High school service trips, Part 2: Innovating and executing the new service trip

Matt Laidlaw Image Matt Laidlaw | Jun 26, 2014

Read Part 1 and Part 3 in this series!

In the first post in this series, Matt explored what it was like for their church to end a six-year commitment to take short-term trips to a particular community and figure out what to do next. Part 2 offers a window into that trip, and Part 3 will reflect on the experience. At the end of the series, Matt will share a more detailed look at how to turn your weeklong service trip into a plan for yearlong transformation.

Once we figured out the why of our trip, the what flowed naturally from there. It became much easier to sort through the possible partners, locations, and causes we could join. After having conversations with individuals and groups from around the country, we realized that we really didn’t know anything about our neighbor two hours to the east. We had a growing sense of confidence that Jesus was inviting us to take a step towards a relationship with our brothers and sisters in Detroit, Michigan.

Our church is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is approximately 160 miles west of Detroit. Although a two-hour drive doesn’t sound like an insurmountable distance to travel, aside from attending a sporting event or concert, many of our students and volunteers had never really experienced this part of our state.

Further, while the more recent economic struggles of Detroit have been well chronicled nationally, most of our team didn’t realize the complexity of a town so close to home. The more we learned about Detroit, the more we realized that it wasn’t anything like Grand Rapids. We didn’t know about the important role Detroit played during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, that the metropolitan area is now home to the largest population of Arab-Americans and Middle Eastern refugees in the United States, or that there is a vibrant Jewish community and Holocaust Memorial.

We decided that this trip must be focused on helping students and volunteers ask and answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” so we could better live out Jesus’ command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:36-40)

Because we couldn’t find one single organization to help facilitate the comprehensive experience we were looking for, our team had to do the hard work of finding lodging, meal locations, trusted ministry and non-profit organizations (both Christian and non-Christian), and individual conversation partners to help innovate this trip. This included hours of online research, phone calls, and several trips across the state to visit hosts and locations in advance of our trip.

After over a year of planning, last June twenty-four students and eight adult volunteers experienced our new High School Ministry Service Trip. Below, you can see how the itinerary and schedule puts into practice the values identified during our transition process:

Day 1: Depart from church

Grandville, Michigan

  • Arrive at housing
  • Trip Orientation
  • Large Group Prayer

Day 2: Intro to Islam, Intercultural and Interfaith Immersion

Dearborn, Michigan

Partner: Community Center[[At the request of the Community Center Director, details related to the name and work of this ministry must remain anonymous.]]

  • Guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt
  • Guided tour of the Arab-American Museum
  • Cultural lunch and tour of Christian ministry center
  • Mosque visit and Q & A with an Imam (Muslim religious leader)
  • Conversation with a Christian ministry leader serving the Muslim community
  • Cultural dinner
  • Large group debriefing, processing, and prayer

Days 3-5: Community Development and Service Work

Detroit, Michigan

Partner: Habitat for Humanity

  • Daily guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Conversation and neighborhood tour with Habitat Staff
  • Discussion on economic, racial, and religious history of Detroit
  • Daily participation in abandoned home demolition and construction
  • Interaction with neighborhood small business owners
  • Daily large group debriefing, processing, and prayer

Day 6: Intro to Judaism and Global Issues

Farmington Hills, Michigan

Partner: Holocaust Memorial Center

  • Guided individual solo-time and prayer
  • Guided tour of Holocaust Memorial Center
  • Interaction with Holocaust survivors who live in Farmington Hills
  • Large group debriefing, processing, and prayer
  • Return to church

(The details related to how our team debriefed and processed our experience together before, during, and after the trip will be explained in Parts 3 and 4 of this series)

Questions for your own context:

  • Can you identify any “causes” or “needs” that may exist closer to home than any previous service or mission trips you’ve planned and led? How would your community respond if you planned an experience that didn’t involve traveling a long distance?
  • How does this schedule and itinerary compare to trips you’ve developed or participated in? What can you learn from or adopt? What would you challenge or improve upon?
  • What kind of response do you think you would get from church leadership, parents, and volunteers if you created an opportunity for your students to learn from and interact with people from other religious groups?
  • What tools or resources, guides, or devotionals have you provided students or volunteers during your mission trips? In what ways were they helpful? In what ways were they unhelpful?
  • How would your students answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” What kind of resources and experiences can you provide in your context to continue to shape how they might respond to this question?

Read Part 1 and Part 3 in this series!

Photo by Joel Muniz

Matt Laidlaw Image
Matt Laidlaw

Matthew J. Laidlaw is a co-founder of Open Circle, an "inclusively-Christian" spiritual community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is an ordained minister and has been serving in executive and administrative leadership while working in both school and church-based pastoral ministry for the past 15 years. Matthew is a graduate of Kuyper College, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and the Living School for Action and Contemplation, and has lived and studied in the Middle East. Matthew and his wife Stephanie live in West Michigan with their two young children.

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