As a student, I loved mission trips. They were some of my most formative experiences, and though they were tiring and at times emotional, I think back on them with fondness. I made friends, some of whom I corresponded with for some time afterwards, and had so much respect for the leaders. They were Adults, in charge, and, I assumed had their lives put together, spiritually and otherwise.
Now, as I get ready to go on my first mission trip in several years—this time, as a leader—I realize how mistaken I must’ve been about my leaders. All my feelings about this trip, of nervous excitement and wondering if everyone will get along and if God will break in like I’m sort of hoping he might and secretly crossing my fingers that I won’t have to mow lawns, feel much more like those of a teenager than of an Adult. Except now I have the added responsibility of having to actually sorta kinda be in charge of things on top of it all.
I think it escaped me that my leaders were real people too. Sure, I heard them talk about their jobs or their families or what God had been teaching them, but I never stopped to really think about them as human beings. They were just leaders. Now, as I stand on the other side, I am entirely aware of my very humanness. I would so much like to be able to set aside all my own feelings about the trip and focus 110% on doing these service projects as best as possible and making sure it’s a great experience for the students, but there’s so much ME getting in the way. Once I’m actually there, I imagine my priorities will shift—out of necessity somewhat, but also, I hope, out of God correcting me as I move along throughout the week.
But that’s part of it too. As much as I think I’d like to have God blow me away with the ways he shows up, it kind of terrifies me too. It’s been a while since I’ve felt God in a big way, and I hardly remember what it’s like. I’ve put God into a corner, where I expect him to act in predictable ways that don’t unnerve me, but I’m standing on the edge of a time where I suspect he very well might blow the whole room, much less that corner, to bits. Which I want, only without the uncomfortable unsettling that goes with it. But I don’t think I can have one without the other.
Part of me wishes I could take this all a bit less seriously, but I simply can’t–and really, I’m not sure I’m supposed to. I am a real person, and these are real, live students I’ll be hanging out with. We’ll be working on actual houses and lawns and parks that are lived in and run on and played in by actual people. We’re going with the mindset that a real God is going to show up for all these people in very real ways. There’s a weightiness to all of it.
I wish I had a neat, tidy ending to this post, but the rest has yet to be lived. I’m going to have to figure this out as I go.
Til next time…
p.s. Have any tips for a leader about to go on a mission trip?
3 thoughts on “Confessions of a Youth Leader Before a Mission Trip”
I was recently in this same position! I was recruited to chaperon our mission trip at the last minute after a leader backed out. I, on the other hand, had never been on a mission trip in my entire life, and I felt completely overwhelmed. How am I supposed to lead teenagers to a closer walk with God when I am so completely inexperienced with doing so myself? How am I supposed to teach them about the Bible when I am discovering just how little I know about it myself?
I suppose that’s exactly how everyone feels really. Nobody ever feels READY to be in that kind of leadership position once they get there, regardless of how ready they felt before. But in the end I had a great time, and so did the kids. I was surprised at how well I was able to lead them, both in our work and in worship. I guess it’s a testimony to how God gives us the tools we need in any situation. I hope God blessed your mission trip as well!