It is that time of the year again. Church youth groups pack up for a week of mission around the country and world. I have read several articles and books that bring light to the negative consequences from short term mission projects. The argument is that these seemingly good deeds perpetuate the problems that low-income and homeless communities face while simultaneously allowing teenagers from middle to high income families to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
On many aspects, I do agree with critics of short term mission projects. However, what is the alternative? To not go? To raise money and just send cash to designated organizations without any human interaction?
After our week in Atlanta, I am reminded by the impact of personal experiences and thoughtful reflections. We participated in an Urban Immersion program organized by DOOR, a faith-based network of cities that provides opportunities for service and learning. I still believe that having personal experiences and opportunities to see first-hand issues that our society faces is so important for our teenagers. These weeks are not about making ourselves feel good about our work, but we should leave them remembering the names and faces of folks we have met. It is about connecting our lives with the lives of others. Organizations can benefit greatly from cash donations, but it is equally important to teach our children and youth to become personally involved in the problems of our communities. I was so impressed with our group and how they interacted during our time of volunteering throughout the Atlanta community. Through our opportunities to jump into an organized chaos to prepare groceries for dozens of families at a local food co-op, serve meals at soup kitchens, interact with friends finding refugee on the block of the church because it is a safe zone where they cannot be arrested, work in urban gardens, visit the Martin Luther King Center and Museum, etc, our youth pushed themselves to go beyond their comfort zones to connect, learn, and hopefully become frustrated by the marginalization, oppression, and discrimination of others. These experiences allow us the opportunity to see the raw reality that so many face on a daily basis.
The DOOR staff were so impressed with the depth of conversation and reflection that our youth showed. In fact, the director said that she wished she had more groups like ours during evening reflections. This is true reflection of the community that their surrounded by at Park Road and is a proud reminder that I am part of it.
Because the congregation makes these summer trips possible, please take the time to read through several of our youth reflections on moments at our different sites that stood out for them during the week.