I wrote this letter last week to the members of the committee that gave my youth group a grant for our mission trip. Rewriting details of the trip reminded me what an awesome week that was.
To whom it may concern:
Words cannot possibly describe how thankful I am that the First Presbyterian youth group was a recipient of one of the Northminster Mission Grants this past summer. I am a first time Christian Education Director and although I knew that taking the youth on a mission trip was something I desperately wanted to do, I had next to no clue how to go about it.
I began planning the trip early in the year but seemed to hit a lot of speed bumps along the way, organizations that were too expensive, trip logistics being changed without notice, parents who were unsure about the trip, and a lack of chaperones just to name a few. Another large hindrance was the fact that this trip was planned after the church budget had been set for the year, so students would have to pay out-of-pocket for the trip and fundraise most of the funds.
In the spring we held several fundraisers, but none of them seemed to bring in more than 200 dollars at a time, and many students and parents were expressing concern that they would not be able to afford the trip, no matter how much they wanted to go. Fortunately another Christian Ed. Director within the presbytery informed me about this grant and gave me the information to apply. On a whim, without knowing what to expect, I applied.
As I'm sure you can guess I was ECSTATIC when I received a phone call telling me that we had been approved for a $1,500 grant. I've never won the lottery, but that day it sure felt like I had. We used that money to assist all of the youth going on that trip, making the total cost of our weeklong trip $70 a person.
On June 20, 2010 I loaded 7 youth, 2 other chaperones, myself, and all of our luggage into a 15-passenger rental van and we headed off to Ronceverte, West Virginia for First Presbyterian's FIRST ANNUAL Youth Mission Trip. We arrived at Ronceverte Presbyterian Church at about 3pm. We had about 2 hours to get settled in before jumping feet first into the week. Their Vacation Bible School - our main project - began at 5 that evening.
Each evening Sunday-Thursday we assisted with their Vacation Bible School. Our students did everything from helping with crews of children to taking main roles in the Bible Story presentation every night. Since Ronceverte is located in a very impoverished area of West Virginia Ronceverte Presbyterian's VBS was a way for them to reach out into the community to minister to many children who were not members of their congregation. They served a full dinner as a part of their program, not only to help our group, but to make sure each of the children who came would get at least one warm meal each day they participated in the program. Having to interact with the children of Ronceverte definitely opened up the eyes of our students and put the luxuries they enjoy every day into perspective.
On Monday morning our group was taken on a hike by a Ronceverte native who taught us about the area and history of the town. Tuesday through Thursday mornings were spent at a variety of locations. The morning projects we worked on consisted of: Helping Linda, a member of Ronceverte Presbyterian with some home repairs and yard work (Linda has some developmental disabilities), volunteering at the local Women's Domestic Violence Shelter and cleaning at the local food bank.
Each of these projects provided our students with more eye-opening experiences. Every day they had something new they wanted to discuss or an epiphany about how different life was for most of the people of Ronceverte than it is for their families in Eaton, OH. They also made fast friends with everyone they met throughout the week, especially the children at Vacation Bible School.
On our last full day in West Virginia we went to ACE Adventure Resort and had a full day of whitewater rafting down the New River. Even on our "fun day" I saw growth in our students. Our group was asked to split between two rafts in a group of 3 and a group of 7. The youth decided to pile all into one raft, leaving us adults to fend for ourselves. They worked together as a team, listened to their raft guide and supported each other throughout the day. A few of our students jumped off of "jump rock," a rock about 30 feet tall, even those who are afraid of heights. A week or so after our trip I even received a Thank-You card from the raft guides on that trip thanking us for such an awesome day on the river. I've rafted with that company numerous times before and have NEVER had that happen.
By the end of the week my group was already discussing the possibility of returning to Ronceverte next summer. Many have stayed in touch with the pastor of Ronceverte and other members of the church through the social networking site, Facebook. Just moments before we rolled out of town they asked if they could deliver all of our left over breakfast and lunch food to one of the groups of children they had met earlier in the week.
When we returned to Eaton all 7 youth piled out of the van all smiles and laughter, bubbling to their families about the week they had just had. We returned Saturday evening and on Sunday morning the youth took over the morning worship service in order to witness to the congregation about the mission trip. 4 or 5 of the students spoke during 3 different "reflection" times which took the place of a normal sermon. A few talked about what they felt like before the trip, being nervous and not knowing what to expect. A couple described to the congregation what we did on the trip, detailing all of our work projects and what it felt like to be in such an impoverished area. Finally 2 of the youth stood up and told the congregation what they planned to do with the experience now that they were back home, they blew me away by saying that they were planning to start a service organization right in Eaton. The 2 of them said that they realized on the trip that everything they had done there (cleaning, working with kids, volunteering at the food bank) they could do right in their own town.
Since we returned home our youth volunteered to help with our own Vacation Bible School, which happened to be the same program, the 2 who wanted to start a service organization have done so, and the 7 youth who went on the trip have become some of the closest friends you'll ever see. Happily, their excitement to hang out with their church friends has spread to many of our other youth. Some of them have even begun planning youth events by themselves and then ask for them to be placed on the calendar. We've also begun a Sunday Night Youth Program which is steadily growing in number and our mission projects have doubled since last year.
The momentum that this youth program has gained from one week in West Virginia is incredible. I definitely credit much of that to the grant we received, which made the trip possible in the first place. A million and one THANK YOUs to those of you who made it possible.
In HIS service,