Summer Service in Our (Global) Neighborhood


By Ross Carper

One of the best things about summer is that for many of our teenagers, life slows down (at least a little bit). And maybe that’s true only on the weeks when they aren’t working a bunch or spending time at the camps, mission trips, and retreats we focus on so much as youth workers during this season.

These low-key weeks can lead to some fun service opportunities that are a bit more chill than putting off a giant 30 Hour Famine event. But they certainly come from the same heart to join God in his love for the people of all nations. This year (aside from raising money to address the severe food crisis in East Africa) our church has found a way to love our global neighbors through a fun, intergenerational activity: Summer English Club!

We are blessed to have our church located just a few blocks from an apartment complex that houses dozens of former refugee families. These people have fled from some of the most difficult conflicts in the world, and with help from World Relief, they have landed right in our little city, just up the hill from our church. We’ve gotten to know many of these families through our long-term work in the neighborhood elementary school, particularly through 1-on-1 mentoring and after-school activities for kids who are English language learners.

But for summer, we’ve landed on a sweet, relaxed event each Wednesday. For a couple hours, we get to hang out at the apartments and bless kids and families as we are blessed ourselves. The first hour is reading buddies: volunteers (teenage youth group kids through retired adults) spread out a blanket on the grass and just read books to and with kids, helping keep English language development and reading skills on track over the summer. At some point toward the end of the hour, a woman in our church recruits a few helpers to put together a lunch of PB&J, fruit, and other healthy options. She is a local doctor, and she knows many low-income kids are undernourished in the summertime without the benefit of a school lunch every day.

After lunch it’s circle time, led by a woman named Mary: usually a fun and simple name game for everyone to mutually participate in. For the kids, it’s a way to practice English and public speaking. Mary is a community member who lives nearby and, while she isn’t a member of our church, she has gotten quite involved in the mentoring and English club activities we help lead at the school. She is now one of the main leaders of Summer English Club. (Hint: whether you work with children, students, or adults at your church, remember that inviting “outsiders” to serve side-by-side toward a common godly purpose is great outreach: what an awesome way to make friendships and connections outside the walls of your church.)

Finally, it’s what summer was made for: Play! Our middle school and high school youth group students are ready with the equipment and energy needed to get a great game of soccer going for the older kids, and maybe some “duck, duck, goose” for the littler ones. Keeping it simple is key: let the focus be on fun and connection rather than explaining complicated rules.

The beauty is in the simplicity and intergenerational nature of this summer activity: just about anyone can show up to help with English Club–even young families with their own kids who could also use some reading practice!

At the end of a Wednesday up at the apartment complex, everyone involved is a bit tired out, but is also feeling that glow that comes from enjoying good gifts from God: connecting with people, engaging our minds, eating healthy foods, and simply playing. That’s summer service in the neighborhood, and it’s all for the sake of sharing God’s love with these beautiful families who have experienced extreme poverty, injustice, and strife in the lands of their birth and in the refugee camps where they lived before.