Satisfaction in Giving

Several years ago at Alamosa SERVE in Colorado, my work group was given the assignment of building a wheel chair ramp for a retired Air Force Veteran on limited resources who was caring for a disabled friend in his home. The project involved taking out steps and part of a front porch, and figuring out a way to adapt the ramp into the existing structure. On my first SERVE, back in 2001 in Michigan, I was assigned the same task, and I recalled the time it took and how overwhelming that assignment seemed.

Through lots of prayer and some outside assistance it was completed back then. This time, thanks to the learning experience and others like it on prior SERVE’s, plus being blessed with some very talented youth in my group, we were able to finish the basic structure in just one day. The rest of the week was spent putting on the finishing touches, applying a fresh coat of paint where needed, and constructing a staircase on the back side of the home.

In our experience, we saw that although Fred, the retired vet, didn’t have much in terms of possessions, he was willing to open up his home to help a friend in need. When we were given $200 to look for someone that week who we could bless the money with, our group chose to give it to Fred, because he had shown the sacrificial love for someone else just as our Lord did while on this earth.

Even though we didn’t meet that friend, since he was receiving treatment in Denver hundreds of miles away, we were able to experience his joy through the smiles of pride and tears of joy that flowed from Fred’s face when the project was completed. I will never forget the sense of satisfaction we all felt in giving back our time and talents for someone who had also served his country.  I don’t remember much about the first wheel chair ramp installed in Michigan, but I know even though it’s been years since then,  I had the same feeling and blessing, which is what SERVE is all about.

-Don Koops, Youth Unlimited Board Member

Prepping Students for Missions

When asked about my favorite mission trip, I always say the next one. As a Youth and Family Pastor, I took my school students to places across North America, Mexico, and even to Vietnam. Later, while at CURE International, I became close friends with nationals in 11 countries (including Afghanistan, the UAE, and several African and Latin American countries) learning from them what helped and hurt their long-term ministries in short term missions.

Since I oversee Serve, people naturally think I help churches plan student mission trips. Close, but not quite. At Youth Unlimited, we are helping churches engage students in missional living, not just for one week. I’d like to be known as the guy who helps church youth groups become more missional the other 51 weeks of the year and through their life journey.

Here are 3 things I keep in mind when preparing students for mission trips:

  1. It’s a wave, not a mountain top experience. While the mountain top analogy has worked for years, it’s time to retire it. There is now a rhythm to our mission trips and we can look over the course of 12 months and see waves of God’s work in a student’s life. Hopefully there are some big ones like a mission trip, camp, retreat, convention, etc. Some waves maybe smaller but make up the ocean of consistent Christian growth: youth group meetings, church attendance, classes, personal mentoring, etc. We can even look at the 6 years of middle and high school and plan for the bigger waves periodically. The mission trip experience is simply another wave of God’s work to make the most of. And this is so important: that experience is simply a wave in the life of the people they are ministering to. God is working there all through the year as well.
  2. The MISTM Grid (found in the book Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission by Roger Peterson, Gordon Aeschliman, and R. Wayne Sneed). MISTM gives an at-a-glance tool for planning. It highlights that the “Goers” are only one of 3 sets of participants. The “Hosts” (those that receive the team) and the “Senders” are also experiencing waves of Gods work through this trip. And while we are all very concerned with preparing our group of “Goers”, we must also be as concerned about the post trip follow through of the “Hosts” and the “Senders”. For another great source, check out the 7 Standards of Excellence at
  3. Speaking of post trip, what about the outcomes? What do you want the students (Goers) to experience and learn? What do you hope they integrate into their daily life long after the suitcase is unpacked? What do you want your Host to experience and learn? What about the community of people you are serving? If the outcomes aren’t obvious to the participants, how do you know if you are accomplishing what God wants? Download the attached set of Serve Outcomes as an example. Email me, or comment below, and I will send you 6 Outcomes I believe God accomplishes in students on nearly every mission trip. Also take a look at the ebook, Rebuilders of Almost Anything (the link will be coming shortly).

If you’re having success in this area, I’d invite you to tell your story! We have a number of church leaders from across Canada and the US who are engaging students missionally throughout the entire year.

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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.

From Fast and Furious to Just Being: A Serve Story

Going on Serve is great. One of my favorite parts about Serve is not the delicious food, not meeting up with new leaders, not joining in the impromptu volleyball games (although all these things are great and inevitably always present in abundance!). I love all these things for sure; but one of my favorite things about Serve is that I get to rent a van.

Yeah, that’s right: I get to rent a van. Great stuff happens in a van full of eager and excited students. There’s the singing, the endless containers of cookies, the stories, the Madlibs, the coloring contests (these are typically very intense), and on and on. These van rides are great! Although, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my greatest joys in these van rides is the fact that I get to drive a big vehicle. Hearing the roar of an engine larger than a puny four-cylinder is quite an experience for a guy who has spent way too much time driving a little Saturn around over the years. Seriously, I have to hold myself back when I leave the rental company’s parking lot so that I don’t peal out right then and there. This unfortunate personality trait is what led to one of our group’s most memorable van rides.

There really should be some kind of exemption. I mean, how do the police really expect a guy like me to go only 65 mph (104 kph) in a great big V8 on the open road? It’s just not fair.

So there we were, riding in our van to Sioux Falls for Serve. We were excited and ready for a week of worship and service. Just a mile north of Mankato, MN, on one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country (which also happens to be a notorious stretch of highway for pulling over speeding Minnesota Vikings), we passed a policeman hanging out in the median, who promptly turned in behind us and turned on his lights in pursuit.

I was dumbfounded. Here I was with a van full of students, heading out to Serve, and now I had to talk to a policeman about speeding in a rental van that cruised so beautifully down the road. Honestly, with all the energy, sugar, and excitement pumping through that vehicle, I should have been pulled over and given a medal for only going 75 mph, not a ticket.

But it was a ticket I got, and a nice little lecture as a bonus. It was a lesson in humility, and one that my students have never let me forget, especially since I had been pulled over in the middle of North Dakota coming back from Serve a couple years before. I believe I have learned my lesson . . . for now anyway!

Learning, Growing, Serve-ing – Hosting a Special Needs Serve

Special Needs Serve is tiring, emotional, and frustrating at times, and yet it is the highlight of my year!


I am amazed at all of the things that God has taught me. Over the last five years I have grown in my understanding of my own faith, my relationship with God and others, have experienced God in surprising places and have had a lot of fun in the process. (Never underestimate the fun factor!)


I work to orchestrate a Special Needs Serve that incorporates special planning and support in addition to the typical Serve template.


Youth mentors are important in the model that we use. Mentors are typical youth (not sure that’s EVER possible) who give of themselves to be the immediate supports needed to accommodate the many different needs of the students who come for this mission experience. Each youth with a disability is paired with a peer mentor who participates in Serve alongside them and lends support where necessary. Seeing the growth that happens among the mentors is amazing. They are challenged to learn how to do something with someone as opposed to for someone. It is a week where they trade selfishness for selflessness. They learn about authentic relationship—relationships that are mutual. The week begins with terms like ‘mentor’ and ‘participant.’ The week ends with terms like ‘friend’ and ‘buddy,’ communicating clear similarities—all equal and created for service.


Special Needs Serve flips our picture of disability, forcing us to see how everyone, regardless of ability, is created with gifts that contribute to building the body of Christ. It amazes me how many youth with disabilities do not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a youth summer mission trip experience. I love the joy that the participants share when they are challenged to live out their faith—to be the hands and feet of Christ.


Amy has been a participant at Serve many times. As leaders, we have seen her grow in many ways, but watching her learn to articulate a clear faith is by far the most rewarding. “I like Serve because it gives me a chance to give back to God, meeting new people and learning more about God. . . . It gives me a chance to grow spiritually and as a person. . . . Each year I renew my faith in God, and I come home with a new message, which I pass along to others.”


Special Needs Serve helps us as leaders grow in our ability to be vulnerable. We learn to worship without abandon—to be who we are, to be free and to express our faith in many ways.


It also becomes a way to give testimony to the way in which God calls us all to live in community and in Serve-ice to him.