Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Our own Backyard

    My church has a 20+ year history of taking their youth all over the country for summer choir tours and mission trips. Over a year ago, the youth of my church latched onto the idea of going to Mexico for their summer mission experience. Typical of the way in which they would approach such matters, the teens were quick to choose a location long before they'd ever asked "What would we do when we get there?" or "Where is our work most needed?" We put the project on the back burner for awhile, partly because I was fairly new to the church and wasn't ready yet to take on such a bold project.

    This past school year, the issue was raised again and I gave it some real thought. Could we put such a project together in time? Could we afford it? Was it a good use of the church's mission funds? Would it be a good experience for our youth and those they might serve? As all these questions swirled about, I happened to attend the
    Princeton Theological Seminary Institute for Youth Ministry in Seattle. While there I had the opportunity to serve one afternoon at a local church that provides a hot meal ministry to homeless teens. The ministry began some ten years ago when the church's junior high youth decided to use their mission trip money to stay in their "own backyard" rather than take a trip and open a summer soup kitchen for young people their own age who were on the street. Amazingly, this ministry that was to only last a summer is still going strong today, serving meals seven days a week.

    Inspired by this story, I returned to my church and presented the youth with a challenge: "If we want to go to Mexico next summer, what if we stay right here in St. Louis, our hometown, this summer and help with the ministries that are going on at our doorstep." With the idea out on the table, I waited for the inevitable protests...but they didn't come. The first question one of the teens asked was "How would it work?" and the second was "What would we do?" With that, we got going planning a summer mission experience that helped our youth see the needs of the very city in which they live and for one week this summer we lived, worked, ate, played, and prayed together while helping out with the elderly, in soup kitchens, at an inner city school, and homeless shelters and I was reminded once again why I'm still a youth minister at age 40 and how lucky I am to be working with such great young people.