Wednesday, January 18, 2012

13 things I learned on a mission trip

I recently went on a missions trip where we ran a summer holiday outreach program for children and teens in a seaside town. Having never been involved in a mission like this one before, I assumed that working with teenagers wouldn’t be that challenging because there isn’t as much age difference as when working with children and because teens programs don’t involve as much singing and dancing as children's programs. I now know better! I really enjoyed myself but it was also at times a challenging and humbling experience. Here is an assortment of things I learned:

  • No-one is too old for playdough. What was meant to be a short activity involving some playdough turned into a whole session of the teens excitedly coming up with creative things to make.
  • Sometimes the full impact of what we do can take a while to be obvious. On multiple occasions we met parents who had attended the program as children, remembered it fondly and were now sending their own children along. People involved in the mission during the 80’s probably weren’t thinking that their willingness to serve would mean that children who wouldn’t be born for another 20 years would one day get the chance to hear about Jesus.
  • Given a chance, teenage boys will mix and consume almost any food or drink combination possible.
  • Duct tape solves a lot of problems.
  • Prayer makes a difference. I was maybe a bit lazier about praying while on mission than I should have been. Times when I did make an effort to pray, I tended to notice an improvement in how well things worked and how receptive the teens were.
  • Pancakes are better when made with excessive amounts of neon food colouring. Neon pancake mix also makes an impressive looking mess when spilt. See the picture at the bottom of the post.
  • That throwing things indoors can be a bad idea is not nearly as obvious as it seems.
  • Good things can come out of failed plans. I am by nature a bit of an over-planner so found having things not work to plan a bit challenging sometimes. While derailed plans were sometimes frustrating and humbling, God is bigger than them. Some of the best activities and spiritual discussions happened when our original plans weren’t working and we had to make stuff up on the spot.
  • Strange things start to become funny when you have a bunch of somewhat sleep deprived people working closely together for 10 days.
  • Teenagers are often more willing to accept a copy of the bible you offer them than you might expect.
  • Children's program music is often absurdly catchy and unusually difficult to dislodge from your brain.
  • You can’t force meaningful conversations. Sometimes when we had planned what seemed liked good discussion starters, talk stayed very shallow. Sometimes meaningful conversations came seemingly out of nowhere while doing other things.
  • A little encouragement from those you are serving with can make a big difference. I’m thankful for team members who took the time to be encouraging even though they had a lot to think about and be doing.

The neon pancakes