Next month, rather than languishing on the beach or going on vacation with their families, more than 50 Kenosha and Racine Great Lakes Church teen members plan to spend a week giving back to those less fortunate than themselves.
The young Christians will be traveling to St. Louis and Indianapolis from July 21-26 to serve in the two cities.
The middle school students will head to Indianapolis for inner city mission work and the high school students will serve those in need in St. Louis. Both are traveling under the umbrella organization YouthWorks, whose mission is to provide Christ-centered mission trips to serve the multidenominational church.
Jayson Etchison, the Kenosha Campus Student Ministries pastor, is organizing the trip as one of the answers to the church’s dream for growth.
“We wrestled through quite a few ideas before finally realizing that the biggest faith-growing opportunity we could offer these kids was to challenge them to pour themselves into others,” he said. “To go somewhere completely unfamiliar and give them the opportunity to give everything they had to someone else.”
While many mission groups travel outside the United States to assist developing countries, Etchison said the need is great closer to home as well.
“It is ironic because a lot of time we miss the need right in front of us because we assume that the people living in those cities are taken care of. They’re not that far away, so things probably aren’t different than in our own lives,” he explained. “But the truth is Indianapolis and St. Louis are just as important mission fields as the partnerships we have in Africa, Bangladesh and India.”
Great Lakes Church opted to partner with YouthWorks after reaching out to other churches they trusted around the country for recommendations. Throughout their research, the YouthWorks ministry stood out among other groups as a well-rounded, Christ-centered experience.
“The big draw for us is to partner with an organization who can stay in contact with these areas after our team gets back home. The fact that YouthWorks can stay on the ground offering continued support and care was a big deal to us,” explained Etchison. “We didn’t want to give six days of impact to an area; we wanted their lives to be changed for years.”
Since this was the congregation’s first mission trip, staff had a few priorities for the locations selected, such as offering separate middle school and high school trips, being close enough for parents to feel comfortable with their children leaving for six days, and different enough locations to stretch students out of their comfort zone.
The trip costs are $450 per student, which covers transportation, housing, meals and activities for the week. According to Etchison, students planned to collaborate with fundraisers and fundraising letters to fund the trip. However, a surprise contribution alleviated much of the fundraising responsibilities.
“This is an amazing story,” he said. “A tradition at GLC is to take any extra giving that comes in throughout the month of December and spread it beyond our own walls and help people here, near and far. This December, through our annual Christmas offering, we were able to raise over $150,000 to spread across partnerships we have in the local community nationwide and internationally. As part of that Christmas offering, we were able to cut the price of the trip in half, bringing it down to $225 per student. Overall, that was a gift of around $15,000.”
A group of eight adult volunteers will assist Etchison and Tyler Clapsaddle, Racine Student Ministries pastor, in overseeing the youth. Volunteers also pay $225 to accompany students on the mission trip and voluntarily give up a week of vacation, a week with their families and a week of their summer.
“Those volunteers are the real heroes, and they are just as excited as the students are,” said Etchison. “They’ve seen the difference a true faith in Jesus can make in life and they’re willing to do anything to help these teens connect with that faith. Even if it means sleeping on an air mattress and taking showers in a high school gym for a week.”
When students arrive in St. Louis or Indianapolis, they will partner with organizations already on the ground that are helping those in need each day.
“Each trip has about 12-15 work sites they may volunteer at throughout the week. A lot of those are Boys & Girls Clubs, homeless shelters, local churches and soup kitchens,” said Etchison. “On site we could be doing anything from running a summer camp, light construction projects or preparing dinner for the community. The unpredictability is actually a part of the growing process for these students. We’re prepping them to embrace the unexpected and be prepared to jump in with both feet to help whoever we have the chance to (help).”
Breaking away from the ordinary, getting out of comfort zones, travel and giving back is an important facet of maturing for a student’s journey with God, explained Etchison.
“There’s something unique that happens — it’s unpredictable and yet very predictable. You get them out of their ordinary daily routines and tell them to just be Jesus to the people around them,” he said. “It may take some time, but I’ve never seen it fail. Their faith grows legs, they begin to see people like Jesus saw people, and they begin to have a heart to help everyone around them. Even when we return, they’ll never be the same. They’ll carry the ability to see as God sees and to help as God helps for the rest of their lives.”
Great Lakes Church
7600 75th St., Suite #220