Ask most teenagers, “What’s the Great Commission?” and you’ll most likely get a “no clue” along with a scowling, skeptical stare. But ask them if they want to travel great distances and spend a week away from home and you’ll get, “I am SO there!” Thus is the experience when introducing mission work with youth at Zion Lutheran Brentwood in Pittsburgh, PA.
As many youth are in the process of developing their faith or just beginning to think about it, Zion has found mission trips to be a significant tool in discipleship formation and is one of the ways we respond to the Great Commission amongst area youth. In past years, approximately 25+ youth have traveled to places like Charleston, Nashville and Manassas. Several of Zion’s teens take a friend along, introducing many to Christ and an experience like they’ve never had before.
On the trips, participants are asked to help at farms, nursing homes, charity distribution centers, day camps for under privileged children and such. They are kept very busy. These trips also provide strong faith-building programs that include praise and worship, various programs and skits along with meaningful devotional time. Youth have the opportunity to see their faith in action. And while these teens are serving the needy, they also find that the needy are serving them. Relationships built on the trips are reciprocal. Most importantly, the trips remove the youth from their comfort zones and allow them to discover a lot about themselves and others. This year the group is headed to Union Beach, NJ, to help with the continuing Super Storm Sandy relief, and there will be more physically demanding work required of our youth—demolitions, remodeling, and landscaping.
In addition to the yearly mission trips, confirmation-age students also attend a yearly weekend retreat. Some weekends are spent in the nearby mountains, but we also take advantage of Youth Encounter events. This January, twenty of our youth attended a local YE event with nearly 400 others of their age.
Parents encourage their kids to attend mission trips so that they have opportunities to serve others and step out of their focus on self. While that undoubtedly happens, the opportunities they have to actually verbalize their faith, ask serious questions, bond with their fellow travelers, gain confidence away from their parents, and actually take time to think about their relationship with the Lord is what seems to stay with them the longest. The trips help to develop strength, community and support for our youth to live their lives for Christ. Our goal is to enable them to see that a week-long, summer trip to another state isn’t what is needed to serve Christ; they can do it in their own backyard! Just as the church isn’t a building we visit one day a week, but rather the body of Christ—mission work isn’t done one week a year, but rather continually in our daily lives.
– Submitted by Donna Evans