Why send high school students on a mission trip

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student looking down a busy street

Written by Arek O’Connell

This summer I had the privilege of taking 20 high school students on a mission trip to Compton, CA. Before I moved to Grand Rapids, I worked at a church that was a neighboring city to Compton and I got to see firsthand all of the amazing work God is doing through the churches and residents in the area. Most of the students I minister to have never been to California either, so it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now I know that pastor’s, or any Christian for that matter isn’t supposed to admit this out loud, but I struggle with short-term mission trips. I struggle with a number of things with this mission trip model. I struggle with only being there for a week instead of the long haul. I struggle with needing to provide entertainment to our students alongside our service to a community. I struggle with the intense, unsustainable schedule that produces mountaintop spiritual highs that our students will inevitably come off of when they get home. For all the good that comes out of a short-term mission trip, there is an equal amount of struggle that we’ll inevitably have to face when the trip is over.

Which begs the question… why serve? Why go on these mission trips? It costs a lot of money to send these students to CA for a week. If there aren’t only positives, then why not stay more local and partner with churches and Para church ministries in the area? This is a question I’ve struggled with and labored over for years and I hope my answer hits a chord with you.

We serve, no matter the context, because it draws us closer to Jesus. Service shapes us more and more into Christ’s likeness.

We don’t serve because the work won’t be done if we don’t do it, we don’t serve to save anyone, and we certainly don’t serve and spend a week in short term mission because it will make God love us more. I fear that often times these are our primary motivations for service (especially on short-term mission trips). We fear that no one will help the people like we can and that without us, they might suffer even more. We sometimes hope that God will smile on us extra for that week we gave up during summer.

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But one of the sobering realities of service is that we aren’t needed in the end. The reality is that if we hadn’t gone to Compton and served the neighborhood this Summer, another youth group would’ve taken our place (seriously, there were two other groups who couldn’t come because we were there taking up all the space). God isn’t waiting around for us to accomplish His will and purpose. God is sovereign, he rules over all with love, mercy, grace, and power we can’t comprehend. Whether we decide to serve or not will not determine God’s actions. And if this is true, then why serve?

Because Jesus served. Although Jesus is God, he didn’t consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage. He took on the form of a servant and became obedient to death for our sake. Even death on a cross! This same Jesus calls us into relationship with him. One aspect of being in relationship with Jesus is that we would grow more and more into His likeness. That’s what service does, it makes us more like Jesus. And personally, I can’t think of a greater motivation to serve than that.

Why serve? Why take 20 students across the country for a week?

So that they can come to know their savior more and be formed into His likeness so that His kingdom may reign here on earth.