Sunset UMC Youth Celebrate Three Decades of Mission Work
For a small church with a tight budget, sending youth on a summer mission trip can be a challenge, but this year’s annual summer work trip marked 30 years of youth missions for Sunset UMC in Pasadena, Texas.
Volunteer Stephanie Hatten, who has helped raise money and lead their work trip for the past five years, said the youth engaged in yard work, cleaning up facilities and working with deaf and autistic students at the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio during this year’s trip. “On our first trip, my husband and I took seven students. I am excited to say this ministry has grown to the point we had 24 youth and five adults go this year. I love working with these kids because they’re learning to give back, too. It was amazing to see that they wanted to clean out flower beds and do yard work in the extreme heat without complaining.”
During free time, youth enjoyed playing games and spending time with residents. “The Methodist Mission Home has autistic young adults, deaf students and other handicapped people who live there.” Nancy Hinshaw, a member of Sunset UMC, explained.
“Theirs is a type of assisted living situation, but residents have jobs. The mission home teaches them practical things like balancing a checkbook or paying bills and the mission helps them find work in the community.” Hatten said the youth thought learning sign language and connecting with people was the best part of the 2011 trip.
“The day we worked with deaf children, we were scheduled to leave at 4, but I had to make them leave at 5:30. It was a very moving experience.” Having learned some sign language in advance, the youth enjoyed a special sign language class at the Mission Home that enabled them to have fellowship time with deaf students. “Those teens were the same age as our youth, and they were so happy we were there,” she continued. “The residents helped our youth find sign language names for themselves, and they loved it.”
Each person on the trip is assigned a prayer partner who is staying behind. Hinshaw, who helps pair up prayer partners, said each person gets five letters written in advance. “Every day – during devotion time - every youth and adult gets a letter from someone back home. It is a letter of encouragement telling them how proud we are of them and that we’re praying for them. Sometimes they get little gifts and tokens. No one knows who their partners are for the week, until they open the first letter.”
Often, the prayer partners are former Sunday school teachers or Vacation Bible School teachers, but sometimes they are prayer warriors just wanting to volunteer for the support of the students. “The pastor is always someone’s prayer partner,” she continued, “and when they return, often they have new friendships through this partnership.”
Youth Involved in Planning
Sunset youth are actively involved in planning their trip each year, Hatten noted. “Each night, one group of youth are in charge of the meal and one night, the devotion. Through the years we’ve given more choices to youth, along with more responsibility.” “Our youth budget is almost non-existent,” Hinshaw said. “We live in an area where it is very difficult for the students, financially, to do these things, so Sunset has done a remarkable job. Choir Director Joyce Elliot raises money for youth and children to go to choir camp, and the youth group raises money for District camp and Midwinter camp because these kids need to go - so when it comes time for the work trip in the summer, we
don’t have enough budget left.”
“We don’t turn youth away,” Hatten added. “We even pull new kids from the community. We’ve had youth that came to church the week before the trip and wanted to go, so we found sponsors for them, and they soon become regular church attenders.” The church missions committee helps raise money for the youth mission trip, and youth help with fund raisers, but when it gets down to the last month, the youth each sell “stock” to shareholders for $10. Each student is required to sell 10 stocks, and once they return from the trip they host a dinner for the shareholders. At the dinner they share a video from their trip and share about their experiences. “This year, the youth said it was the best trip they had ever taken because they connected with people in a totally different way,” Hinshaw noted. “They played the song ‘Love in Any Language,’ and all 29 of them signed the song silently.”
“The main thing about a work trip,” Hatten said, “is we all get closer which makes evening devotions more special. Students feel they can share openly with people and no one will betray their confidence.”
Hatten added that Sunset UMC is very supportive of their youth program. “Anytime we need support, people step forward,” she said. “We’re already working on next year. I do the research on five potential places to visit and the costs associated and our youth vote on where they want to go next.”