In this post I will share my personal experience in leading Missions for teens and three basic foundational questions that can help you go from the great idea of doing a mission trip to pulling off a life transforming experience for you, your leaders, and your teens! First, let me tell you my story…
One day my ministry partner set in motion a great idea: “What would happen if we took a group of inner city teens abroad to serve others using their gifts to make an impact for God in unique ways?” I thought it sounded very exciting… and exhausting!
As the detail person on our team, my main thought was, “How are we going to pull this off?” We were starting from scratch. We had done no training. We had no curriculum. We had no plan. What we did have was a great idea, a lot of creativity, a group of very driven teens and adults, the support of an awesome church, and a potential host organization. So we began to dream up a vision for what we wanted to accomplish. That vision began with our leadership team asking a few questions and it ended up with our first international mission trip.
In 2004, we traveled to The Netherlands with 22 teenagers and 8 adults. Our team consisted of basketball players, singers, poets, dancers, and students who had a knack for history and politics. From teens to adults, our age range was 14-40. With such a diverse group of folks, we had to find a way to carefully think about what kind of trip we wanted. We began to ask, “Would this lead to something even more impactful?” And, “How in the world would we get all of this to work together?”
Maybe you are thinking about planning a mission trip soon. Out of my experience, I believe there are 3 basic foundational questions that team leaders should ask in order to move from a great idea to actually planning the trip. These questions helped my team grasp what kind of experience we wanted for our teens and adult leaders. It also helped us move in the direction we felt God calling us to move.
1. Where are you going?
We kind of lucked out on this one. We were able to connect with an organization in The Netherlands through a referral that specialized in U.S. youth groups coming to Europe to do culture exchange.
**Having good connections is always a good thing when traveling abroad. Ask other youth leaders about mission organizations that they have used. Do some research based on what you actually want to do on this trip. The Internet is a great place to start. Don’t be afraid to call around and ask a lot of questions.
Here are my top three mission organizations. The great thing about these three organizations is that they accept various ages of teens and adults.
For International Exchange missions–
Atlantic Bridge– www.atlanticbridge.org
For Domestic, Christ Centered missions–
Youth Works– www.youthworks.com
For Hands On missions–
Habitat For Humanity– www.habitat.org
2. Who do you want to take?
We had some criteria for those we wanted to take—based on behavior, interest, commitment, and heart for service. We knew we wanted to take teens that really wanted to serve using the gifts they had. Going on a mission trip is a life changing experience. You may choose different teens and adults for different reasons. Maybe you have no limits. And that is ok. My suggestion is that you make sure you choose those whom you feel can contribute to your team and make the experience full and impactful because they want to serve.
**One of the reasons this is one of the basic foundational question is because we wanted to make sure that the trip was not just a trip to get away for vacation. We wanted to be clear that this was about taking their journey to the next step. We also wanted to make sure that teens and adults were on the same page. Our criteria were simple. Here are the basics:
- We asked teens to write a brief essay saying why they wanted to go and how they felt they could contribute to the team. This also helped in raising funds because donors could get an inside glimpse into the actual teens heart for the trip.
- We had individual meeting with teens parents (in person and on the phone). This may seem a bit overboard to some. But, for our group, it was important to us that the teens who participated on these trips were also doing what they needed to do at home and in school. We wanted to help them to make the connection between what they did in our youth group and how that affected the rest of their life. We found that by making the connection between youth group-missions-family-school-grades-friends the teens began to improve their behavior and attitude in all of these places.
- Our adult leaders were asked to do a background checks. They were also asked to participate in all events, trainings, fundraising, and activities that led up to the trip. We also asked them to make a commitment after the trip so that the development of the teens did not end when we got off the plane. This helped us to bond as a team and keep the momentum going even after the trip was over. We were able to not only create a dynamic adult mission leadership team, but also a dynamic day to day leadership team that mentored and nurtured our teens at home and abroad.
I know for some, limiting who can go on the trip and who cannot does not sit well. No one wants to tell a teen or adult “no” to an experience that could potentially change his or her life. For our team, however, setting criteria and guidelines helped to teach all of us about commitment beyond the actual trip. Our goal, as leaders, was to not only build a great trip, but great leaders. We wanted teen and adult leaders who understood that the trip was simply a part of the process. We were investing in leaders to build something for the next group that came after they had graduated or moved on.
3. Why do you want to go?
I think this is the most important part of the process. It is easy to get caught up in going on a mission trip to please others or fill a calendar. But a good mission trip begins with a good mission statement (the reason you are going). It helps to keep you focused amidst all the details of planning and organizing.
** Mission statements can be short and sweet. They can be more detailed. They can also be very specific. Whatever you choose, let it be led from your heart and God’s heart.
Here are a few examples of mission statements (including ours)
- As we were praying about our mission, decided to call our team, Project IMPACT. So, our mission was to be International Missionaries Preaching About Christ To others wherever we are, with all that we have.
- Our mission is to create a meaningful, engaging, and uplifting mission trip experience for the youth group of First Presbyterian Church.
- Our mission is to broaden the minds, open the eyes, and invest in the leadership of the youth of the United Methodist Church youth group through this mission trip to Kenya.
Rev. Aqueelah Ligonde is an enthusiastic speaker, preacher and leader. Her passion is to minister to and encourage people, especially leaders. She is particularly interested in the spiritual, physical, mental, and social health of youth, young adults, girls, and women. Aqueelah is a native of Dayton , OH. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from the College of Wooster and a Master of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago , IL . She served as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, in Jamaica, Queens, New York for over a decade. Currently, she is a Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects and the Site Coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer Program of New York City with the Presbyterian Church USA.