Every summer a group of students and leaders from our church embarks on a service opportunity through Youth Unlimited. We have chosen our location carefully, prayed and prepared ourselves for the week ahead. As we gather in the church parking lot—bags full, a bit anxious, unsure of what to expect—we wonder what lies ahead. The series of emotions, experiences, stories, and worship that unfolds throughout the week is invaluable and impactful. There is something about intentionally setting aside our busy lifestyles—cell phones, internet, our usual routines—that allows us to become more fully open to the movement and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
And then before we know it the week is over. Oftentimes coming home can be a bit disillusioning. We have just had a wonderful faith-forming, relationship-building experience and are left wondering, “Now what?” How do we bring what we have seen and learned back home with us? How do we allow God to continue the work he has started in us?
Our students live in a generally safe and quiet community—most have not encountered hunger, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or broken homes; they live relatively secure lives. One of the reasons a service opportunity is so challenging for our students’ faith is because they must face these issues head-on. Their eyes are opened and their beliefs challenged.
This is why it is often hard to bridge the gap between our service site and our small quiet town. This year—after wrestling with these hard questions for the past few—our youth group is seeking to seize this valuable experience by engaging in service opportunities in our own backyard. We called some local ministries to set up opportunities where we could continue hands on, faith-forming experiences.
Our primary requirement for our locations was that our ministry sites be relationally based instead of task oriented. Our small groups are meeting once a month at these ministry locations hoping to build relationships, share the Good News and encounter God. We are partnering with families and individuals of different ethnicities, abilities and a variety of backgrounds, including past imprisonment, addiction and the effects of age. (Our hope is that these sites will allow our students to implement the lessons they have learned on previous service trips to enhance our own community. This will also help students who will embark on service trips in the future.) Through this experience we are seeing generosity, hospitality, openness, deep faith and wisdom. Our hope is that of Philippians 2—that we would be one in spirit with God, considering others and their interests above our own.