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A few weekends ago I was at the National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego, CA and had the joy of sitting through a seminar by Dr. Tony Campolo. Over the years I have been to many of Dr. Campolo’s seminars and every time I walk away with a great gold nugget that can be implemented into ministry or my personal walk with God. This time was no exception. The seminar focused on poverty and what youth groups can do to respond to the crisis—fascinating!

If you know me or my style of ministry you would know that I am a big advocate for youth ministry trips. There is so much good that can come from a ministry experience. Over the years I would tell participants that the trip is more about personal self-growth than for the people you are going to help. You will learn more about yourself and your personal faith walk than you can help those you are going to serve. I still believe this is true.

Dr. Campolo brought up an interesting point about ‘types’ of ministry trips. He questions the value of sending students on a ministry trip to build a church, school, house, well etc. He asked a very intriguing question, “Can they not build that stuff themselves?”

There’s that gold nugget!

As youth workers, if we’re to wrestle with this question, we would have to agree. The national people are capable of building themselves. Why do we need to send our youth all over the globe to build something when they can build it just as well?

Dr. Campolo suggests that as youth leaders we need to take a more holistic approach to ministry trips. Can a ministry trip meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people? I think so.

In my humble opinion, would it not be better to work along-side the national people in their building projects giving them the ownership and the accomplishment of a job well done? We need to empower the national people!!! Perhaps they can’t afford the buy all the materials needed and we can assist financially but I think we are setting ourselves up for bigger problems if we do the work for them.

As you work alongside them swinging a hammer you have ample opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. You can serve them while they build by providing them with drink and food—servanthood!

In the past I have taken youth on trips where all we did was build a house. During our week of building we did not even meet the family we were building for. How effective was that? The youth were not stretched out of their comfort zones and no relationships were formed! As I look back I question those ministry trips and compare them to the ministry trips where youth were taken out of their comfort zone and challenged to talk about their faith. Over a two-year period I took one group on two trips where they experienced both. At the end of the two years I asked which one they enjoyed more. The response was surprising. Everyone enjoyed and grew more on the trip where we did not build but interacted with people for the week. (Sitting down and having a pack lunch with a homeless person in a park was at the top of the list.)

I am sure we can all agree that ministry trips are great but we need to be careful of our intent and motive for doing them. How can we truly help the people we are going to serve? What will have the greatest impact on the students that go?

Thank You Dr. Campolo for another gold nugget!


Bonnie Nicholas on February 14, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think EVERYONE should read this book (When Helping Hurts) not just those considering short term missions. It's about the way we see one another, including the people that live down the street or across town. Read it; it's great.

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