Mission Trips

For many youth groups, trips are a time to work on service projects, see other youth groups and learn about a common theme.


Others go on trips working alongside the youth in their group and learn more about the people they share their lives with.


The youth from St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Avon, Conn., andShekinah Chapel in Riverdale, Ill., were able to experience a completely different kind of trip.


Instead of working on a project for a week or meeting hundreds of other youth, these youth groups visited each other for a week, doing just that, spending time together - being together in the spirit of Christ.


Building community - cross-culturally


Yehiel Curry, pastor of Shekinah Chapel, and Daniel Hille, pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, decided to do a cross-cultural travel experience like this prior to the 2015 ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit to teach humanity and community beyond location or preconceived ideas.


"When Reverend Hille contacted me to discuss a mission exchange project, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I did not know much about St. Matthew Lutheran Church, but I knew a lot about Dan and that was enough to proceed with the project," said Yehiel.


"From the onset, Pastor Curry and I had shared the mind frame that this would not be a 'programming' trip. By that we meant the goal of our time together was not to build a house, paint a building or any one overarching service project," said Daniel. "Instead, our time together was focused on living together in our communities."


The activities for each congregation's visit were chosen to "show off" the areas where they would be spending time. "All the activities picked for this year's trip were selected to show off the greater Hartford area and engage participants in activities that are a regular part of summer life in Connecticut," said Daniel. Hiking, river rafting, amusement parks and state parks are just a few things that the youth were able to experience during their time together in Connecticut.


Young people lived alongside and with each other in their home communities and neighborhoods, doing regular things that young people and their congregations do in the summer. They were able to form and reshape their opinions and understandings based on the people, places and experiences and not on what they may have learned from the media, headlines or conjecture before the trips.


First-hand experiences are the key


"I think that at the core of ministry is relationships, thus learning how to connect with people from all backgrounds is quintessential, not only in ministry, but for life in general. To be able to see people for who they are despite differences in skin color, location, political affiliation, music choices, etc., is an invaluable life lesson," said Daniel.


"At Shekinah Chapel, we are blessed to serve as host for many groups in the ELCA who visit the Chicago area. So many have accompanied Shekinah Chapel as we shared our story and immersed others into our community. I wanted our children to experience and understand accompaniment in a different community," said Yehiel.


It takes a lot of people to plan, arrange and coordinate everything that happens in an experience like this. There are the congregations, families, families of youth and the young people involved, but there are also local businesses that opened their doors to the groups. Being able to visit those businesses was a major contributor to youth being able to see what each other's communities were like.


Each youth group was able to help the other with community events hosted by the congregations each summer. Shekinah Chapel holds an annual Block Club Party that St. Matthew was invited to be a part of, and St. Matthew has an annual Rolling Hills 5k Run/Walk that was run by the two youth groups.


Different, but not different


"The trip has opened up their eyes to the wider world of ministry, showing not only the differences in the differing contexts but also the similarities in the face of those differences," said Daniel.


Parents also saw the change in their children. Christine Kryzwick, mother of a 15-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter from St. Matthew, shared that her children have learned some valuable things because of the trips. "They have become much more aware that the perceived differences between these two groups is not real and feel that they all have the same interests as teenagers living in faith regardless of other factors."


Giving high school students the opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people is something that will stay with them forever. "My daughter went to Chicago last year and loved the excitement of a new place, new friends and the comfort of being with the kids who were already friends," said Christine.


"Because our children know they will see the children of St. Matthew again, they have maintained the relationships that were started last year. This experience has created an expectation for our grammar school youth -- who were too young to participate -- for a similar experience," said Yehiel.


"We are already having planning discussions for 2016."


Download this video describing the 2012 Mission Trip to Yakima, WA.

Here's how Shea described her experiences on two mission trips:


"The second mission trip i went on, we worked in San Diego with the homeless. This was an eye opener as well.  I always knew there were homeless people living everywhere, but the homeless population there is huge and it made me realize that I have so much.  I didn't actually do much interaction with the homeless, but I sorted canned food for them.  This wasn't what I was expecting, and I didn't feel like i was helping a whole bunch, but I know that someone ate the food I sorted through.  It was a good experience, but it wasn't as amazing as the mission trip before where I could see my work making a difference.  All in all it was a great trip and this one also helped strengthen my faith."


"We painted houses and play with kids on the reservation. that was one of the best experiences of my life.  Not only did I make tons of friends, but my relationship with God has strengthened as well.  It also show me how lucky I am.  I didn't realize that people on reservations had such different experiences.  It was a big eye opener and it was a blessing."


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America