian educator from NorthPark Presbyterian Church in Dallas. In 2010 the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators selected her as their Educator of the Year.