Preparing Ourselves for Short Term Missions

Over the past year, various people from youth ministry backgrounds have offered their collective voices to the content of this Youth Ministry Network blog. We hope you have found it to be helpful and encouraging.

For April we will continue the conversation but have invited some new voices to the page.

The spring and summer months are often filled with teens and their leaders heading off to “far away” or “just down the street” places where youth and leaders alike are stretched physically and spiritually as they embark on journeys typically called “Short Term” mission trips.

Many challenges often accompany these trips so the idea was to invite writers in to share about how we as ministry leaders can prepare ourselves, and our youth, for such experiences. Preparation for mission trips is not just about fundraising and packing one’s bags before departing. It’s much more than that and you will read some insights into this over the weeks to come.

Within the denomination there is a collaborative energy taking place between organizations like Youth Unlimited, ServiceLink, World Renew and others, to embrace something called “The Seven Standards of Excellence for Short Term Missions” (SOE), which is a tool to help churches and organizations develop best practices as they seek to serve Jesus by serving others. During this month you will read about these seven standards, along with other observations and concepts.

So let me introduce you to those who will lead us in our Youth Ministry blog for April and the first week of May:

  • Rev. Amanda Bakale (World Renew): Amanda is a Youth and Young Adult Engager (she is also connected with YALT and is a regular tweeter).
  • Jerry Meadows (Youth Unlimited): Jerry is “The SERVE guy” and is very well connected with all things “short-term mission” related.
  • Carol Sybenga (ServiceLink Program Manager): Carol is a former youth ministry director and works for ServiceLink, which is the bi-national volunteer services program of the Christian Reformed Church.
  • Jolene deHeer ( Jolene is a Youth Unlimited speaker and author.

During their time with us over the next number of weeks, these wonderfully gifted contributors will share about various practical, theoretical and spiritual practices that can help us be prepared for our short-term mission trips.

Please join us for our look at “missions” preparation.

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Ron deVries works for Classis Alberta North as the Youth Ministry Consultant and have done so since 2007. He also serves as a Faith Formation Coach for the Denomination. Monique, his wonderfully supportive wife, and he have been married since 1985. They have 2 incredible children, Amanda and Shawn. Amanda married Matt and Shawn married Roxanne, so now they have and share 4 incredible children. They are also grandparents to the cutest puppy you will ever meet, Doozer.

Boondock Serve

Missional experiences to urban areas have been popular for years. Why is that? What attracts suburban student ministries to reach into the city for a week? Is it because they’ve noticed the strength of urban churches and desire to learn from their creativity, uniqueness and diversity? I hope that’s it and not the thought that the urban church lacks resources or has needs so much greater than “ours”. That would seem condescending and insulting.

From the city of Austin, Texas to the Distillery District of Toronto, urban churches have hosted ServeWe have some great cities and incredible urban leaders in our community of Host Churches, but the Host Churches that sign up for Serve are far from cookie cutter. Each is unique as the day is long.

Suburbia Serve Sites are well represented in Houston, Peterborough, West Des Moines, Ripon, California, etc. There’s an abundance of places to go where economic status varies greatly while the spiritual needs remain constant.

It’s truly not about the place as much as the heart, and the heart of the matter is where the compassion of Jesus Christ converges with his image in an individual no matter what their needs or strengths may be. No matter where in the world we seek to serve it is about finding ourselves in Christ and seeing others in his image; even if that is in the sticks.

Rural Serves are gaining momentum and attention. It might be because we are realizing that rural poverty outweighs urban poverty in both Canada and the U.S. The challenges are clearly different but many of the principles are the same.

To fully embrace a rural “mission trip” we have to overcome some stereotypes. There are words used for “the sticks” that used to be tainted by insult but now carry respect. The redneck nation has grown. Trucker hats are in again and a farmer tan can be worn with pride.

So what do you call the Serve opportunities in western Minnesota, the Prairie of Iowa, Platte, South Dakota, Stephenville, Texas, Heartland, Kansas, etc.? Boondock Serve? You could. Or you could call them innovative, visionary and heart-felt. You could call them God-honoring.

Rural Serve

Check Wikipedia and you’ll see: Boondock is American slang used to refer to the countryside or any implicitly isolated rural/wilderness area, regardless of topography or vegetation. Similar slang or colloquial words are “the sticks”, “the chodes”, “the backblocks”, or “Woop Woop” in Australia and New Zealand.

A lot of us who live in rural areas have used, Podunk, Yokel and Middle of Nowhere. A new one for me is Waikikamukau out of New Zealand (pronounced much like “Walk-about-a-moo-cow).

It doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you respect it. God is using his Church in rural areas to reach the masses. Churches are advancing and enhancing their community outreach and home missions by hosting Serve. The Gospel is being shared week after week as they gain better understanding for the strengths of their community and meet needs. We have at least five rural Serve Sites that are praying that the Lord of the harvest would send them laborers. Why not join church leaders in the boondocks and share the heart of Christ with them and for them in their community.

Maybe your group could be an answer to their prayer. If you’re from the burbs or a city, you’ll get a dose of fresh country air, some rural hospitality and a great view of the Kingdom.

Thank God, I’m a country boy.

Jerry grew up in the farmlands of the Midwest, helping on dairy and hog farms. The town he lived in during middle and high school had a population of 112. The town he lives in now is just passed “the sticks” and recently turned the blinking caution light at the town square into a full-fledged traffic light.

Welcome To The Table

While serving a remote village in the mountains of Haiti, I spent an afternoon inviting people to church. The most common response: “I don’t have nice enough clothing.” The heart of this response keeps people away in every culture: the fear of judgment, the rags of shame and the scars of old stones.

The Jesus-revolution launched a new way and a new community, an upside-down kingdom where all are invited to the table. It is a place where the poor are treasured and orphans find a home. It is a feast where earthly royalty and blue-collar tradesmen are peers. Every man-made hierarchy is crushed under the shared need to be born again and saved by grace.

I challenge you to read the gospels and note the times that Jesus is at a table or sharing a meal. Consider one example from the Gospel of Matthew:

As Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.” Matthew 9:10

The table where Jesus wanted to be and the people he attracted and welcomed were not just the well-dressed and well-adjusted. This new community is radically different from old models, simply because everyone is invited: the religious leader and the woman caught in adultery; the wealthy tax agent and the widow who gave a penny.

Most expected the promised Messiah to wage a physical war against political oppression. Instead, Jesus pursued our hearts and laid ruin to the walls of prejudice and pride.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:28 & 29

This is unconditional love. This mosaic of grace defines us; it does not count every idea as equal or imply that we don not stand on a strong foundation of truth. Rather, it means that we are united not by our backgrounds, preferences or ideals, but in the fact that we are all broken people in need of the unconditional love of God.

The great equalizer is our need. The great provision is unconditional love. Jesus destroys the hierarchies of this world and sets a chair for everyone at the feast. You need not be from the right background, have nice clothes or have kept the rules to be invited. Come as you are. The table is available to you.

A passionate worship leader and gifted songwriter, Andy Needham is a devoted champion for the local church. Beyond his role with the Andy Needham Band he serves as a speaker, consultant, coach and worship leader. In 2015, the Andy Needham Band will serve as the Worship Band at Youth Unlimited’s Live It.

Changed Lives Changing Lives

“His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.”

Words from Betty Bartlett’s favorite song ring true each and every day in her home. Betty, a 72-year-old, cancer-surviving widow expressed her joy as eight high school students painted the cupboards and walls in her warm, loving home. With appreciation in her voice, Betty said she felt strengthened by this group of students; making her feel like a person instead of “just a little old lady”.

Coming from eight cities across the United States and Canada, the 156 high-school-aged Youth Unlimited Serve participants were mobilized by their home church to Grand Rapids, Michigan, not knowing exactly what was in store for them. With a week packed full of opportunities planned by the local host church to serve the community, these students would change more lives than they could count.

Serving people, like Betty, in their homes, in organizations, in warehouses, in thrift stores, in soup kitchens or even out on the streets, the volunteers discovered excitement in sharing the love of Christ. Equipped with a helpful, Christ-centered heart, these volunteers were giving the gift of confidence, love and respect back to the community; especially to people like Betty.

Sharing God’s heart of compassion for the poor, broken and lonely, the host church(es), Youth Unlimited and World Renew worked together to enrich the lives of teenagers. After exposing the growing physical, mental, emotional and social needs of people in the world to the students, Youth Unlimited and World Renew wanted them to see what they can do.

Youth Unlimited used principles and messages from LIVE 58 to create a curriculum that inspires students to live missionally. With the solid application of scripture and a compelling global vision exhibited in LIVE 58 resources, it was natural for Youth Unlimited to seek real life stories of gospel impact from World Renew and urge students to engage with their church in global issues upon their return home. Together, these organizations are empowering and equipping people to live out the gospel message through words and actions.

Bob Grussing, the youth pastor at LaGrave Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI, explained how Serve helps equip and shape teenagers’ futures. Giving teenagers the opportunity to serve in communities across Canada and the U.S. allows for them to expand their thinking and know they are part of a bigger world. The Serve volunteers shared in the mission of Isaiah 58, showing the love of God through their work.

As Grussing explained, embracing your own church and then your own community sets you up for embracing the broader community, eventually leading to embracing the world. Continuing on, he said, “This is a beginning of what students can do with their lives. They can make an impact here at Serve and then at home by showing that same hope and passion.”

“In doing the work, we are building relationships,” said Jennifer Heerema, a Serve participant.

“It changes how you look at people and it’s a lot easier than what you would expect,” said Chris Beezhold, another Serve participant.

Nick Moelker, Worksite Coordinator of Grand Rapids Serve said, “Our shirts say ‘Serve’ and that is a piece of it, but it’s more of getting the kids to build a relationship with Christ.” Building a relationship with Christ is the foundation for building a relationship with other people.

Jay Knoblock, the leader of street evangelism at Grand Rapids Serve, said, “Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are created for. We need to minister to people where they are at; reaching outside the community and being willing to take a risk.”

Nick Hoffman, a Serve leader from Minnesota, took that risk to reach outside the community. Previously, he went on a World Renew mission trip to Guatemala with a church group where he was inspired by Lazaro Aguin, a man that has collaborated with World Renew over the years. As an expert in organic agriculture, Lazaro teaches countless communities around the area how to fertilize, water and maintain crops.

After seeing what Lazaro was doing, Nick saw the hope and excitement of growing plants in Guatemala and wanted to bring that back to his home community. During his week at Serve, Nick thought of ways to give hope back to people. One idea was to have a community garden to give people hope, dependence, excitement and ambition.

Although the plans are just an idea yet, Nick has learned through a life-changing World Renew Guatemala trip and a Youth Unlimited Grand Rapids Serve trip that people are in need everywhere. “Physical needs are slowly being met, both in Grand Rapids and in Guatemala; but the lack of hope, the lack of love, that is the real poverty.”

Deepening the understanding of global issues and encouraging action is what Youth Unlimited and World Renew are working to do for today’s youth. By broadening their perspectives and challenging their previous world views through experiences, relationships and passion for Christ, Serve participants get fully engaged into God’s community.

So what’s next? What will these kids do the other 51 weeks of the year? What can you do to mobilize the Church and help build the world view of global service to Christ in the next generation?

Pray for direction in continuing the good work God is doing through Youth Unlimited and World Renew. 

Give of your time and blessings to end world hunger by participating in the World Renew World Hunger Campaign this fall. Find out more at:

Fast during the campaign using Fast Forward Resources at:

Show the LIVE58 Film to your church. Find it at

Just as these teens had a week-long experience of community change, we can make a change together. Talk with your pastor or meet with your church council to see how your church can use your blessings to help spread the gospel and mobilize the Church.

Together, we can make a difference around the world, feeling comfort in knowing that, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

What now?

Love Jesus. Love Others. Like the directions on a shampoo bottle; lather, rinse, repeat.


“Repeating” asks us to do it again and again. Maybe you heard something like this in grade two: Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out and who was left? That could go on and on, my friends. Slightly more fun was changing it up to: Pinch Me and Punch Me were in a boat… but I digress.


In the past, student mission trips have seemed that elementary at first glance. It seemed the directions were go, return home and repeat.


That’s changed and we are realigned with the command of Christ. The emphasis in student missions is no longer on the mission trip. The principle worth repeating is living with the mission mentality. Love Jesus. Love others. Repeat daily (not annually after raising the proper funds). The mission of life is loving and serving with a clear gospel focus, especially at home where caring for others is most effective.


The goal of mission trips is not to accomplish missions. “Missions” are not something you accomplish – they are lived. Part of the goal is learning alongside of those we’re sent to serve. We learn how God is working in their community so we can better understand how he is working in our own.


In 2007, the Fuller Youth Institute developed the resource Deep Justice In a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them by Chap Clark and Kara E. Powell and in 2009, followed that up with the student companion journal, Deep Justice Journeys: Moving From Mission Trips to Missional Living by Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin. Thank God, after seven years we are living this idea more fully.


Youth Unlimited has woven this key thought into our mission trips: You are being invited to serve alongside a local church and community for a week, learning from them how to compassionately care for a community. Then, you are asked to return home to engage more fully with your church to compassionately care for your own community and the world.


The summer has drawn to an end, so what now? The school year has started, what now?


How will your students repeat missional living each day and all through the year?

The Coming Revolution in Missions

“Revolution” is a huge word. It sounds like painted faced warriors crying “freeeeedom”. That’s not what I mean. This is the “revolution” that a wheel takes, a moving forward. It could happen fast or slow but it is happening. If it doesn’t happen, we’re stuck and everyone needs to get out and push, which is messy but necessary sometimes.


In the church I grew up in, THE mission question was, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” The only proper responses were, “Here I am. Send me”, or to put money in the offering. Now the mission question is, “How are you involved?” There’s a wide variety of ways and an entire lifestyle to be developed. Everyone has a next step in missional living. What’s yours?


There is a greater emphasis on:

  • Wholistic missional living and everyday justice instead of doing tasks or cold evangelism. The Church will be better at connecting the dots of why and how to care for others not just what to get done. We will get greater at verbally sharing the Gospel through life stories and not just spiritual laws.
  • Co-learning rather than condescending. The book Serving With Eyes Wide Open gives some great principles and tragic illustrations of this.
  • Relationship above organization. The latter must find their place in serving the organism of the Body of Christ not trying to keep their programs alive.
  • Short term trips (like Serve) as one mode of involvement and a focusing on many other ways to participate in missions. Life is missions and Jesus is as/more concerned with the other 51 weeks of the year. Short term missions is not a stand alone event. It’s meant to be woven through the spiritual journey to expand the worldview and Godview of the Goer, the Host, and those “receiving” the work. Understanding the types of short-term trips will be essential. There are 8 variables (length, skill set needed, on-field ministry, etc.) that make up thousands of variations. Applying the Standards of Excellence to each type will be essential. (
  • A long list of possibilities for mission involvement as unique as the individual.


Missions is about the Church being seen, felt and heard in the trenches of human experience (The Core, Christine Caine). We must continue moving forward toward that objective which is articulated by Jesus in Matthew 28.


There’s a wide variety of ways and an entire lifestyle to be developed. Everyone has a next step in missional living. What’s yours?