Every morning when my alarm goes off and I turn on the lights, the brightness and noise shocks me awake. It’s uncomfortable, but highly effective. There’s no going back to sleep once that happens. But as hard as that moment can be, it’s also one of the best parts of my day, simply because of the possibility before me.
When it comes to sending high school students on mission trips, the possibility of what God will do in their lives is endless. Mission trips can be uncomfortable at times; traveling to another culture and experiencing new things always is. Students are challenged in their beliefs and encouraged to step out in trust. Some of them encounter God for the first time in a very real way. Others go deeper in their faith. Some find healing for brokenness and pain, while others discover the call of God on their lives.
Mission trips are one of the most effective ways to wake students up to their roles in the Kingdom of God.
The teenage years are about discovery and exploration. Students are discovering their identities in Christ; they are finding out what they enjoy and excel at. They are learning how to interact in community with their peers, and they are begging to see how they fit in a world outside themselves.
The teenage years are filled with so much change it is overwhelming. It is also a perfect time for students to really begin to own their faith.
My wife, Connie, and I have worked with teenagers for over 22 years, and over and over we’ve seen how getting teens out of their routines and exposing them to another culture allows them to see God in a whole new light.
They literally wake up to the fact that God is at work and they can join Him in what He is doing in the world.
Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, implying a sense of “going”. He equipped and taught them as they journeyed together on mission. Mission trips allow us as leaders to walk out this model, to say, “Watch me as I share and pray with people. Okay, now let's do this together.”
As students minister to people they meet on a mission trip, they begin to see how a real God works through them. Soon you’ll just be standing back, watching as the students walk out into ministry and really own it.
Then, they return home with a complete paradigm shift.
A few years ago, the church I worked with had not served in any kind of mission work—local or international—for several years. Then some students decided God was calling them to go on an international trip. While on the trip, a number of them (and their adult leaders) awoke to their faith and how God had called us to His mission on earth.
When they returned home to their church, there was an infusion of a new spirit in worship, service, and call. The church body began engaging in local service projects and scheduling not only mission trips for students, but for adults as well.
The students set an example of obeying God’s call for their parents, their friends, and the church as a whole.
In the 22 years I’ve been in youth ministry, I’ve seen over and over that when given a chance, when they know they are supported, students will rise to the occasion—and often supersede expectations. It doesn’t matter whether they are young in their faith or spiritually mature, the vehicle of missions is a powerful tool to awaken and solidify their faith.
If you are a youth pastor, I challenge you to take your students on a mission trip, even if it’s to the next town. If you are a parent, a small group leader, or mentor a high school student, I challenge you to encourage them to consider going on a mission trip.
Seeing students come alive in their faith gets me really excited, because just like turning on the lights every morning, the possibilities of what God will do in and through them are endless.
Just imagine what could happen if every student realized firsthand what it meant to be radically loved, forgiven, and called by God.
Don Rock is the one of the Ambassador Program Managers for Adventures. He and his wife, Connie, have worked with students for over 22 years.