Serving the King in your community
by Christina Van Starkenburg
Every year thousands of teens and adults travel across North America and the world to participate in missions trips. This year 34 of them ended up in Victoria, BC for seven days in July. While they were there volunteering, they witnessed the struggles others face in the community, learned more about themselves, and discovered new ways to help people.
The teenage and adult volunteers, came from Manhattan and Bethel Christian Reformed Churches in Gallatin Valley, Montana, Willoughby CRC in Langley, BC, and Maranatha CRC in Lethbridge, Alberta. After breakfast they would head off to their worksite for the day.
“[We do] a lot of yard work, and sometimes we help by talking to people,” explains Layne Vanderby, one of the teenagers from Montana. “We’re just kind of there to help out.” And help out they did. They painted walls, mowed lawns, washed cars, and performed whatever other tasks were found for them.
“They were the hardest working group of teenagers I have ever met,” says Ashley Patton, the Children and Youth Coordinator at Victoria CRC and the Host Team Coordinator. While they worked hard, they still had ample energy left over to have fun and make new friends.
After the work they gathered back at Victoria CRC to relax, eat and worship God. Despite being sweaty and paint-covered, they were still full of energy, playing air hockey, board games, a giant version of Dutch Blitz, and bubble soccer. The constant chatter would lull for a brief moment before supper for prayer and devotions, but then it quickly picked back up while people dived into their taco salads and ice cream floats or whatever the volunteers from Victoria had prepared for them that day.
Their time in Victoria changed them. According to Youth Unlimited’s website, which is the non-profit, non-denominational Christian ministry that organizes all of the SERVE mission trips in North America, “Mission trips and other faith-forming experiences are proven to be the #1 way to keep teens active in the church and growing in their faith.”
It’s no surprise that several of the teenagers recommitted their lives to Christ while on SERVE. They were surprised when they realized how much their opinions and beliefs changed.
When asked how he would make the world better, Vanderby paused for a moment before answering: “I’d make it so there are no more homeless people or people living in poverty. They were telling us a lot about how there’s a lot of people living in poverty or [who are] homeless that you don’t see,” explains Vanderby. “And I started paying more attention to them to help them.”
Vanderby wasn’t the only one whose eyes were opened to new ideas. Matteya Tuininga of Langley BC also came face to face with some of her perceptions during chapel and while volunteering.
“It’s not just looking on the outside or at their appearance, but you need to get to know them,” says Tuininga. “In chapels, we’ve been talking about being judged… so if I could change anything, I’d make it so people don’t judge you all the time.”
While many students might choose to go on mission trips overseas, one of the benefits of going to a community so similar to their own is that it is easier for these teenagers and the adults who came with them to take what they learned and bring it home with them. They can go into their schools and have meaningful conversations with their friends, they can offer to mow their neighbour’s lawn, or they can work in a local community garden and grow fresh vegetables for those who can’t afford them.
“I love the idea that it’s home missions. Especially for the Langley group; we’re pretty close,” says Christiana Reitsma, one of the adult chaperones. “It was nice to be able to come into a place that was new for us and learn how to serve God and serve others. And it’s all practical things that we can do when we get home.”
While the teens have now gone home, their presence benefitted the places they worked, like the Rainbow Kitchen, L’Abri and Shelbourne Community Kitchen, it was also good for the members of Victoria CRC. The local church was able to pull together to make the West Coast SERVE site happen with only five months’ notice after the original site was unable to keep their commitment.
Finding the different places for the students to go also opened Patton’s eyes to the different ways her youth group can continue to help their community after the SERVE teams go home, and how giving of one’s time is so meaningful to so many people.
“It has reminded me of the importance of serving the community and the impact a full day’s work can do,” says Patton. “Our youth group goes out in the community to serve, but we can only be there for about an hour. It was good to see the difference six hours of work, for four days a week can make.”