What is a mission? Is it simply getting on a church van for a minimum of 3 hours to go into a place you have never been, with the sole intention of doing things you somewhat refused to do in “everyday” life? If we’re being honest, that is what my opinion was of mission trips when I went through youth group some years ago. It was a time when you would go to some awesome place, and your local youth minister relished in putting you in uncomfortable situations. It wasn’t until I had started going on many myself in latter high school years and in college, that I realized the need for missions, and how they can help so much more than the “target” group or city.
One short week after we arrived back in Tennessee, we packed up again to head out. It’s amazing to us how God works. During the preceding month as we were discussing the transition timelines with our elders, they mentioned that the youth group had a planned mission trip during the middle of June that was in desperate need of chaperones. They suggested that if we were available, that we should get in touch with the youth minister to see if we could accompany them and help out. How can you say no to such a proposition?!?!?
I immediately called Alex to find out that just the previous night he had been seriously considering having to cancel the trip due to lack of adult support that could go to Florida. He had sat down and prayed that God send him some individuals to act as chaperones and mentors to his teens. Rachel and I asking if we could help out on the trip was a literal less than 24 hour response to Alex’s prayer!
We had such an incredible week with Winchester Church of Christ’s Youth Group to Mt. Dora, Florida! About 25 people were involved from our Overseeing Congregation in this trip. When we departed for Florida, we only loosely knew some of the individuals on the campaign. We came back with memories of friends, brothers, and sisters that we will cherish forever.
One of the primary emphasis’s of the mission trip was to put on a VBS for the Mt. Dora church of Christ. Seeing as we had held a VBS at Winchester the week prior to the trip, this should have been a super easy task, right? Well there are a number things that added some fun wrinkles to the mix.
When this Vacation Bible School was put on in Winchester, the teachers had four days to prepare their rooms. Here in Mt. Dora, we had four hours! It turned out beautiful and really emphasized how fast things get done when people work together! Rooms were decorated to put kids directly into the setting of one of the four bible stories we would cover. Our theme for VBS was “Survivor: Saved By God”. It emphasized how God can rescue you from any situation and use it to his glory.
SAVED BY GOD – From Hopeless Situations to Great Salvations
– Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – the Fiery Furnace
– Daniel and the Lions Den
– Jonah and the Great Fish
– Paul and Silas in Prison
Also, we tried to put our teens into as many leaderships roles as possible. In Winchester, the whole assembly of membership pitched in to teach classes, guide craft sessions, and relegate snack duty. At Mt. Dora, Mitchel taught the adult class each night, there was an adult to oversee each classroom, but all of the lessons, crafts, and structured times were teen led. It was great to see the teens step up and demonstrate what it means to be a leader in God’s church. Even little Emma Cowan – who is only going into 5th grade herself – was seen stepping up to help distribute snacks and make sure everyone was taken care of!
All of the teens hard work was rewarded. Sunday, the first day of VBS, we had 10 children come, and by the fourth and last day, that number doubled to 22 children participating! Throughout this VBS, several future leaders became apparent!
Remember that little bit at the beginning about a crazed youth minister that relished in putting in uncomfortable situations? It seems to be status quo on mission trips and this one was no different. As we mentioned we had 10 kids show up to VBS on the first night – a solid start, but we knew that we had the potential to reach out so many more.
Hence, we took our teens to the streets! They went door knocking into the neighborhoods surrounding the church to spread the news of the VBS we were holding. Many of our teens commented on how the simple act of inviting someone to church was a new and uncomfortable experience for them, but they also told us of how it was one of the ways that caused them to grow the most during the week. Simply telling others of your faith and inviting those around you to share in it is becoming a dying art, and our teens were blessed to see how easy and beneficial it can be.
There is an old saying that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It was great to go door knocking, but Alex wanted to try and demonstrate this principle to the teens as well. What ensued was the complete takeover of some of Mt. Dora’s parks. Our teens rushed into the playgrounds, played with the kids there, handed out free popsicles and VBS flyers, and sang some awesome VBS and camp songs with some of the children at the park. It was like a mini VBS all unto itself! Indeed we had several new kids come and attend each night that we met at the parks.
Do you also recall the part about mission trips involving tasks you would normally have no interest in participating in? We were blessed to get to have this experience for our group as well! Located in the city of Mt. Dora, Florida are the local Christian School for kids pre-K through 12th grade and the associated children’s’ home. There were a number manual tasks that we were able to help out with. So Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. we met at the church and divided into two groups.
The first helped out with an area of the school that needed some landscaping work. They cleared out trees, logs, vines, and undergrowth from a hillside that was soon to be seeing much more foot traffic as the school’s football field was being put in nearby. The second group had the honor of scraping gum off of the gym bleachers, cleaning out trash cans, and spraying down the outdoor mats.
After our service projects were complete, we were given a tour of the children’s home and Christian academy. It was a blessing to see the resources they had been able to establish to invite children to come in from various broken situations, have a room to call their own, a house parent to watch after them, and a top notch educational facility to go get their primary and secondary schooling from.
We were also reminded of just how connected the church is though God and his people!! The elementary school portion of the Christian Academy in Mt. Dora has a wing named in honor of Jim and Ruby Vanzant. Which was a really special treat for those at Winchester, TN as we have a wing of our church building named after them also!
It truly was an amazing week of seeing the teens grow and reach out to youth of Mt. Dora. But this brings us back to the original question of what is a mission? Anyone that knows of them happening in the church might call it what I did as a younger child, a group of people going to some place to help some people. I think our teens began to learn in a week what took me quite some time to figure out. As they were stepping up to teach, to share their faith openly, to live it out in a way that others could see it, they were living out the very definition of mission. A mission is more than a trip, it is being intentional with your actions and your life to make sure that you spread the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to as many people as possible.
Whether it is in Cusco, Peru, Mt. Dora, Florida, or at the grocery store in your own hometown, what are you doing to help build the Kingdom? Whose lives are you making a difference in by living out and sharing the Gospel? We challenge you to try and live out these virtues. You might just be surprised by who they end up affecting most.
Mitchel and Rachel Routh