Changing the World So We Can Be Changed


By Teer Hardy

My entry into youth ministry and youth missions was not typical of many youth ministry volunteers and professionals. After my wedding, the pastor who officiated, Jason, mentioned to my wife and I that the church still needed chaperones for their middle school mission trip as we were exiting the sanctuary. I do not recall my exact response but it was most likely “good luck with that”. When Jason looked to my wife and mentioned that our marriage license was still on his desk, Allison quickly looked at me and said, “Well I guess you’re goin’ on a mission trip this summer.

Mission trips, whether we go willingly or we are conspired against, will change our lives. For me, our trip was the beginning of responding to a call to ministry I had been ignoring and hiding from for many years. The same is true of the students who attend these trips.

We all know the students who are overly-excited for the trips and then we know the students who don’t want to be there or who could think of other ways to spend a week in July.  For mission trip participants in both of these groups transformation will normally occur. It may occur during the trip either on a worksite or during worship. But for some, maybe those who were conspired against, transformation might take longer. A mission trip could be the beginning of a long walk towards discernment of one’s life.

I think there are times when we do students a disservice, placing expectations that they are able to identify a God-sighting or lead a workteam devotion, when for many this will be the one and only time they are encouraged to consider where and how God is at work in their lives.  Mission trips, for all their good, can place unintentional burdens of living into a life most of our students, and in my case leaders, do not fully understand.

Mission trips (and events like 30 Hour Famine) are opportunities for us as leaders to teach what living out our faith means to students who are often taught countering lessons the other 51 weeks of the year. Living lives of service, showing others the love and grace afforded to us without any requirements, and openly talking about the love of God is not something many of our students do when they are not on a mission trip. Then, in many cases, we increase the intensity 1000% because we think that for this week, it could be our only chance.

Mission trips are the perfect opportunities for us to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about how the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of groups; but what about acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of those students who could think of better ways they’d like to spend one of their limited summer weeks. Rather than us trying to squeeze too much into the limited time we have, what if we just provided the space? Afterall, if we truly believe the Holy Spirit is the acting agent of the trinity, then we already know the Spirit is at work and that it’s not up to us.

This was a lesson that came to me the hard way. On that first trip in the summer of 2010, I tried really hard to be the perfect youth leader. My work crew had the best devotions (I thought), we got the most work done of any crew, and we made the biggest impact on the community (we thought). In hindsight though, what I remember most about that week was not the devotions or work. What I remember most was the way in which I was changed for the long-term and that is the work done by the Holy Spirit, not by programs.

Looking back on that week I wish I had known this. I wish I had allowed more space for the Holy Spirit to work instead of trying the fill every single moment of our time with what I thought was discipleship or Christian formation. I wish someone had said to me, “Hey, Teer! You cannot do this on your own. It won’t work!

Yes, student mission trips are about doing work. But these weeks are about so much more. These weeks provide our students with the space many of them will not have for the next 51 weeks: uninterrupted space for the Holy Spirit to move.

It’s the Holy Spirit that moved in my life back in the summer of 2010 and led me to ministry. I pray that this summer the Holy Spirit moves as mission teams head out into their ministry fields ready to change the world, while at the same time being changed.