Mission Trips on Hold – Not! How Students are Finding a Mission Field in their Backyard this Summer
By Lindsay Peyton
While the coronavirus pandemic has placed most mission trips on hold, there are still plenty of opportunities for youth to spend the summer doing good works. After all, a mission field can be found in your own backyard.
Eddie Erwin, Director of Youth and Young Adults for the Texas Annual Conference has seen a number of congregations get creative during the last few months - finding new and exciting ways for discipleship to continue.
Here are the top seven ways students can safely engage in mission work – without leaving home:
1. Find a way to spread a message, show support or fundraise digitally. Just because there’s a challenge ahead does not mean that usual programs have to grind to a halt. Strawbridge UMC, for instance, assumed it would have to cancel its Cardboard City project, which raises awareness of homelessness and supports two local nonprofits. Instead, the church found a way to continue this popular program online. Area families built forts in their living rooms and made donations to fight homelessness.
“They adapted a pretty solid staple of ministry with young people to something that the whole family was able to participate in, connected to the ministries in their area and did ‘no harm,” and allowed everyone to safely participate during this season,” Erwin said.
This strategy can be applied to other programs. A congregation could pick a worthy cause and host a virtual fundraiser or a church could spend the summer helping an area ministry spread their story.
2. Help out in your own neighborhood. You don’t have to travel far to find someone in need. Volunteering to help elderly neighbors with their yards, repair jobs or even run errands is a good place to start. At Dayspring UMC in Tyler, for example, the iServe summer camp pairs middle schoolers with senior citizens in need of help around the house. Weeding a flower garden or mowing the lawn can make a world of difference for an elderly person. “If you feel comfortable, you can even spruce up a park,” Erwin said.
There’s an opportunity for the whole family to get involved. Parents are spending time at home with the kids. Why not take this opportunity to build a wheelchair ramp together?
3. Don’t forget the power of the pen. Receiving handwritten mail can really brighten someone’s day. Why not engage the youth group or a Sunday school class in writing thank you letters to healthcare and essential workers in your area? While you’re at it, order a snack tray for a hospital or clinic break room.
Another option is to write cards for those in assisted living facilities. A kind note could help seniors feel less isolated. Churches can also create a mailing list of members who are sheltering at home and would appreciate a handwritten letter.
4. Small groups can still make big strides. Volunteer opportunities remain for small groups, as well as families who are quarantining together. Check around your area to find ways you can still serve – without gathering a large group.
5. Gather donations. The need is especially great at food pantries and other nonprofits right now. A congregation can pick a specific ministry to assist. For example, Bering UMC in Houston participates in weekly “scavenger hunts” for the Emergency Aid Coalition (EAC). The interfaith organization sends out lists of food and other items that they need for clients. “We send that list to our members and ask them to be on the lookout when they’re out shopping for groceries,” Pastor Rev. Diane McGehee said. Connect with a local ministry, a food pantry or a pregnancy resource center. Find out what is on their wish list and put your congregation to work collecting those needed items. Or get the whole family involved in cleaning out your house and donating items to a local shelter. Children can learn a lot from giving their toys and books to other children in need.
6. Get excited about the future. Don’t forget about opportunities for mission after the pandemic. Share information about how your church can get involved. Your congregation can host a missionary on a Zoom meeting or even hold a virtual information session. Fundraising for future missions – and for individuals who are at work in the field – can also continue.
7. Spread the good news. One of the most important parts of a mission trip is sharing the Gospel. Sometimes people feel more empowered in another country but discipleship can continue at home. Create a church-wide schedule for social media to share how God is at work. At Bellaire UMC, for example, members are telling their stories on Facebook, which has been inspiring to others at church. Families can also discuss the Gospel together. Start a new Bible study group. Students can even read stories and record them to share with younger children on the church’s Facebook page.
There are so many ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus this summer – and still stay safe -- whether that means sewing masks, hosting a drive-in food pantry, dropping off cold water bottles at a fire station or simply calling members and praying with them.
Get creative – and tap into your imagination. Then, start a conversation at your church about how to continue to serve and share the love of Jesus with your community.