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The Perfect Youth Mission Trip

by Shirley and Roger Savage, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

     What are the ingredients of a “good” mission trip for our youth?

     First you need a mix of kids, both boys and girls of varying ages and backgrounds.  Learning and fun is enhanced if the tasks and activities encountered during the trip challenge and require effort and creativity from everyone.

     Add an experience that engages our youth with other cultures, addresses complex issues like poverty, inadequate housing community health problems and many languages, and requires their active leadership and participation.  Bake all this in the hot Fresno sun!  The result is a mission trip that doesn’t require our youth, leaders and volunteers to have a passport or purchase an expensive airline ticket…a trip that is close to home, that includes shaved ice on a hot summer evening and a water slide for 50+ adorable children to dance and play in.  Finally, a reward after a week’s work that included a few days of pure fun, add good food and relaxation at a private lakeside resort – and knowing you have created friends and experiences for life.

     Such a perfect mixture of ingredients came together in early July offering a perfect summer “sundae” when five of our youth, Maddie Amos, Liz and Meg Austin, Eileen Bridgewater and Tripp Twyman, joined with Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire and Roger and Shirley Savage on UCCLM’s 2011 youth mission trip.

     Our mission trip adventure for this year took place from July 4th to July 12th at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM).  FIRM is a faith-based organization committed to building communities of hope for new immigrants, refugees and newly-minted Americans.  They are primarily Southeast Asian (Hmong and Laotian) but also include Slavic and Ethiopian families.  FIRM provides a variety of services to these families.  Our tasks for the week were to sponsor an outreach festival to the kids in the neighborhood in the evening and to do site repairs, cleaning, construction projects and work in the community garden during the day.  Our “Family Festival,” from July 5th through the 8th, was held every evening from 5-8pm.  The youth needed to plan and present an evening program, which included a short introductory message and songs, then provide crafts, games, activities and snacks.  After the songs and message on the FIRM community hall stage, the rest of the evening was presented like booths at a carnival. The neighborhood kids freely floated from station to station.  We worked with and received help and support from other church youth groups in the Fresno area.

     This was the first mission trip where our youth were able to work directly with children and be responsible for nightly festival activities.  It was up close and personal.  We all finished this trip with a song in our hearts and many good memories.   It was also a tremendous learning environment for all of us.  Who knew we could feel good by providing a “Family Festival” to people in need… It was as though we stepped into a third world country with children needing all we could provide.

     We felt we made a difference.

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