This summer, many teens decided – or, in some cases, had their parents decide for them – to put down their phones for a week and head to different cities across the country to participate in SERVE where they helped the homeless, the hungry and anyone else who needed a hand.
“It’s a chance for youth to see the scope of what it means to be a disciple, to make friends, and learn life skills that hopefully translate into home life,” said Pastor William Delleman of Christ Community Church, one of the host churches.
SERVE mission trips are organized by Youth Unlimited, a non-denominational organization founded 100 years ago as the American Federation of Reformed Young Men’s Society. SERVE mission trips immerse the teens in missional living and let them come face-to-face with those who actively help others in their hometowns and with those who are in need of help.
Youth Unlimited believes it’s important for teenagers to go on mission trips because it helps young people’s faith grow, which is a trend they have noticed since the first SERVE trips happened in 1989. That first year there were three sites. This year there were 24 different sites across the continent.
One of those sites was Victoria, B.C. On July 6, 33 teenagers and their leaders arrived at Victoria Christian Reformed Church (CRC), which along with Christ Community Church hosted the teams for the week. The volunteers and chaperones came from Blyth CRC in Blyth, Ont., Evergreen CRC in Fort McMurray, Alta, Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.C., and Trinity CRC in Edmonton.
“Not having phones made us interact with each other,” said Jayden Soubliere of Trinity CRC. “It helped us to become closer.”
PEOPLE, NOT PROJECTS
This connection served the teens well throughout their week in Victoria, because after they arrived at Victoria CRC, they were divided up into five small groups that split up the teenagers and adults from the different churches.
Throughout the week the teens and their chaperones woke up before seven and headed out to their workstations by nine. The teams spent the entire day out at different sites. They stocked shelves at the Mustard Seed, collected and distributed food to low-income people with Living Edge, washed cars for Sanctuary Youth, pulled invasive plants for Saanich Parks, and so much more for other local organizations.
Then, when their work was done, they headed back to church sweaty, tired and full of spirit. Once there they would have a bit of time to shower, relax and play games as a larger group before dinner and chapel.
At their commissioning service, Pastor Delleman spoke about his experiences with SERVE in the past. He told the congregation and SERVE participants about the time he learned to see the individuals he was helping as people not projects. Delleman encouraged this year’s crop of teenagers to learn from his mistake and do the same.
The participants took his message to heart. “When you see them as people needing help and not as a project, you treat them differently,” said Reuben VanderPloeg from Fleetwood CRC.
“You put more thought into what you are doing,” continued Jake Olthuis of Trinity CRC.
The thought and effort the young people put into their work was noticed by those they helped. “They are so thankful for even little things,” said Soubliere. His comment and the surprise in his voice as he said it were echoed by many of the other participants.
While Victoria was where the teenagers intended to come to volunteer, the hard work they put in did not start on the West Coast. First they had to raise money for their trip. The chaperons joked about how the teens all took time to rake leaves or wash cars, among other activities, just to come to Victoria to do the same thing again.
“They were weeding all day, dragging wood out of the way,” laughed Hilary Smith, one of the chaperones from Trinity CRC. “They’re really good at it.”
Even though the chaperones chuckled about how the teens came to be in Victoria, they loved watching the youth come together to serve the needs of the community.
“I enjoy taking the kids on SERVE, and watching them experiencing the joy of service,” said Smith. “Where’s your joy level? [Helping others] brings a joy that regular fun activities can’t. There’s something about service that’s really powerful.”
The power of serving others impacted the young individuals who came to the Victoria site. “It’s eye-opening,” said Elijah VanBoom of Trinity CRC about his experience helping someone who was new to the community.
“It changes the way you see people who are homeless, or who have an addiction,” continued VanderPloeg.
“It changes the way you look at the world,” finished Conner VanBoom of Trinity CRC.
In the evenings there were games for the teenagers to play, and on Wednesday the host churches took the teams on a day trip to see Hatley Castle, where the X-men movies were filmed, and Mystic Beach so they could run into the ocean.
Going on this trip was valuable for these teenagers and their chaperones. It strengthened their faith, their commitment to their own communities, and their ability to look for the story behind the situation.
Now that they have had a taste of missional living, many of them will return to their own communities and volunteer further. Because, as Beth Schelp of Fleetwood CRC points out, “All the work we do is worth it.”