Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teen with a mission?

I have mixed feelings about teenagers and missions trips. And I've had mixed experiences. One observation is that because of a certain amount of immaturity, teens are subjected to special rules, which may in turn drive them to feel like less is expected of them because they are young.

On the flip-side, teens often lack a lot of the analyzing that we do as adults. I can remember being bolder about witnessing, because I wasn't worried so much about offending someone because of culture, religion, or otherwise. Again, it's both a plus and a minus.

I can remember a lot of occasions when my teenage peers and I displayed behavior that, when looking back, was not the best witness for Christ. The interesting thing about my situation was that the Russian camp staff watched me grow up, in a way. Although I was aware of being "set-apart," I still went through all the normal teenage struggles. But I was sincere in wanting to serve the Lord. Some of us hide our "ugliness" better than others, but we are all still being refined. As missionaries, our weaknesses are going to come out in one way or another. +/-

Earlier this week, some youths 5-10 years younger than I shared about their recent short-term missions experiences. It was good timing because I had been reading my old Russia journals from the teen years and reminiscing about all my various experiences.

I am really glad that I have these journals. It is so obvious that I'm young from the way I describe things. In some ways it was my place to complain, as I tried to refrain from complaining while serving. Yet I can remember the progression of my thoughts and the spiritual growth that was going on in my heart. I chose my words very carefully so that I would remember. The details are a bit boring, but I included them all deliberately.

The following entries describe a chain of events over a week's time, including a tragedy that happened while we were at camp.

Thurs. July 6th (2000)

Today there were "Olympics" again. Alice led the morning meeting. Her topic was Godly Wisdom. Today was Ira's day off, so Lena came to Group 56 with me instead. I didn't have anything specific planned to do with them. It began to rain very hard and there was thunder and lightning. I spoke to the girls about God a little bit. Some of them believe in reincarnation. One girl has a pet rat named Jessica.

Lena was afraid of it and it nearly brought her to tears. Then we just talked about favorite pets and colors and things. I wrote in some girls' journals. I told them I would do gospel bracelets tomorrow.

Later, people from the village came again. The little girl was all dressed up. She looked really cute. We watched the closing ceremony for the Olympics. Kids received awards in each sport. Various groups performed. We didn't have a prayer meeting because of the various activities taking place.

I went back to the Fisherman's House. I kept hearing music and applause and laughter. Olga told me that they had inflated the bouncy castle. I went over there and found Kirk, Mary, Elliott, Jeff, Tim, Vova Music, and some others. You could swing from a rope to the bouncy castle.

Sat July 8th (2000)

At breakfast I heard that there had been a car accident involving Vova Music, Sasha, and Sergei. The meeting was very quiet and solemn. We prayed about the accident. We had heard that Sasha's neck was broken. Then we sang and my dad led devotions...

We tried to plan for Bible study but found ourselves stuck, so we prayed about it. We decided to just sing and pray with the kids. Later there was another outdoor disco. Faith passed along some of her kindergarten kids to me, so I had a little mob. We signed cards for Vova and Sasha, and for Marina, whose birthday is tomorrow. Sergei may go to jail since he was driving.

The bouncy castle was open but the boys were being really rough. I have a skinned knee now from Tim shoving me.

Thurs July 13

After lunch we had practice for the square dance to be performed Friday night. The end of the session is almost here, so there are a bunch of evening concerts. My partner is Elliot. Then there are Matt and Ira, Faith and Tim, and Andrea and Jeff. Alice was teaching us, but she's not feeling well. One of the dances ("Hurry hurry") is tricky, so we had a little trouble. Afterwards it was too late to visit my group, so I skipped it.

We didn't have time to do much in terms of prayer meetings. The concert tonight featured kids impersonating pop stars. We were hanging around outside the Club before it started. I noticed a couple groups of team members huddled around looking worried. I asked a few people what was wrong, but no one would tell me. I figured there had been a fight, because certain members had begun to get on each other's nerves. Courtney looked really upset. I asked what was wrong and she said, "I think you can figure it out," not in a mean way, just in a hushed voice. At that moment I realized that Vova had died. I said "Oh" and Courtney nodded. I felt kind of stupid that I hadn't figured it out before and annoyed that no one had told me. Elliot came up to me, and I wasn't sure if he knew yet, but he gave me a hug, and it wasn't a silly hug but a sad one. A couple of us went over to pray silently with those about to perform.

At 11, we had a team meeting about Vova. It was very solemn. Also, I was hungry, so my stomach kept growling. We did some sharing and praying. I hated seeing everybody so sad. Having witnessed Vova's baptism last year and seen how kind he was I feel confident that we will see him in heaven. I feel that God will use this somehow. But it's hard to explain to the kids and everybody why things like this happen.


  1. As a youth group leader i have the same sorts of feeling a lot. i would love to take my yutes on a trip and have. I think it depends on where you take them. Is the Xian culture though of as conservative and stiff, will the culture of the American teen's boisterousness spark good conversation with the locals about the grace of X. Or will it just cut us of from people being able to beleive that we are Xians.
    There is also the issue of what they will be doing. Laurel and I thought of taking some of ours, down to Haiti to do some work. but what would they do? When we talked to some of the group's that bring teens down there to find out what they did. it was paint/stack cinder blocks. In Haiti where getting work for locals and the average wage is 1USD a day that makes no dollars or sense for the local people and really does not help Haitian people.
    Missionaries (speaking as an ex YWAMer) should be bringing some practical form of help to the people that they are serving.
    We have found that doing local in the US trips work wonderfully with ours.
    We do 'mission-builder' trips to ministries that need hand laborers. This way the people we are serving understand the american teen better then others. And often they want to provide the yutes blessings of their own growth.
    As for a place like the camps in russia. does it make sense to send a teen there. I say yes, they are not taking work form the locals, and I am sure that the love they are able to give the children there out ways the sillyness that being young brings.

  2. Yeah, the camp situation was such that the Russians even encouraged us to bring kids, as it was a kid-friendly environment and offered opportunities for cultural exchange. The teens were better than anyone with the sports, crafts, etc. We just had to make sure they followed the same rules as the campers in order to set a good example.

    Camp, performance, or construction trips are probably the best options for teenagers. As long as it doesn't "take work away from the locals," as you said.


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