I have never been a big fan of youth mission trips that go abroad to other countries.  Sometimes, I am a bit agitated, even incensed, when our government rushes out to help other countries feed their hungry when we have our own right here at home.

On a popular news-debate program several years ago, one congressman said, “The churches should really take care of the unfortunate ones – the hungry, the homeless, and needy in other areas.”  Yet, as the program host countered, “Why do you approve of our government spending millions our tax dollars to aide the hungry of other nations? Why can’t their churches do it for them if our churches are to do it our people?”

My grandfather, well into his late seventies and early eighties, worked long, long hard hours for a mission program that assisted families around the very impoverished area of Smith, Kentucky. I visited the mission site, and it was heart-breaking. In the community house, a simple framed, cinder-block building that provided a worship and meeting site, Mother sat down to the organ with a hymnal and would call out songs and keys to me over at the piano.  Before long, noses were pressed to the windows, and we motioned for some to come in to listen.  These people were so grateful, and we were simply playing familiar hymns. One gentleman ran a mile back to his house to get his GE tape recorder. Upon his return he discovered the batteries had died, and he was crestfallen. I knew which batteries he needed and went to my car to retrieve batteries in the glove compartment.  Grandpa reported, several years later, that the man still talked about “the concert” he had recorded that day.

It was something so simple… something I do every day. Yet, to this man, and to the others who were present, it was The New York Met!

In the mission house, run by Miss Lucy, there were photo albums sent her by the many church or youth groups who had come to work. Even in 1999, I questioned why teenagers raised thousands of dollars to go to Honduras, or to other tropical sites to help others when, clearly, a large portion of the money could have been invested for so many other useful items for those they could help in their own community or state.

I know there is a positive purpose for hammering, and painting under palm trees, and smelling the air, filled with salty breezes; however, I just cannot wrap my head around it.

I look at so many photographs of youth trips abroad, and I see the fun times at beaches, restaurants, local activities, playing ball with the native children… what I seldom see, and if I do, it is minimal, are the photographs of the actual work.  Yes, the argument is: they were too busy working to take photographs. And the photographs of the actual work seems to merely serve the purpose for the presentation back home to justify the costs of the mission-vacation.

I would love to see the photographs of groups, or individuals, providing services to others in, and around their community that quietly says: “I made a difference.” The photographs of teenagers with a Honduran child on their lap might say, “I made a difference,” but too often, it seems to read: “Look at where my money took me.”

But there is one major question: Why is it always the youth from churches or organizations who go to work on these trips with several adult leaders and chaperons?  How many churches who sponsor youth mission-vacations also offer one for adults of all ages?

When Katrina hit, churches and community groups went to Louisiana and Mississippi by the droves, and for several years. We seem to be good about jumping to the call when a disaster strikes – as we should.

Why are churches, or community organizations not jumping to the immediate call of those in need every day, or finding a way to be of service to others on a regular basis?

Are each of us doing what we can to be of service to others each day?

Does placing a check in the offering plate replace what we can physically do for others in need?

Can our youth in church organizations learn more by going out once a month to serve others in their community?

There are so many ways to be of service to others besides working at a homeless shelter, a food shelter, or a clothing closet.

  • There are many elderly folks in our neighborhoods who do not wish to “be a bother” to anyone.  Just go rake their yards or shovel the snow without asking to do it!
  • Our music students can offer their musical talents at assisted living communities (called “nursing homes” when I was a teen) rather than earn a paycheck for playing at the red bucket during Christmas.
  • Our adult bowling teams often raise money during tournaments – money to be sent for others to do the work. Instead of a fund-raising event, why not go out and serve as a team?
  • Our athletic teams of all ages – youth through adult – could surely do something of value to offer a heart-felt service.
  • We have food drives at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Is this the only time people are hungry?  We tend to throw around the phrase, “The Season of Giving.” Since when did giving need it’s own season?
I wish I could remember all the wonderful things my brother, a school superintendent, encourages his faculty, staff, students, and parents to contribute each day, each week, each month. His school district, alone, does the work of many churches combined.
And this is what I love most: his district is teaching all the students to approach life with a servant’s attitude!
My sons belonged to a wonderful youth group, SIGNS.  It is non-denominational, and very spirit-led.  The one thing that always pumped me up was the work they did for others right here in the community. Quite often an email would come through: “We need about 4-6 workers to assist an elderly lady with all the broken branches from the storm [Hurricane Ike]” or “Hey Gang – can we get 3 of you to help put weather-proofing plastic on some windows of this an older couple who cannot physically do it?”

To me, this was the right attitude: teaching our youth to simply be of service to others right in their own back yards.  Thank you, Jill Chabut and Bern Schwieterman!

We can give away our unused clothing, appliances, and belongings to satisfy our “good deed” itch; however, why are we hesitant, or too busy to go right out into the ranks to be of service?

Is the United States of America truly a Christian nation based on its actions, and a servant’s attitude of action, or are we a Christian nation simply because the majority of our forefathers were Christian?

I don’t think it really matters.  What matters most is that each of us, not just the churches, not just the youth groups, not just the bowling teams, not just the service organizations, are doing something to be of service.