When a center serving adults with disabilities moved into a business park area, it sought to tone down the warehouse feel of the building and create a more welcoming exterior.
“We were fixing it up and making it look more inviting,” Ethan Sutton said.
The recent New Palestine High School graduate and other youth from Mt. Comfort Church painted the ramp railing and removed some mulberry trees. Then they created flowerbeds and planted hostas, ornamental grasses, a Japanese maple and flowers — creating a place where people using wheelchairs can sit on a back patio of the center and enjoy nature.
Youth and adult leaders from the local church traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in July, where the group broke into smaller teams and offered community service at several sites. They stayed at the same location, but after breakfast and group devotions would go to their different work assignments before coming back together in the evenings for dinner and evening chapel for the youth groups gathered.
GROUP Mission Trips organizes such trips for youth groups, who arrive not knowing what task they’ll be assigned and work alongside youth from their own church and other congregations. Mary Ann Crisman, discipleship director at Mt. Comfort Church, said she loves that there’s some mixing in the groups and that teams of youth from different churches have to size up the task and group members’ strengths on the spot.
“There’s some good interpersonal skills,” she said. “That’s some good real-life skills for the kids to learn.”
Sutton said as his group worked at the achievement center, he got to know some of the other youths better, beyond the ones has was already friends with. “We grew closer working together and practicing faith together,” he said.
He also learned from talking with some of the adults the center serves. He noticed some wanted to socialize but didn’t always have as much to say, so he tried to further engage them in conversation. “They still enjoyed the conversation, and you kind of had to pry it out of them.”
Jordan Clark said she learned about the importance of attitude during the trip. By the Tuesday of the trip, she was struggling. She had suffered a torn ACL about a year ago but with an adult leader carried two metal cabinets down a set of stairs. She was trying to listen to her body but still work hard. The showers where the group was staying required pushing for a little water, and pushing again for some more, and that made it harder to wash her thick, curly hair.
(And before the group even left on the trip, two of the rental vans it had reserved were part of a recall. Then a rental trailer was stolen before they picked it up. The group rode to Wisconsin in the third version of its rental car order.)
“I just felt Satan really dogging on me: ‘Look at all the negative aspects of this trip,’” Clark said. But some of the lessons shared in the group’s daily devotions, plus talking with one of her youth leaders, helped her experience a shift that made the rest of the week better.
“There are so many things we need to be thankful for,” said Clark, a recent Lawrence Central High School graduate. “God has blessed us with so many things; I think that really stuck with me.”
Among other tasks, her group painted desks at a school for girls, rolling whiteboard paint on the desks, and mulched a playground.
Another crew cleaned, sorted and tagged clothes at a thrift store whose proceeds benefit a charity in the area. Another served at a YMCA, offering help with cleaning, painting and other maintenance tasks. Still another tended a community garden at a senior center.
Crisman said adults on the trip try to step out of the way of the youth teams, sometimes asking questions to gently guide them on how to approach the task. She and other adult leaders see them develop critical thinking skills and enjoy the “bird’s eye view” of a group coming together around a task, often one they’ve never done before.
“It’s fun to see the kids take ownership in these projects,” she said, and “just to see the joy they display after seeing their project through to completion … not thinking about themselves and their own needs — they’re thinking about someone else and what they can do to bless them.”
They also gently guide the youths to look at their day through spiritual eyes. At the end of each day, adult leaders encouraged youths to share “God sightings,” things they’d noticed during the day and were grateful for.
“It is neat to have the kids become more aware of how God is working in their lives and the lives of others,” Crisman said. “We hope that’s something they’ll take with them.”