5 Most Impactful Youth Mission Trips

Many youth pastors and leaders have had a number of mission trip experiences either as a student or as a leader, so who better to ask about which ones have been the most impactful?

In this blog post, you’ll find:

  1. Local Mission Trips
  2. International Mission Trips
  3. Mission Work in a “Big City”
  4. Youth Summer Camp Missions
  5. Mission Trip to Alaska
  6. Bonus: Words of Advice

1. Local Mission Trips

Local Mission Trip
Local mission “trips” or service projects have recently increased in popularity due to travel restrictions and caution from COVID-19.

Many teens are eager to help where they can, and oftentimes they don’t have to go far. In fact, sometimes working with local communities can be the most impactful mission trip. Being able to see the impact the teens have made in a neighboring community on a day-to-day basis is unforgettable.

The coronavirus pandemic has also lead many churches to only consider domestic mission trips (service trips in their home country). In 2021, ThereforeGo Ministries is only offering domestic mission trips or at-home mission trip opportunities; even though normally, we provide mission trips for teens to destinations in both the USA and Canada.

Student Ministries Director Lucas Johnson from Pillar Church, finds his youth have been most impacted by this type of trip.

“I like to believe all the mission trips we do are impactful. However, two local trips stick out the most: a trip to Detroit, working with Youthworks and a Younglife trip to Timberwolf Lodge, babysitting for teen moms while they got training and time away. It was awesome to see the students making an impact in their own state and feeling led to serve.”

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups »
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip »

2. International Mission Trips

Sometimes it is all too easy to become comfortable in our daily lives, with everything at the tips of our fingers. Many other countries don’t have the same accessibility that we have. This makes international mission trips some of the most humbling experiences.

When it comes to an international trip, the possibilities are endless. So many countries can benefit from the spiritual guidance and efforts of members of the Christian community.

Student Ministries Pastor Chuck Zook from Summit Church, says his trips to build homes in Mexico are the ones that have left an everlasting impact.

International Mission Trip
Sometimes called “overseas mission trips”, the possibilities for these are endless.

“Some of the most impactful trips I have been a part of were with the group ‘Casas por Cristo.’ They are an organization based in Texas that builds homes for those who need them in several locations such as Juarez and Ciudad de Acuna, Mexico. I have been in both communities on a few different trips. Your group builds a home, from the foundation all the way up over four days.

“These trips were impactful for me (as a student and a leader) for a few reasons. First, Casas is efficient and their leaders lead by example – everyone is included in the building project. Second, during the week, you work directly alongside the family who is receiving the house. This last part is incredibly impactful. When you work alongside the family, you see how much this means to them, because they work their fingers to the bone. You also build a relationship with the person you are serving (despite language barriers). This often is overlooked on service/mission trips in my opinion. The emphasis is put on what ‘I’ learn, and what ‘our’ takeaway will be versus the people who need caring for. How can we pour ourselves out to fill up others and not worry about our ‘life change’ or what we are getting from the trip?

“Don’t get me wrong, the learning, perspective change and growth from these trips are important. I just think, if we aren’t careful, we put more emphasis on what’s in it for us then the people we’re serving.”

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups »
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip »

3. Mission Work in a “Big City”

City Mission Trip for Teens
City mission trips are popular for both domestic and international mission trips (or even just a service project within your local area).

Cities across the country are often laden with individuals and families who struggle to make ends meet – many who don’t even have a home. Taking part in a mission trip in a large city can be a real eye-opener and a great opportunity for spiritual growth.

There are tons of opportunities to be part of teen mission trips to cities, such as SERVE with ThereforeGo (formerly Youth Unlimited) or Revolution’s Big City.

Student Ministries Director, Aaron Damjanovich from Eagle Brook Church, says the youth from his church have been deeply impacted by the work they have done in cities over the last few years.

“Every summer for the past five years, we’ve taken around 200 high school students on a mission trip called, “Big City.” We work closely with Rich Gibbs from Cutting Edge Ministries to locate a city and work with the local churches to find how we can best serve them – whether that be VBS or work projects. Every day each group of about 20 students gets sent out to a different site to work, and in the evenings we gather as a large group for worship and a message. This past summer we served in St. Louis. Like every trip, students grow very close in relationships with each other and we see significant impact, spiritual growth and life change.”

Student Pastor, Ty Hogue from Overisel Reformed Church, said he is always driven back to ministry work in Chicago because the opportunities in a big city are endless.

“I started going to Chicago in the summer of 1999 and have gone all but two summers since. We have worked with day camps, community gardens, thrift stores, lunch and dinner ministries and food banks and have assisted in upholstery, yard work, basement clean-ups, roofing, plumbing, painting, carpeting and so much more throughout the neighborhood and at several of the ministry buildings. Most of the impact comes from the relationships within our group, with their church and in the community. There has also been the satisfaction of working hard and getting things accomplished, but there’s nothing like relationship building and seeing a more diverse and unique expression of God’s creativity amongst his creation.”

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups »
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip »

4. Youth Summer Camp Missions

Youth Summer Camp
Youth summer camp service projects can be in your own community, elsewhere in your home country, or international.

Every teen looks forward to the summertime and the freedom to break out of their normal routine. This makes summer the perfect time for them to experience the impact of a mission trip – or more specifically, a youth summer camp.

Youth summer mission camps tend to be short-term, one to two weeks long, and teens can make the most of their time by serving those in a new community in a variety of ways.

Paul Galbraith, Pastor of Missions & Student Ministry from Brandywine Church, says of the youth camp his team attends every year:

“We take our youth to Mountain T.O.P. every summer to their Youth Summer Mission Camps. Our kids connect with Christ through service, worship and time away from daily routine. It increases their awareness of needs around them and challenges them to sacrifice for others daily.”

5. Mission Trips To Alaska

Alaska Mission Trip
The culture and landscape of Alaska will make you feel like you’re in another country.

Alaska is a place unto its own, and it is often overlooked. Life is different there – it’s slower, tougher and more unforgiving. For those who have reservations or concerns about international mission trips, Alaska can be a great alternative. The culture and landscape of Alaska will make you feel like you’re in another country, without needing a passport (for US citizens). Alaska is also a popular destination for neighboring Canada.

Youth Pastor Kurtis Ritsema from Graafschap CRC, believes visiting Alaska with his youth team has been the most impactful trip.

“Our trip to Alaska with Eaglecrest Alaska Missions to the community of Sutton has been the most impacting. The work primarily consisted of log splitting (wood as a heat source for winter), basic home repair and landscaping projects. The work was good, but what made this trip most impactful was the location, the weather, the time of year (land of the midnight sun) and the youth group time around an evening campfire each night.”

Words of Advice

Teen mission trip groups
It’s important to remember to keep your mission trip focused on relationships.

Many youth pastors and leaders believe there are two things that are key to having a successful and impactful youth mission trip:

  1. A Relationship Focus
  2. Preparation

Keep Your Trip Relationship Focused

Mission trips are only as valuable as the relationships that are formed and lives that are changed through discipleship. This may be either with the individuals in a community or members of a team.

Student Ministries Pastor Brad Bullock of Pathway Community Church, says:

“Our teams have strong bonds and are well equipped before the trip through mandatory team meetings and a two-night team retreat. And our partners are strategic so we can experience a win-win – ministry that advances the work of the local mission and also advances our students down the road to becoming disciples who make disciples.”

You Can Never Over-Prepare

Preparing for mission trip for teens
7 Things to Do When Planning a Mission Trip for Teens

The destination of your trip is not nearly as important as the time put in prior to leaving. It is necessary to prepare your hearts, minds and even physically prepare. Whatever you will need on an upcoming mission trip, there is no way to over prepare.

Youth Pastor Fig VanderMolen of Messiah CRC, says:

“I think the best advice I could give any leader planning a trip is to not skimp on the prep. No matter where your group is going, no matter what the length, meeting ahead as a team helps with everything from attitude on the trip, knowledge of the work or service, understanding of the people you are going to be working with and so much more.

“We’ve used some material from the book Deep Justice Journeys by Kara Powell and some other team building or strategic planning type activities. I also ask all of our students and adults to attend all fundraisers, even if they have raised enough money for their trip on their own. It helps us get used to working with one another! I’m not sure that specific places matter as much. I think that with good prep and a good group, you can have success at any site.” 

Are you planning a youth mission trip?

Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!

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Two key pieces of advice:

  1. Keep a Relationship Focus
  2. Prepare

They certainly can! Here’s just some of the ways mission trips within your own country can be impactful.

ThereforeGo (formerly “YouthUnlimited”) provides opportunities for youth group mission trips in the USA and Canada.

This means we provide both domestic and international youth mission trips (because of COVID-19, all 2021 trips require groups to stay in their own country – learn more).

Specific destinations (we call them “SERVE sites“) include everything from larger cities to smaller towns in rural areas. And in 2021, we even have a mission opportunity for serving your own local community (called SERVE@Home).

Explore trip locations »

Go Do Good – Do It

by Angie Klooster

SERVE 2019 was one of the most influential weeks of my life. Seeing the broken state some people live in is one thing but having the opportunity to help them and change their way of life is entirely different. We made a difference, even if all we did was weed a few rows of a community garden or paint the walls of a non-profit organization. And making a difference made a difference in me.

I was cautious to go on this trip. It was very out of my comfort zone. Then, when I found out no one from my church was in my SERVE small group, I was even more discouraged. However, as soon as I met my small group and spent one day with them, I knew I was here for a reason. The people I worked with and got to know were some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I quickly realized God sent me on SERVE to do good.

God sent me to a small church in Muskegon, Michigan both to help people and to grow, myself. I learned more about myself in those seven days than I have in my entire life. I learned to not take things for granted. I learned that God works miracles in the strangest of ways. I learned to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people. And I learned to make friends, even if it’s just for a week and I might never see them again.

With each service project – every time we handed out yogurt at the church or cleaned a lot – we made a difference, and I was so encouraged. It might not have been much, but it was something, and it was hopefully enough to encourage others to follow our footsteps, too.

One little nudge can make a change in someone’s life, like the way my life changed at Muskegon SERVE. If the people of Muskegon saw us planting a garden and growing food, it shows them that it’s possible. If the kids at Muskegon Heights High School saw that people were willing to help them, it shows them they can help people, too.

Muskegon SERVE was just one week, but the people I worked with have been doing this for years. They have dedicated their lives to helping their community and are very passionate about what they do. They work so hard with so little. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see, and talk to, and help these people. It’s changed who I am, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have a similar experience. If you ever get the opportunity to go do good, do it. It will be beyond worth it.  

[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2019 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]

5 Events to Raise More Money for Your Next Youth Mission Trip

Convincing people to give you money isn’t always easy – even if it’s for a life-changing youth mission trip. You need to get creative to inspire your youth and make them excited about raising money for the trip. We’ve created a practical list for youth workers and pastors to help make your next Christian youth mission trip a financial success.

1. Text-to-Tithe Campaign

A text-to-tithe campaign can be incredibly useful because people can give whenever or wherever they want. Your youth group is already well-versed in communicating via text message. You’ll need to do some upfront work to get the campaign setup, but after that, let your youth lead the charge demonstrating how the campaign works to the congregation.

Promote the text-to-tithe fundraiser in multiple channels, including social media and the church’s newsletter. Tap into your teens’ enthusiasm and have them make announcements at the end of sermons about why the fundraiser is essential.

2. Charity or Silent Auction

A charity auction or silent auction is a reliable fundraising method for a reason. Guests can bid on their favorite or most unusual items, and the highest bidder receives the item. While this event may require the most planning out of all the options on our list, it also had the potential to raise the most money.

Encourage your youth group to think of different services they can offer, such as yard work, painting, shopping, deliveries, babysitting, cleaning or snow removal. Or they can reach out to local businesses to donate items. If you have ample space, you can save a lot of money by hosting the auction at your church.

3. Crowdfunding Campaign

Tap into the growing trend of online fundraising, specifically crowdfunding, to raise money for your youth group. Use your congregation’s expansive social media network to help spread the word about the youth mission trip to existing and new supporters.

You’ll need to create a mobile-optimized fundraising web page and make room for great visuals like images and videos. Lean on your youth to utilize their strengths to tell the story and encourage them to share the campaign. The best part is crowdfunding can be used together with countless other fundraising events.

4. Parents Party

A parents party is an excellent way to give the parents a night out and also raise money for your youth mission trip. You’ll need to put together a party planning committee and start selling tickets. In exchange for tickets sold, the teens in your youth group can be made available to babysit that evening free of charge.

Time the event around a holiday for maximum promotion. Parents would love a night out during the busy Christmas season or even Valentine’s Day.

5. Teach a New Skill

Mine your congregation for people with skills others have always wanted to learn. Maybe you have talented sewers, website developers, crafters, photographers or carpenters willing to donate their time. You’ll need to sell tickets and provide the materials and space required for the lessons. In no time, you’ll have funds for your youth mission trip and a congregation armed with a new skill like how to build a simple shelf or hem a pair of pants.

Youth group fundraising doesn’t have to be complicated or tedious. Use these ideas to get your youth group and congregation excited about raising money for your upcoming youth mission trip.

Are you planning a youth
mission trip for High school students?

Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!
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Youth Mission Trip Planning E-Book

5 Reflection Questions to Ask After Your Mission Trip

Coming home from a youth mission trip can be much like falling off a mountaintop and walking away very disoriented. You have experienced so much in such a short time that coming back to real-life can be a letdown.

One way to prevent disorientation is to spend some time in reflection and share your experience with others. Below are a few questions to ask yourself and your trip companions as you try to process your experience and integrate what you learned into daily life.

1. What are the top three things I will miss from my mission experience?

Mission trips often come with new friendships, a new love for the location you were in and a spiritual high. While we know that the trip can’t last forever, it is okay to think about what you will miss about being there. Recognizing things that will be missed is also a good way to think about what you may do differently at home.

2. What are the top three things I’m most thankful for at home?

Maybe you are really thankful for your family, your home church, the school you go to or that you have a stable place to eat and sleep each day. Spending some time to reflect on these things will help you have a greater appreciation for all that you have been blessed with!

3. What is one thing I want to remember from this experience?

We hope that we will remember it all but we also know that our memories can fade over time. It’s important to think of some of the highlights and make note so that you can hold onto this impactful experience for many years to come.

4. What do I feel like God was communicating to me during this time?

Do you feel like you learned a big lesson or felt a little nudge? Are you leaving with a renewed conviction to spend more time in the Bible or to get connected with a non-profit at home? Sometimes you don’t even realize what God was trying to tell you until you take a little time to process your experience.

5. Who will I share with when I get home so I can be held accountable for continuing this growth?

We are not meant to go through life alone. Talking about your experience and the things God communicated to you throughout the trip with someone you trust can be a great way to follow through on the promises you have made yourself.

Take the time to reflect on your mission trip

As you ask these questions really reflect on your experience. You may notice lessons that you learned without even being aware at the time. Maybe you want to write down some notes about the benefits of your experience and your answers to these questions so that you can look back on it in a few months.

After you have spent the time reflecting on your experience and preventing the disorientation, you will want to think through the conversations you will have with people at home. You’ll want to be ready to share one story about how the week impacted your life. When people at home ask, “What did you do?” they often really mean, “Whom did you serve, and how did the week impact your life?” Be ready!

Above all, don’t let all the transformation that you experienced during your mission experience fall away when the trip is over. Be intentional about bringing it home with you and always remembering the lessons God was teaching you.

Are you planning a youth
mission trip for High school students?

Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!
Get The Free eBook

Youth Mission Trip Planning E-Book

How to Plan a Mission Trip

7 Things to Do When Planning a Mission Trip for Teens

How to plan a mission trip with youthIf you’re planning a mission trip for a youth group, it can seem overwhelming. Based on our experience, here are things to consider when planning a mission trip for youth:

  • Check dates with parents early in the process.

Even before October 1 of the year before the summer mission trip, begin asking parents if they have a family vacation planned or know of camps/activities in the summer you should plan around. Don’t just ask the students to ask their parents. Go to the parents directly. This gives you a good contact with them and avoids miscommunication.

  • Consider distance and destination.

How far do you want to travel? Will a long road trip build your group unity for the rest of the year? Does it fit the budget? How does the host church/community fit into the progression or rhythm of your mission strategy? Are you looking to move your students outside their typical environment (rural, urban, suburban, ethnicity, etc.) or teach them how others in a very similar environment love their community? Check out this list of mission trip locations for teens in the US and Canada or this list of 5 different types of impactful teen mission trips.

  • Budget carefully.

Budget for a mission trip to help everyone enjoy their timeIf you do not have a budget worksheet for your mission trips, ask your church treasurer to help you create one or call a youth ministry veteran. This is essential to your planning and fundraising. Raising funds is an important work of missions. Here’s some fundraising ideas for youth mission trips.

  • Raise prayer support.

Every summer there are over 1,500 students and youth leaders who go on SERVE, and we estimate there are more than 5,000 adults who support them in prayer. You might even put your vision, the intended outcomes and a bit about your team and your Host Church in your church bulletin before and after your trip.

  • Plan your post-trip process in three parts:

Debrief, follow up and follow through. This will help students understand what they think and how they feel about the trip and also help them integrate what they learned during the trip into their everyday life. See the SERVE Post-Trip Plan in the Resource Box for this process.

Check into it before you even start promoting. There is a planning timeline, a parents’ letter, pastors’ letter and promotional items to help you cast the vision.

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip

  • Most importantly, change the thought from “Where should we go?” to “Let’s make disciples!”

When thinking about mission trips for teens, don’t get caught in the short-sited thinking of just planning a trip. Start with your heart to disciple your students in missional living that lasts a lifetime. Add to that your desire to serve and submit to the host church or ministry, and consider the 7 standards of excellence.

Youth Group Mission Trip PlanningWhether you’re looking to start a mission trip for teens or organize a service trip for them, as you ponder the mission trip being one aspect of discipleship, consider the following:

A progression:

  • How can your students plug into the existing community outreach of your church or help advance it?
  • What experiences will teach your students how to minister in their own back yard?
  • How can they see the strengths and needs of your own community?

Consider planning a mission trip this summer that will help expand their understanding of how God works through churches to reach a community.

Local Mission TripThen, build toward that trip with some late winter and spring service projects in your own backyard.

Plan to go back to those service projects in August – October to follow up relationally, and perhaps continue through the rest of the school year.

For more help on planning a specific trip, contact us or feel free to call our office (1-616-241-5616).

A rhythm:

You might consider a very local mission trip for your students in middle school, then a regional one for grades 9 and 10, and a longer distance trip for your older students. Or, keep them all together and go local, regional and long distance progressively.

You do not have to leave the country to learn about another culture!

No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, you can find first/second generation immigrants (or possibly first nation people groups) to learn from and serve with. In fact, Youth Unlimited has some customizable mission trip locations in the US and Canada that include cross-cultural learning.

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip

Your teaching:

Preparation for a mission trip begins with teachingYour mission trip and service projects are like fence posts. They won’t do much good without the rails of ongoing mentoring relationships (in missional living) and solid week-to-week Bible teaching.

Add into your curriculum Bible content on missions, missional living and stories of those who live life on mission. The Youth Unlimited Resource Box has suggested pre- and post-trip teaching sessions. Talk about, or even bring in and interview, the business leader who sees their career as missions,\ or the pregnancy center director or the prayer warrior for your missionaries, etc.

Are you planning a youth mission trip?

Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!

Get the FREE eBook


For help on planning a specific trip, contact us or feel free to call our office (1-616-241-5616).

SlideShare Version

This post is an edited excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Magazine (Fall 2015).


We believe that whether mission trips help or not depends on the type of mission trip you have. Real lasting impact is never accomplished in a week. This is why we partner with local churches to provide our SERVE mission trips! All our sites are run by volunteers who live and work in these communities all year long.

We believe that SERVE mission trips provide a two-fold impact:

  1. On the individual involved in SERVE. We hope that each student and adult:
    • Become doers of the Word and not hearers only
    • Become justice conscious, meeting needs while being introduced to the root causes and concerns
    • Grow in their personal faith
    • Continue serving others when they return to their home church and community
  2. On the relationship between the church and the community. We hope that the week of SERVE helps them to:
    • Identify community assets and needs
    • Provide an infusion of energy to their mission, vision, and outreach efforts
    • Help deepen personal relationships and partnerships within their local community. Our host sites are encouraged to partner with ministries that they have an existing relationship with and allow this group of teenagers to bring energy and excitement to the long-term partnership.

Keep It Safe: Make photocopies of your passport’s identification page and/or of your identification cards, and keep the copies separate from the original when you travel. For added security, leave a copy with a friend or relative at home.

Traveling with Minors: Any adult who is not a parent or guardian should have written permission to supervise the child from the parent or guardian, as well as the child’s identification, and carry it with them. A letter would also facilitate entry for any one parent traveling with their children. This permission letter should contain addresses and telephone numbers where the parent or guardian can be reached. (Example Consent to Travel Form – find more forms and resources hereIt is strongly recommended that the letter is notarized.

There are numerous resources for your church to use in the planning and preparation for your trip. Visit our online Resource Box!

What’s New In 2019?

Registration for the SERVE 2019 teen mission trip season is about to open NOW OPEN and we wanted to let you know about some new things!

If you ever have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us.

  1. New SERVE Youth Mission Trip Sites for 2019
  2. New Background Check Policy
    • In year’s past, we have required that all Adult Leaders (21 and over), as well as host team members, have a background check on file with their church. This year, in order to have better accountability and peace of mind at our sites, we are requiring that a copy of each background check be sent directly to our office.
    • We are also changing our definition of “current” to three years instead of five. (For the 2019 season the background check must have been completed after June 15, 2016)
    • For more information and details on how to get a background check CLICK HERE.
  3. The Cost of SERVE
    • For many years, we have been able to keep the cost of SERVE steady at $360 USD. Because the cost of living continues to increase we have raised our price to $375 USD* for 2019 youth mission trips. This price increase will allow us to continue providing you with quality experiences as well as increase the amount our host teams receive in order to cover their costs for the week. *These reflect the cost of a high school SERVE site before April 1st. Please double-check the site description page of the site you are attending to confirm the price.
  4. Revised 3 Step Registration Process
    • Step One: Save Your Spots!
    • Step Two: Complete Your Online Paperwork. This must be done by March 31, 2019, or there will be late fee charges.
    • Step Three: Payment Due. Payment in full for all SERVE Sites is due on May 15, 2019.
    • Learn more and complete step one HERE.
  5. Sending Leader Training
    • We are excited to be piloting a sending church leader training program for the 2019 season. These short videos will help your Adult Leaders prepare for the SERVE week, covering topics such as what it means to be a small group leader, leading with integrity and modeling a safe culture.
    • More details about this program will be released later. Make sure to follow along with our monthly newsletter and social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) for details.

Stepping Up

by Don Koops, Youth Unlimited Board Member

During my years of youth ministry, I helped take groups on 12 SERVE trips to the states of Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Virginia, as well as three trips to Ontario, Canada. I’ve also coordinated seven weeks of SERVE at my own church.

The church I attend is a relatively small fellowship, so when we have hosted SERVE we have enlisted the services and assistance of churches in a broad range of denominations within a 25-mile radius. This has brought us all closer together for a united purpose and opened our eyes more fully to ministry opportunities around us.

My time spent on SERVE has enriched my life so much, as I have met a lot of great committed people, who have a passion for teenagers. In those times, I have seen the transformations of many students in one short week that have been life changing and I’ve grown in my own faith walk as well.

I have also had the privilege of experiencing so many varied cultures through SERVE. Even though I come from a rural background, I’ve noticed more similarities than differences in life experiences and people. It has been a real blessing for our youth group and myself to assist others in need through the different worksites we have encountered.

Over the years there are several SERVE experiences that stand out in my mind. My first SERVE experience was in Battle Creek, Michigan where my group, along with another work group, led by a Canadian leader, dismantled a large roof and rebuilt it for an elderly gentleman.

When we started to take off the roof in the reconstruction phase, we noticed that there were Rubbermaid pans everywhere to catch the rain water that still managed to filter into the home, which was badly in need of repair. It was more of a challenge than anyone of us had ever imagined taking on, as we needed to rebuild rafters, re-sheet the roof and shingle it all in the space of a week. The high humidity and temperatures of the season made it an even larger undertaking. Obviously, it was a bigger job than we could accomplish by ourselves, so prayer for God’s leading and wisdom was enlisted many times throughout the week.

As I have been made aware of time and again, the themes for the week of SERVE fit the circumstances, and God places just the right people in his timing and place within the group. So many times at SERVE I have encountered projects that appeared overwhelming, and each time our God has shown up to accomplish his plans and purposes.

The theme for our week in Battle Creek, was “Stepping Up”, and it definitely called for that mindset. Most importantly, we were able to complete the project just as late Friday afternoon arrived, which was no small miracle in itself.

This and many other moments from my SERVE experiences will forever be etched in my mind as reminders of what SERVE is all about! God’s plans and purpose always prevail.

As the newest member of the Youth Unlimited Board, I’m now looking forward to the opportunity to serve in the broader scope of the organization.

This is an excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Summer Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.

Spread Shalom

by Annika Bangma, Whitinsville SERVE Host Team Coordinator

In June of 2014, our town of Northbridge (of which Whitinsville is a village) had just voted down a hefty tax override that would give the local public school additional resources. Although there are many reasons why the override failed, a writer in the opinion column of our local newspaper argued, “The major obstacle we continually face is that an “organized” subgroup of voters does not feel the civic need to invest in things that enhance our public school system and town services. This subgroup of voters isn’t the only obstacle, but certainly the major one…. We understand that this subgroup has their own private school in town and does not rely on the public school system to educate their children. But we also know that it is our moral obligation to care for the concerns of others in a community.”

He goes on to suggest, “They also own many great businesses that we enjoy spending our hard earned dollars at. Let’s work diligently to bring this relationship to a win-win for everyone, so those of us who want the town to invest in our children and the public school system don’t have to become an “organized” subgroup of buyers and take our business elsewhere.”

Although many believe that the writer was looking for a scapegoat during a frustrating time in our town, it was not difficult to read between the lines of his insinuation. There is one private school in our town: the Whitinsville Christian School, founded by Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church. Our church.

Essentially, our church was being accused of not caring for the concerns of others in the community, of not investing in things that enhance our public schools and town services and, in general, neglecting our civic duty. There was a clear misconception in our town about our church and our care for our community and town. We had an image problem on our hands.

Fast-forward to January of 2016. During our very first Host Team meeting, our leaders spent time talking and praying about what we hoped God would do through SERVE. Looking through the list of possible outcomes supplied by Youth Unlimited, we took particular notice of using SERVE to grow “personal relationships in the local community with gospel centeredness” and “Organizational/government relationships [thereby] expanding the congregation’s reach into the community.” Consequently, we made a very intentional decision to partner with as many town services and organizations as possible throughout our week of SERVE.

Our worksites would include the Police Department, the Fire Department, painting fire hydrants for the Northbridge Department of Public Works and the Northbridge Senior Center. We made the decision to use the showers at the Northbridge Public Middle School, instead of using the facilities at Whitinsville Christian, and worked to expand our relationship with the Superintendent of Northbridge Public Schools. In addition, we worked with the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc/National Park Service to tackle one of the biggest jobs they have ever had volunteers take on.

After our week of SERVE was over, the front page of the local paper headlined: “Teens ‘SERVE’ a Week in the Blackstone Valley” – complete with a color photo, and two-part article about the “scores of students” that had been at work in town during SERVE, while being hosted by Pleasant Street. The town manager was quoted as saying “I can’t say enough about these kids. It’s been a real positive experience. All the department heads were positive about it. Oftentimes you hear the negatives; this puts hope back in what youth can do.” In addition, at least four other newspapers ran the photo of the signing of a three-foot-wide check, made out to the National Park Service’s Volunteers in the Parks Program as a symbol of the 3,168 hours of service that the Blackstone Valley received on behalf of SERVE, which the NPS considered to be worth a dollar value of $73,085.76.

Just as our Host Team was starting to regroup to start meeting regularly again to plan 2017, we received a phone call inviting us to an awards night in December, hosted by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Inc/ NPS.  At the awards, we were blown away to be designated the “Outstanding Special VIP [Volunteers in the Parks] Project Award” for 2016.

On the award certificate, Suzanne Buchanan, NPS Volunteer Coordinator, had scribed “They came to visit, not to stay, but their impact is felt here every day.” Those words, which were written to acknowledge the drastic results that the visiting students had achieved on the worksites, are more true than Suzanne Buchanan will ever fully understand.

The impact of SERVE is not just felt through the physical work the students and leaders accomplished on the various worksites. It is felt every day in the way our church is understood in our community. It has enabled us to continue to grow relationships with town department heads, the Police Chief and the public school system. It has helped us to learn, communicate effectively our motives and efforts, further recognize gaps in the way our town is run and help fill them. It has helped set a trajectory of spreading shalom within our local community, and gaining momentum in other year-round efforts that our church seeks to follow Christ into. It has been the definition of a “win,” and we feel we cannot thank the visiting churches, leaders and students enough for helping us transform our community, and the role we, Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church, have in it.

And this was only the first year.

Park Rangers

The following is an excerpt from our Youth Unlimited Summer Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.

The opportunity to have been part of the “Park Rangers” group at my church has drastically changed the way I look at and interact with my church today.

Planning to host a SERVE trip with a congregation of our size didn’t seem possible, but I was amazed to see the abundance of support from the members of our church and community. People were signing up to lead games, cook meals, help out with job sites and be a part of the main Host Team. The Park Rangers group, in particular, became a very tight knit group as we spent the whole week on site together. We ate together, worked together, organized together and if we were ever seen without the others it was very rare!

Being at our church for a week straight was odd at first, but that mentality quickly changed as we made new relationships within our church community. As a group, we got to know many of our staff members better. For example, our cook on site, Donna, became like a member of our family after the week was over. People we never used to talk to at church were quickly becoming people we wanted to be around all the time.

Hosting SERVE was a huge undertaking, but the reward was well worth the effort put in. For the Park Rangers, our group walked away from a week of SERVE with a feeling of genuine community, and many new relationships formed within our own church walls. 

-Park CRC Student


As a volunteer youth leader and a member of our SERVE Host Team, it has been such a blessing to work with our Park Rangers and watch them develop into team members and grow as church volunteers. The experience has been incredibly positive in that the students were able to use their talents and energy for God. Relationships between the “Park Rangers” grew and friendships that were not there before blossomed.

As the week progressed and everyone became tired, I was able to see them dig their heels in even deeper to make sure the experience for those at our site was not just good, but great. Members from our church who volunteered throughout the week were able to see our Park Rangers in action, setting things up, tearing things down, playing games, cleaning bathrooms, hauling food, carting supplies, motivating students at worksites and enjoying serving others.

This has allowed many other relationships within our church to grow. I often see our youth talking with some of the people that volunteered in the kitchen or at the worksites. A sense of community has grown that spans all ages. I believe it is so very important that the youth feel valued as church members and I think Park Rangers helps them to be just that. By using their gifts to glorify God, they are a valued member of the Body of Christ.

-Park CRC Volunteer Youth Leader

Seeing Jesus In the Brokenness

by Laura, High River SERVE Participant, 2014

In the summer of 2014, a group of students from my church, Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, embarked on a SERVE mission trip to High River, Alberta. High River had been hit with a disastrous flood one summer earlier, and as a result, the entire city had to be evacuated for 10 days. Our mission on the SERVE trip was to assist the town in cleaning up any damage that had come from the flooding… and there was a lot of it!

We painted battered fences, rebuilt decks and houses, landscaped, built gardens, etc., but we did so much more than just the physical labour. We also listened. We listened to numerous accounts of disaster and strife, and we listened as locals cried when they recounted the emotional aspect of the flood.

One of the most amazing parts of the trip though, was when we were honoured with the opportunity to listen to the miraculous things that Jesus had done during the flood. Amidst houses being torn to pieces, and lives being turned upside down, it was beautiful to see that people were so aware of what God was showing them and what he was accomplishing in the storm.

A particular story that stuck out to me was told by the pastor of a local church. The church had been hit just as hard as every other building, so when Pastor Paul was allowed back into it, he expected to see everything in the basement in disarray. As predicted, everything in the room had been knocked down, forced into different places or broken, but the table that was holding the Bible was solidly standing where it belonged.

For me, this was an incredible and direct message from God. When you feel knocked down, like you’re in the wrong place, or when things in life seem broken, God is never failing. He doesn’t leave us when our lives overflow with sin or when we keep falling down. When I heard the story, and was reminded of this aspect of God, it made me feel so secure in my relationship with him, like I was seeing Jesus in a very direct way.

I look forward to hearing, experiencing and sharing many more miracles as I daily strive to live for Christ, and I’m so thankful that one of the places I could do that was on my SERVE trip to High River.

This is an excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Summer Magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.

Pray Like it Depends on God

The following is an excerpt from our summer magazine. To view the whole magazine, click here.

I’ve heard the saying, “You work like it depends on you and you pray like it depends on God.” I’m not sure about the theology of that statement, but it sure does reflect the past nine months of activity for Youth Unlimited.

The Youth Unlimited staff and our 28 SERVE teams are in full preparation mode for SERVE 2017. 1,500 students and leaders will converge at 28 host churches to serve their communities on behalf of God and that local church. Throughout their week, students will worship, study scripture, see a broken world in need of Christ and love the people in those communities. In the process, they will discover the Holy Spirit is also wanting to connect with them, often times changing the course of their lives forever!

When SERVE is done right, it is a win/win/win scenario for students, connecting them to Christ, the Church and communities. In this issue of the Youth Unlimited magazine, you will read stories of God’s blessing on each of those. You will also get a behind the scenes view of the preparation being put in by our SERVE teams in order to better create a space for those connections to be made.

Though I am already looking forward to sharing the amazing stories that develop through SERVE 2017, would you join me and the Youth Unlimited team in praying for the participants, churches and communities involved this summer? Would you pray for the participants to remain safe and in good health, for local churches to build lasting bridges to their communities, for spiritual growth and maturity of everyone involved and, most importantly, for Jesus Christ to be glorified through SERVE 2017?

We know SERVE can be an integral part of a student’s faith formation, and we look forward to the countless opportunities ahead for students to find God at their SERVE experiences. This is why we take our work so seriously, and, more importantly, this is why we depend on God.

Grateful to partner in ministry with you,

Jeff Kruithof

Meeting Jesus

The following is a testimony of a youth leader who experienced SERVE in Toronto last summer.

This was the first SERVE experience this group of youth group kids ever had and it was such an amazing experience! We brought a bunch of country kids to the big city, and while none of them are planning on moving any time soon, they embraced the experience and learned so much from it!

I loved the many ways that we learned about homelessness and that homelessness is not just a result of laziness.

The best part was our nightly worship. I’ve been on a handful of trips like this, and the worship can be pretty awkward, which it was the first couple of nights, but then it just all clicked and I truly believe we met with Jesus every night during those times of worship.

Just recently one of my youth group girls was talking about the letter she wrote herself and how it made her cry when she received it in the mail. I asked her what she had written to herself. She said that she’s always believed she was a Christian, but Toronto SERVE was the first time she encountered Jesus.

Thank you to Toronto SERVE for providing opportunities and experiences for us all to met with Jesus that week!