|Spring Break 2012 - Destination; Fort Smith's team.|
Five years and six trips ago, I had an idea.
It was simple. Take older elementary and middle school students out of their “comfort zone” and help them explore what it means to serve God.
What started as a single-church project has grown into a ministry that has involved students from 10 churches within the Arkansas Conference. We call it Destination: Mission.
Destination: Mission trips have a simple rhythm, which includes two days of “kid-friendly” mission projects, such as working in a thrift store, preparing and/or serving a meal, sorting items at a food pantry or even doing yard work.
At each project, students have a chance to learn about the sponsoring ministry through a brief educational offering and a question-and-answer session.
The ultimate goal: Students will experience projects they can do not only on the trip, but in their home community as well.
Other activities during the four-day, three-night trip involve group building (especially as we’ve expanded to include multiple churches), worship and, of course, a lot of fun.
For people who question whether younger students—especially those in third, fourth and fifth grades—can benefit from this type of experience, I unequivocally say yes.
In the last five years, I’ve watched as students have had all kinds of amazing experiences while doing ordinary tasks.
One year, the project involved sorting cans of food at the Arkansas Rice Depot—simple, right? But thanks to a volunteer coordinator who went above and beyond to share the organization’s story and mission, those students still talk in amazement about what the Rice Depot does for people in need.
Some even returned to their home church and encouraged the congregation to take a deeper interest in this hunger ministry.
During this year’s spring break trip in Fort Smith, one third-grader listened intently to testimonies of how the Salvation Army ministry had been used to change lives.
The nine-year-old felt moved to do something. Without telling anyone, she quietly gave all of her allowance to the ministry.
Later, she had a chance to talk about her decision with her mom, who served as a chaperone on the trip. She said, “I will never look at things the same way again.”
How many adults can say that?
Honestly, I’ll never look at taking students on a mission trip the same way again.
To critics who say we should wait until students are older and at least in high school, I say “Why?”
Elementary students want to serve. They want to make a difference. They want help others. By providing them with opportunities to serve, we also help them grow as Christians.
I’ve watched as some of my first students “graduated” from the short trips to longer ones, and stepped into leadership roles with experiences like Ozark Mission Project, or returned to help on a Destination trip so younger students can have the same experiences they encountered.
I’ve also seen adults, unsure of what to expect, look on in amazement as their students dive into the mission projects without complaint or hesitation.
This summer will mark the fifth year—and seventh trip—for Destination: Mission. Our plans include staying at First UMC Pine Bluff and working with two local ministries: Neighbor 2 Neighbor and the Salvation Army.
The planning team has already begun making plans for 2013’s spring break and summer trips. We plan announce dates and locations for the two trips in late summer or early fall of 2012.
Want to keep up with our students during the summer trip to Pine Bluff? Follow our antics on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Destination.Mission.
Hutson serves as director of children’s ministries for St. James UMC Little Rock. For information on Destination: Mission trips in 2013, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.