Youths help others during spring break
By PAUL ASAY THE GAZETTE
For 40 high school students and 15 adult leaders, an adventure begins this morning at Sunnyside Christian Church. They’re scheduled to arrive at the church at 7 a.m., load their suitcases and sleeping bags onto a chartered bus and settle in for a 24-hour ride to Waveland, Miss. Once there, they’ll spend the week pulling down mold-coated drywall and removing the debris that still covers the town, torn apart months ago by Hurricane Katrina. They’ll return April 1 — and have one day to relax before starting school again. Do these teens regret giving up their spring break to toil, sweat and pray in a strange place? Nah. “I’d be bored by the second day, anyways,” said 15-year-old Kim Smith. Every spring and summer, hundreds of Colorado Springs youths participate in church-sponsored mission trips. Some teens travel thousands of miles for their missions, others work in town. The purpose is the same: to show — and maybe even feel — God’s love in a new, powerful way. “Let this be a step of faith for you,” Sunnyside mission-trip leader Kevin Andler told high schoolers during a recent planning meeting. “Step out of your comfort
zone and let God do some things.” About a third of Sunnyside’s 120 or so high schoolers are going on the trip, each paying an average of $500. Leaders encouraged youths to raise money by asking for donations from friends, family and acquaintances — just like missionaries do. Their mission packet included suggestions on how to raise money, sample fundraising letters and thank-you-note forms. For that $500, students get a round-trip bus ride, meals and accommodations in fourperson tents. They’re also expected to provide tangible and spiritual help to the community: They’ll cut up trees, rip down walls and throw Waveland high school students a morale-boosting party (they’ve booked the Christian rock group Slingshot 57 to perform). It’s all part of following through on the mission’s Bible motto (Matthew 5:14-16), which begins “You are the light of the world.” “All of us have the same goal in mind,” Andler told the students. “Our goal is to show these people Jesus, but we’ve got to show him to one another, as well.” The church is providing Bibles, which youths are encouraged to give away if the opportunity pops up. The teens are buying and taking most of the trip’s other necessities themselves, including shampoo and toilet paper they’ll use there. The must-take list also includes: c Rain gear. c Respirator masks, to protect against mold. c Dryer sheets. Students will rub the sheets over their skin because the smell apparently repels gnats. c Insect repellent. “We’re not used to bugs,” Andler said. “For them (Mississippians), it’s just a part of life. For us, it’s like we’ve gone to hell.” During a mid-March planning meeting, teens cracked jokes and laughed and asked more questions about the dress code than bugs or mold. “I would be (nervous about going),” Smith said, “but I went to Mexico last year.” Sunnyside high schoolers had been going to Mexico every spring for about five years. Leaders started talking about switching venues shortly after Katrina hit and started planning in earnest in November. The youth department was given a gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award last year for having volunteered more than 1,500 hours. To earn the award, youths cleaned a nearby trail, visited nursing homes and participated in fasts to raise money for the hungry, among other projects. Even so, leaders doubt whether any of the students are truly prepared for the Gulf Coast, still reeling from the hurricane. City youth leaders say that sense of shock is an important part of many youth-oriented missions. Most church kids in Colorado Springs don’t worry about where they’re going to sleep or where their next meal will come from. Showing these teens a different, harder world, leaders say, can change their lives. “It teaches them how to be servants,” said the Rev. Randy Unruh, youth minister for Fellowship of the Rockies Church, who’s leading 26 middle and high school students on a spring-break mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. Sometimes, though, these trips can shake a person’s faith, too. “For some folks, it’s a crisis,” said the Rev. Mark Epperson of First Presbyterian Church. “If you go to India and wander around Delhi for a week or two, it’s overwhelming. The poverty, the various issues. For some students, they don’t understand how God can let this happen.” Those difficult questions are part of a growing faith, Epperson said. The youths and their leaders often process what they see through discussion and prayer. Many students participate in mission trips year after year. Some go because their parents make them. Some treat the trip as a Christian version of a spring-break vacation — a week filled with friends, faith and fun. Unruh said the students he talks with have more spiritual reasons for going. A few plan to be full-time missionaries, and this can be a way to see what mission work is like. “Most of the time, they want to come back home different,” he said. “They want to come home changed. They want to come back with a different attitude.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0367 or firstname.lastname@example.org
LOCAL MISSIONS Dozens of students from middle school, high school and college will go on out-of-town mission trips or do community projects during spring break. Here’s a list of some of them: c High schoolers from Sunnyside Christian Church will go to Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Miss. c High school students from Woodmen Valley Chapel will go to Juarez, Mexico. c Students from Colorado College will help out in several locations over spring break, including Biloxi, Miss.; New Orleans; Nogales, Mexico; Chicago; and on an American Indian reservation in South Dakota. c High school students from First Presbyterian Church will travel to Ocean Springs, Miss. First Presbyterian college students will go to Mexico and Ocean Springs. c Middle and high school students from Fellowship of the Rockies will build homes for residents in Juarez, Mexico. c Youths from Mountain Springs Church will participate in missions to Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Mexico. c College students from New Life Church will be in Israel. THE SERIES Today’s stories are part of a yearlong series focusing on children and faith. The series runs monthly in The Gazette’s Life section. At gazette.com: Comment on today’s stories. See previous stories in the “Faith and Children” series. Use an e-mail link to send in children’s art and essays on faith. Go to www.gazettereligion.blogspot.com for updates on the Mississippi trip.
FELLOWSHIP OF THE ROCKIES CHURCH - Ashley Knight from Fellowship of the Rockies took a breather during the church’s spring mission trip to Mexico last year. Many area churches sponsor youth-oriented missions during school breaks.
HUNTER McRAE, THE GAZETTE - Walsh carried Michael Apple during a team-building exercise for youths at Sunnyside Christian Church this month. The teens will participate in a mission trip to Mississippi during spring break.
HUNTER McRAE, THE GAZETTE - Sunnyside Christian Church held a meeting in mid-March to plan a mission trip to help people in hurricane-battered Mississippi. The youths will spend their spring break participating in the mission.