Hurricane Relief: St. Thomas SERVE!

As I’ve heard it said many times, God’s timing is always perfect. I found this true once again through an email from Nicole Jackson, the Youth and Retreat Center Coordinator at St. Thomas Reformed Church (STRC) in the US Virgin Islands. Their church has just completed building a retreat center and they are excited to begin hosting groups. Having received SERVE postcards in the past, she sent an email earlier this summer to explore the possibility of hosting a SERVE in St. Thomas,

Through several emails, Skype conversations, and prayer, we feel God has brought us together to partner through SERVE in 2018. Little did we know at the time of our initial conversations that two hurricanes would hit St. Thomas with such devastation. Below is a note from STRC following the hurricanes on September 25:

“St. Thomas Reformed Church has been coordinating on the ground relief efforts. Our church undercroft that had just been renovated flooded not once, but twice. Yet miraculously, all roofs remained intact and our sanctuary, offices and new retreat center remained usable and dry (relatively!). Our sanctuary is being used as a staging ground, storage area and distribution site for essential supplies that are extremely scarce on the island right now.  We have partnered with the Salvation Army and My Brother’s Workshop (MBW) in a free feeding program. Originally, the goal of MBW was to serve at least 500 meals a day. One day last week, MBW staff and volunteers served 957! (You can check out more info about MBW by visiting their website at or their Facebook page:

On the Sunday immediately following Hurricane Irma, our church gathered to worship – no power, no sound system, no printed bulletin, but many, many grateful hearts and hands ready to serve. Still with limited gas, impassable roads, horrible traffic, limited cell service and an island-wide curfew it took days to locate and check on all of the church’s families. Miraculously the church has regained power but for most of the island’s residents, it will be 9-12 months before they have electricity and running water. Supermarkets can only be open during certain hours resulting in outrageous lines. Coupled with the tremendous blow to our tourism-based economy, many on the island literally cannot access supplies and resources needed to survive including water, food, infant needs and basic hygiene items.”

Even with all the devastation from two hurricanes, STRC is committed and excited to host SERVE this coming June. An experienced SERVE host church will be sending their youth group in June to assist STRC in hosting their first SERVE experience, hopefully setting them up well to host many more groups in the future! As I observe and listen to all that STRC is doing under such adverse conditions, I’m confident they will have much to teach and share with Youth Unlimited and those who head down to the island for SERVE, just as each of our other SERVE sites do!

If your youth group is looking for a way to care for and support the work of a local church ministering in the wake of the hurricanes, you can learn more and partner with STRC as seen below:

Ways to Donate (any monetary donations to St. Thomas Reformed Church are tax deductible):

Also, STRC is humbled by the outpouring of support and offer of volunteer crews. If you have a desire to come to St. Thomas and work on this effort, please contact Nicole at

I know many of you may not be on Facebook, but I encourage you to visit their page periodically (it is a public page, so you don’t even need a Facebook account to view it). On the page, you can follow their transformational journey, fully replete with highs and lows and just as many miracles. Here is the link for that:

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.

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.

Christian Community

by Adrianna Wimmers

Stress is mental or emotional strain caused by demanding or adverse circumstances. Stress can come from many different situations and can be overwhelming, leading oneself to not know where to turn to or what to do about the stress they are experiencing. Balancing school, friends, relationships, extra-curricular activities, jobs and everything in between can add unnecessary and often unwanted stress.

Stress and being overwhelmed can blind us to many things like the people who can and are willing to help us get out of our hole that we have stressed ourselves into. Our stress can also blind us to the other people around us that are stressed too. We become unable to see the world around us; we become too consumed with what we ourselves are dealing with.

We often take stress out on those around us, instead of turning to them for support and comfort. We believe that isolation is what we want, but we do not have to be alone.

Community is the feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. Building community is important to do, and a supportive community is helpful in so many ways. God even tells us this in Galatians 6:2 “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” We can share our stress and burdens with our community and turn to them for support and comfort. We can also look around at those in our community and show them our support, show them that they are not alone and that others have felt what they have felt as well.

Community is where you can turn in all circumstances, not just in times of sadness or stress. We can rejoice with our community and celebrate together.

Romans 12 says, “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  Stressed and overwhelmed or joyful and prepared to celebrate, community is where we can turn to.

Turn to the community, build community and invest in community. Our God did not create us to live in solitude, but with people, who can help, love and support us.

Our God loves us so deeply and will never leave us, he will always give us strength for what we need, whether that be strength found within ourselves or strength gained from the support of our community.

Students this summer are learning and growing in Authentic Community. To find out more about what they’re learning, 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

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

Don’t be Afraid of the Big Ideas

Do you ever feel too small for your big ideas? God loves to use people who don’t seem important enough to do his most important work. Consider these examples from the Bible:

Elijah- He spent some serious time in prayer and it changed the weather for THREE YEARS! You know the weather, that thing everyone acknowledges is totally out of our control… Elijah affected it through the power of prayer and he was just a guy like us.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:17-18

Moses- This guy got asked to do big things by God and had some serious doubts about his own ability.

10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’”- Exodus 4:10.

But when he put his faith and trust in the Lord’s power working through him, he was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea which he separated to make a dry path. Wow, that is a big dream that God used “un-eloquent” Moses for.

Gideon- Gideon was from a small clan that was being ruled and terrorized by a bigger clan, the Midianites. He was scared and felt hopeless when an angel appeared to him and told him that if he went and stood up against the enemy the Lord would make sure he won! Crazy.

15 And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ 16 And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:11-16

SERVE is a big dream sometimes. I mean, we are talking about taking close to 2,000 students and youth leaders and having them travel away from their home, sometimes even to a different country, and housing them in churches and schools so they can put in hard work all week on service projects that are often far from glamorous. What could go wrong? Well, a lot. A lot can go wrong and there have been plenty of problems throughout the years; but with God’s help and his power working through us, SERVE can be more impactful and life changing than we could ever imagine.

So, are you ready to dream big with us?



The Expanse of SERVE

It is amazing how a word conjures up images and memories for us. SERVE seems to do that. For churches who know this ministry, when they hear the name SERVE, they bring up stories of God showing up in the places and challenging the participants to be stretched for the Kingdom in powerful ways. Many students carry these faith forming experiences with them for a life time, often as a highlight moment.

I hear stories like this often – students who are now young adults, parents who came along as leaders, pastors who shared in an experience with their younger members, all carry with them these nuggets of Kingdom stories.

God uses SERVE experiences to reach beyond the sending church and the hosting community. It touches the broader community through fundraisers, through shared experiences, through the essence of bearing one another’s load. These are powerful life building moments and we at Youth Unlimited are privileged to walk alongside these communities, sharing with you in those moments of what and where God is working in this world.

This really does feel like Authentic Community.

Marion SERVEant

We’ve been talking a lot about ants around the Youth Unlimited offices. They are amazing creatures, but there is one specific ant story that I love to share.

It was a summer evening, and I was participating in a Youth Unlimited mission trip in Marion, Indiana. Everyone was at a local water park enjoying a little downtime when I noticed a colony of ants in crisis. A puddle of water formed in the exact spot where a line of ants was traveling. In the middle of this ant catastrophe, I noticed one little ant kept swimming out to the middle of the puddle. It would push an ant to the water’s edge and then go back into the middle to save another….and another.

As we at Youth Unlimited prepare for another summer of SERVE mission trips, we have been digging into our theme of “Authentic Community”. The Bible has a lot to say about community and how we ought to treat each other. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” During a SERVE trip we are often eager to “carry another’s burden”, but are we eager to dive into the puddles of life and help carry someone else’s burden when we’re not at SERVE?

The Youth Unlimited staff is already praying that God would prepare churches, communities and YOU to bring life and hope to those around you during SERVE. But don’t wait until this summer to be Jesus to your friends and neighbors –look for ways you can be a SERVEant all year long!

What Kind Of “SERVE”-Ant are you?

When you go on a SERVE trip, it’s pretty obvious that you have to work as a team in order to get anything done. One example in nature of God’s design for teamwork is that of ants. Ants have to work as a team to get anything done, and when the team works together, well, they all get to succeed! But in a team, not everyone can take on the same role, even ants have different jobs. What kind of “SERVE”-Ant are you?

Fire Ant- Fire Ants are passionate about their service. They are often so excited and determined that their passion can rub off on their team members. Fire ants are hard to miss and hard to ignore. If you are a fire ant, remember to use your passion to gently encourage those around you. We love your excitement and energy; every site needs a few Fire Ants.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Carpenter Ant- Carpenter Ants are the really hard workers of the group. They may stay in the background but they know how to get work done. They love to work with their hands and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty. If you are a Carpenter Ant, keep up the good work and try to use your skills to help others work with excellence as well. We love your determination; those service projects would not get done as well without you.

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

Queen Ant- Every ant nest has a queen. These ants are the leaders of the group. They keep everyone together and make sure everyone is ok. The Queen Ant may have a lot of power over the group but they also have the most responsibility. If you are a Queen Ant, strive to lead your group by example with humility and hard work. We love your leadership and caring attitude; the week would be a mess without you.

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

God has created us all with unique skills and abilities. How will you use your uniqueness this summer to help your team at SERVE?

I’ve Never Been on SERVE

I’ve never been on SERVE, yet I work at ThereforeGo Ministries (formerly known as Youth Unlimited). Sometimes that seems weird, and sometimes it makes complete sense.

When I was in college, near the end of my freshman year, I had an intriguing epiphany. After a year with a “just okay” Resident Assistant, I knew I could be a Resident Assistant with greater intentionality, and maybe have a greater impact on my fellow students in that position than my RA had on us. In that moment, I realized when people choose to follow in someone’s footsteps, to pursue a passion that may not have always been their own, it’s usually either because the person who set out before them did a horrible job or they did such a great job that people just have to be a part of what they’re doing.

Though I became a Resident Assistant in light of a situation where I wanted to do a better job for people, I had the opposite situation when I became a high school coach.

In high school, I had a coach who invested in the girls on her team like we were important, worthy and precious. A true practitioner of exhortation, she pushed us, she encouraged us to be more than we were, she journeyed with us and she taught us valuable lessons we could one day take with us as our lives moved on. In hindsight, I saw the great impact my coach had on my life, and when given the opportunity to take over for her as a coach myself one day, I gratefully took the position with hopes that I could one day journey with even one high school girl the way she journeyed with me and my teammates.

So why do I work for Youth Unlimited when I’ve never experienced SERVE? I’m here because I’ve vicariously experienced SERVE in the stories I’ve heard. I’ve seen the impact. I’ve read the quotes. While my faith-forming experiences as a teen didn’t involve jumping in the youth group van and heading across the country to serve another community, I know from my vicarious experience at Youth Unlimited that God does amazing things at SERVE. I know that lives are forever changed for Christ at SERVE. And I know that I just have to be a part of what’s happening here.