Unless you are an even bigger procrastinator than I am, you've already made all the plans for your summer youth mission trip. But it's not too late to add a local mission "trip" to your schedule, too! That's what our youth group did this summer as we decided to serve right in our own backyard.
Each day of the week we gathered at the church and then went out to serve in food pantries, ministries reaching out to low-income families, a local charter school for inner-city kids, and an opportunity to pass out water to homeless persons. True - it wasn't as exotic as a trip to Mexico, but the ministry we did together was just as impactful.
Now, let there be no doubt: I'm a fan of long-distance mission trips (and even heard my first call to ministry with children and youth during a mission trip when I was 18), but there are some great reasons to consider a local mission experience for your youth:
Cost! Cost! Cost! It's simple math: a local mission experience, organized thoughtfully, can be a model of responsible stewardship. You sleep on your own church floor instead of renting motel rooms. You save gas money with less driving. You could even save money on food by inviting church members to help supply meals.
Time! Time! Time! Since you aren't spending several days driving to and from your destination, you have more time to devote to the mission work itself.
Context! Context! Context! When travelling to a new place, it takes time to get your bearings and understand the needs of the setting. When you stay in your own backyard, you are already part of the context and can better understand the real needs of those in the community.
Flexibility! Flexibility! Flexibility? Road trips require everything to be planned out in advance in detail. Failing to do so can end in disaster. Local mission experiences are much more forgiving. Leave something behind? Just run back to the church and get it. Car trouble? Call the senior pastor to come to the rescue. Teens' schedules too full to attend the whole mission experience? Why not let them just drop in and out of the work schedule as their time permits?
Future! Future! Future! On typical mission trips, you might work at a site once or perhaps several times but eventually you head home and leave that ministry behind. On a local mission experience, you have the chance not only to sample ministry sites in your own town but you can then commit as a group to continue to partner with that organization throughout the year, sharing your talents monthly or even weekly as missionaries to your own community.
What other advantages might there be to a local mission experience?