For the first time in fourteen summers, I’m not leading one or more youth mission trips. It’s a strange feeling, heightened this week because my former youth group is currently on a trip I helped envision and set in motion.
Seasoned church leaders know that short term mission trips have both pros and cons. Last year I read Toxic Charity before our trip to Haiti and the cynicism it cultivated nearly ruined the trip for me. But I keep coming back to the important role these trips play in the faith formation of young people and the potential long-term impact it can have on their lives. (I realize, of course, that this self-serving perspective is one of the criticisms discussed in Toxic Charity.)
These trips are also meaningful for the professional and volunteer adults who serve as leaders. (I’m not a big fan of calling them “chaperones.”) As I have thought about youth mission trips this week, I’ve been especially mindful and grateful for the adults who volunteer their time to make such trips possible.
We all know that youth ministry—or any church ministry, for that matter—could never happen without volunteers. Those who give their time and talents to youth ministry demonstrate a commitment to their faith community that goes well beyond the consumerism that is so prevalent in most churches.
Volunteering for an hour or so once a week or a couple of times a month is one thing. But using precious and finite vacation time to travel with teenagers in less than glamorous and often downright uncomfortable conditions is an entirely different kind of gift. The adults who do this freely and joyfully are truly saints.
So here’s to all of the youth mission trips happening this summer and to the amazing adult volunteers who make them happen. May God bless them all.