Speaking of Missions Trips…

This truly is one of the crazier ideas in all of youth ministry-dom.  Who in their right mind would take teens to labor on the mission field?  The answer is simple.  No one.  No sane person would even consider doing something like that.  Which only serves as further proof that one must be at least a bit off their rocker to work in youth ministry.  Insane.  Coo-Coo.  Half-baked.  Hair-brained.  Demented.  Looney.

A few casseroles short of a Baptist potluck.

And I’m okay with that.  In a weird way, the only way to stay somewhat sane as a long-term youth minister is to be nuts.  It’s that nuttiness that’ll take you into the realm of missions trips, which, if done right, will be the most rewarding and memorable events you undertake.  So how is a missions trip done right?  Okay, my two cents….

1.  Bring the right young people.  I try to get the whole youth group to go to camp.  But when forming a missions team, I try to weed out as many young people as possible.  I don’t want to take any “bad” kids.  It would be ideal to not even take any “okay” kids, but if your good kids are influential enough, they’ll be fine.  Our teens must complete a seven-eight month challenge to earn a spot on a missions team.  They are accountable for daily Bible reading, verse memorization, greeting visitors and service in the various ministries of the church.  The length of the challenge serves two purposes: first, those that make it have been at it so long that they’ve formed some valuable habits; second, it shows me that the young people really, really want to join me in such an important endeavor.  This is no guarantee, however, that your missions team will be spiritual, motivated, and ambitious.  There was probably one year that I shouldn’t have taken a missions trip.  I’ve talked about the mountains and valleys of youth ministry, and I had a pretty bad spell in the valley (pretty sure it was the valley of the shadow of death).  One particular nameless year, a group made it through the challenge (“Basic Training”), but I got the sense that most of them were definitely just in it for the fun.  They weren’t terribly motivated to reach out to the community we were in and I ended up doing most of the work to promote the event we were holding.  It was a frustrating, exhausting week for me, and the only missions trip I’ve been on that felt long.  These weren’t bad kids.  They were mostly “okay”, with a couple goods ones who were still growing.

But God has been really good.  Out of eleven teen missions trips that I’ve taken, only one was less than stellar.  All of the others were profitable and enjoyable.  The kids were a blessing to me and the ministries we assisted.  I took my first trip to Alaska with a very small, but very mature group.  The youngest team member was an awesome young lady who was going into her senior year and all the others had just graduated.  They were mature, low maintenance and required virtually no supervision.  When does a youth leader ever say that?  They served cheerfully, fellowshipped nicely with the missionary family and we just had an all around great time together.  The second Alaska team was just plain nuts.  And I loved every minute of it!  Plus I had a couple preacher boys who helped take some of the pressure and work load from me for the Vacation Bible School we held.  The girls were fun and outgoing and really reached out to the village children.  For your own mental health and spiritual well-being, make sure you bring the right kids.

2.  Make sure the teens get a positive look at the mission field.  My desire is to give my young people a greater burden for missions.  That doesn’t mean they need to see all the gory details of the possible ugly realities of the ministry.  Don’t forget that they’re just kids.  I know of youth groups that go to spiritually calloused European countries where Americans are despised and Christianity mocked.  They have a great time sight-seeing, but they don’t see people get saved.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they can serve in other ways and provide encouraging fellowship to missionary families, but I have a different focus.   I want to do more than sing a song in French and pass out a few tracts.  I want my kids to really catch a fire and excitement about God’s work.  There’s just something to seeing buses and vans come to the church rowdy and full.  Being a part of a VBS quadrupling in size in just days and energizing and inspiring a church.  Then there’s the precious moments when one of my kids tell me that they’ve led their first soul to Christ … wow, words can’t describe that!

3.  Be clear on your accommodations.  Okay, sometimes you learn from the school of hard knocks.  Since you’re reading, you don’t have an excuse.  Know before you go!  Our very first missions trip was to the Apache Nation in northwest New Mexico.  On the way there, we stopped for a night’s rest in a church in Arizona.  No biggie, except there were no showers.  I’m just not cool with that and neither are most girls (the boys didn’t seem to freak out).  Skipping one day of bathing wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I’ve never made that mistake again.  I was smart enough to make sure that we had a shower available to us in NM.  The operative word here is shower.  No “s” at the end.  Singular.  As in one stinkin’ shower for about 30 of us to share (turned out there was another youth group there, but that’s another story for another point)!  Took forever (though not quite as long as Alaska Team II–wow, you chicks drove me nuts!), kept running out of hot water, and the lone shower happened to be in the missionary family’s house.  Which was awesome for their teenaged boys.  When you were 16 or so, wouldn’t you have loved having all these California girls coming through your house?  To take a shower??  Yeah, that caused a bit of a controversy that, twelve years later, still gets to me.  But I’ll spare you.

We slept in the church, which was great.  The girls were up in the auditorium (My BBQ Honey was about eight months pregnant at the time; she actually started having pretty serious contractions one night; BBQ Boy II was almost born on the rez!), and the dudes were downstairs in a small Sunday School room.  Back in my youthful glory days, a cold, hard tile floor was no problem.  Now I need an air mattress, a memory foam topper, at least three pillows, Pooh Bear and a binky.  The church had a kitchen that we used to prepare our meals.  We eventually got really tired of waiting so long for showers that we constructed an outdoor shower for the guys.  It was made out of PVC pipe and was right outside of the kitchen window (we connected a hose to the kitchen sink).  Someone had to be inside to get the water just right for the poor sucker taking a shower.  Plus one or two people had to be right outside of the shower to attempt to keep the curtain from blowing all over the place (it gets rather windy in the high desert).  So, yeah, showers were an adventure.  I wish someone had taken a picture of that marvel of missionary engineering.  It was cuh-razy!  But those are such precious memories that still get us crackin’ up today.

**Whew, long post!  We’ll continue next week with: 4. Don’t share the missionary; 5. Make it unique and memorable; 6. Find balance in fundraising.

Read part 2 here.


I’ve pondered posting a “Fave Fives: Missions Trips” list, but there are a couple stumbling blocks in my way.  First, I don’t want anyone to take it the wrong way or have any hard feelings.  As I said, all but one were awesome.  Second, after the top one, you can just kinda jumble them around, they all had their really special moments.  It would be hard to rank them.  So it would be most accurately said that I have a #1, a few #2s, and a whole bunch of #3s.  Something like that.  But, yeah, the #1 missions trip of all time is easy….

The Apache Nation (Dulce, NM).  Red-hot tent revival preaching with great music.  Putting up the tent for the revival.  Road trippin’ with no energy drinks and car CD players.  The practical joke.  Wendy’s.  Non-stop classic moments.  The Petrified Forest.  Indian nicknames.  Freak thunderstorm at the river.  Plus, My BBQ Honey was able to go back in the day.  Life’s more complicated now.  Anyhizzle, special trip with some special kids!  Wait you’re all adults now, older than I was at the time of this trip.  But you’re still special to us.  Thanks for the memories!


15 comments so far

  1. Renae Ashton on

    You now Becka may have a picture of that “awesome” shower… anyway… I loved the one Mission’s trip I went on and I hope it wasn’t the one that you didn’t enjoy… and talking about showers, we had the wonderful 3 showers in the gym… they all drained into one drain…

  2. Jay on

    That Farmington trip you went on was all kinds of fun! “Four Corners”, Matt Wright stealing my clothes as I showered, the amazing VBS turn-around (attendance), horse back riding, our team battle cry: “Let’s do this! Ah-ooo-rah!”. Lots of great memories for that one.

    Okay, no more hints as to the least enjoyable of the missions trips.

  3. Becka on

    I think “Let’s do this! Ah-ooo-rah!” was the mantra of many missions trips. lol Renae, I don’t think I do have a picture of that shower. If I was a camera crazy then as I am now, then I would have one, but I’m pretty sure I have about 2 pictures from that trip. I don’t even think I brought a camera.

    That seriously was such a fun trip! I remember Brittany sliding down the hill when we got caught in that freak thunderstor, Everyone was so muddy! lol Way too many good memories from that trip to talk about in a comment. 🙂

  4. mct88 on

    AH!!! Farmington! Oh my goodness. Danny & I still talk about those times. Like when Sareen fell off her seat when she was sleeping, the pirates (bikers), or her walking into the boys bathroom at wendy’s!?

    Jay, I must correct you. It’s not Four-Corners… its Fo’ Co’no’ 🙂 And Friday the 13th crazy weather?! Or when Melinda and Curt ruined our tag-game at WalMart. And when we came back to Calif-how we named everything we had missed. Theme song: Cheeseburger song

    Oh goodness. Way to many memories… and if I recall Renae, weren’t you called Hurting Face in the Morning?!?!?

  5. zaza on

    man that first mission trip seems so long ago…and as memorable as it was/is, i hope that i am remembering the missions trips the way it occurred and not the way my brain *thinks* it occurred. lol hence my question…was i at that dulce,nm trip? because i feel i remember some parts, but not others…indian nicknames? huh? but i remember “smiley face” shirt guy, shooting the guns, putting the tent up for the services, water fight in the rain by the lake, the brother/sister and horses…were there horses? or was that utah?

    i always get confused with the mile long fence, too. that was where the david’s slingshot, zipline, water fight, henry running through the girls “cabin”, right? and this is when we went to yosemite…and ate at a&w?

    ahh…the setbacks of getting old, the memory begins to fade a wee bit…haha. i think i need a timeline of these missions trips…oh, remember “the father, the mother, the daughter, song by that family…wait, what was i talking about again.

    speaking of which…whatever happened to our “alumni” missions trip. lol.

  6. Jay on

    Mel, how can I forget shouting out those SoCal items we were so glad to see? “Look, smog! Palm trees! More cars than trucks!” And the cheeseburger song still brings a tear to my eye.

    Zaz, you were part of the Dulce trip. I added a pic to help jog your memory. Maybe you’re having trouble remembering ’cause you were so young (like 8 or 9–kidding). The horses-breaking demo was in Utah (I’ll try to post a pic in the next post). The slingshot, zipline and Yosemite were all part of the Greeley Hills camp work week (don’t forget about the giant see-saw!). And that song was part of the tent meeting in Dulce.

  7. zaza on

    aww…memories are coming in, but 3 windows is the only one nickname i remember.

    yeah for some reason my brain is blending together into one long missions trip. lol.

    btw, how old were you in the 1 st missions trip?

  8. Jay on

    I was 23, but wise beyond my years.

  9. Becka on

    Dulce – so much fun. Remember how smiley face guy ate that HUGE bowl of ice cream and said that his dream life was to sit on the porch of his cabin with a rifle and shoot rabbits?

    My favorite, most vivid memory from that trip was the crush joke. How the girls pretended to like the guys and then you(Jay) turned the tables and the guys were being all super nice and Henry was “down in the dumps.” lol Too funny. I think Miriam might have been freaking out because Clinton was bringing her drinks. lol

  10. jenmarie on

    Oh wow, memories! I’m guessing though that my chocolate ran out – since my horrible pic is up? Hmmm…anything you want from Egypt? A camel maybe?
    Some of my favorite youth group memories are from missions trips! Seems like most of our inside jokes are from them…Man, an alumni trip would have been awesome! 🙂

    Speaking of missions trips, I was happy to find out that we are flying into Anchorage…so I am guessing that means no little planes that leave luggage behind? I’m packing better this year just in case though! 🙂

  11. Jay on

    A camel might keep the old skewl pics away. But I’d prefer a mummy!

  12. Randy Smith on

    A few casseroles short…what have we come to…well any food that was missing we could always replace with Famous Dave’s.

  13. […] **Continued from April 28th. […]

  14. […] Last but not least: being taught by the most awesome hard-working youth director […]

  15. James Burrow on

    Yeah…when’s the alumni missions trip Jay??? BTW Remember that freaky huge bug that looked like it wanted to kill us in our sleep in Dulce? I think we tried to kill it with Henry’s hair spray and our fake CK1.

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