by Brittany Porch
Upon canceling our summer mission trips due to Covid-19, the church Session committed to an alternative mission experience for our youth that was safe and offered a meaningful service experience. To pull this off, I had quite the task set before me.
I worked with three close partners when creating an alternative experience. Since one of our mission trips was supposed to be to Asheville Youth Mission (AYM). I worked closely with the director, Michael Poulos. I also worked with a colleague at our church, Kathy Kelly Long, the Director of the Broad Street Food Pantry. Together, the three of us designed a faith based service-learning experience and called it the Mission Un-Trip.
We sketched out a tentative plan for 4 days. I spoke with several parents of teens to see what worked and didn’t work with their adolescents. Many of our parents were looking for opportunities for their youth to get out of the home and socialize with peers and caring adults in a meaningful and safe way. However, other parents were more interested in at-home and virtual opportunities to engage in volunteer service. Knowing that the service-learning model is what leads to lasting change in our young people’s lives, we planned an educational and a service component for each day.
- Zoom discussion led by AYM on “Reframing Mission”
- Volunteer at Food Pantry delivering groceries to low-income senior housing
- Volunteering at Food Pantry
- Zoom activity, participating together in a poverty simulation www.playspent.org
- A person formerly living on the verge of homelessness shares their experience on Zoom (provided by AYM)
- Produce Giveaway volunteering at Food Pantry
- Bethany Community Garden volunteering
- Rev. Jimmie Hawkins from PC(USA) Office of Public Witness leads discussion on Zoom discussing how to do advocacy as mission
At-Home Service Projects Options
- Handout fliers to neighbors and collect donations for a mini food drive for the food pantry
- Making baked goods to send or deliver to someone who is lonely
- Calling or writing letters to someone who is lonely
The youth deepened existing relationships and built new relationships despite the mission experience being hybrid in-person and online. Our time in-person activities allowed for the Zooms meetings to pick-up right where we left off. The young people’s silliness came across while making masked TIK TOK videos and when using the chat feature on zoom. The consecutive 4-day schedule really helped people develop the “groupness” feeling we strive for on a mission trip.
I expected participation from youth who originally planned to go on the traveling mission trip. However, the majority of the youth who participated in the Mission Un-Trip had not signed up for a mission trip. Without this event, they would not have had a mission experience.
I reiterated to parents the importance of the educational components we offered on Zoom, stressing that those are just as important, if not more so, as the serving options. I was unsure if youth would participate in the Zoom gatherings, but they did!
What Did Not Work
We told parents that for in-person activities, we would limit the group size, take temperatures, require masks, encourage frequent hand washing, and keep physical distance. I was particularly impressed with the young people’s compliance in wearing masks while doing hot physical labor, with no complaints. However, it was challenging to get them to physically distance. After seeing this the first day, I connected with all the parents to let them know I would not be able to keep people physically distanced at all times based on the spaces and the projects we were doing.
The Mission Un-Trip did not appeal to my high school group. This ended up being a middle school experience.
Reflection From Youth & Parents
One Parent wrote me saying, “This week has been really good for my daughter. She has perked up a bit and likes to recount her adventures with the food pantry.”
Another parent called me to share that over the last several months the conversations with her teens have been very self-focused. After the Un-Trip, it was the first time since the pandemic that her youth seemed to focus more on others. The parent was grateful for the chance for her children to volunteer in the Food Pantry and she hopes to volunteer more.
We are in a moment of opportunity for creative ministry as the church; will we seize it or cling to what used to be? In this time of a pandemic, we have made rapid changes as an institution. It is a time to seize opportunities for change. We tried something new with the Mission Un-Trip, and it worked! We will take learnings from this with us beyond the pandemic. For years, the complaint from churches has been that our youth don’t have time for church. Using a hybrid model of ministry, with a mix of at-home and in-person activity, we can be effective and inclusive of more youth. The Mission Un-Trip helped us connect with youth where they are in a safe way.