This year a group of 60 of us traveled from Tampa to Anchorage for the high school mission trip. This trip was an incredible experience in so many ways. Here are a couple of highlights.
Alaska could not be more different than Florida. The sun set each night around 12:30 am and rose again at 3:30 am. In between it never really got dark; it was more like dusk. The city of Anchorage feels more like wilderness than city. It is a place that is surrounded by mountains, rivers, and wild life.
On our first day at the church a group of us went to the playground/field area in the back of the church during our free time. This church is in the middle of a neighborhood in the middle of Anchorage. And yet, a couple of minutes later, a couple of our students begin yelling “There’s a bear!”
And sure enough, not 30 feet from the playground, was a wandering black bear. Yes, Alaska felt very different from what we were used to.
Which was perfect.
One of my goals is to have our mission group serve in places that are very different from what they are used to. By being somewhere new, the students and leaders naturally come out of their shells much quicker than they do at home.
Our mission team bonded together in unique and powerful ways as we explored the wild frontier.
The Vacation Bible School
This church has a bus ministry that runs every Sunday of the year. It is comprised of about 15 school buses. Volunteers from the church go through training to get a special license in order to drive the buses. Then the buses depart between an hour or two before church to pick up any student- kindergarten through high school- that wants to come to church.
During the week of VBS, the bus ministry picked up over 500 kids. In all, this church averaged 800 kids every night at Vacation Bible School.
Our youth were put in charge of various activities of the VBS. Some led the kids in crafts. Others were put in charge of working with a team of middle schoolers (Go Orange Team!). Personally, I was given the task of leading middle school field games (not for the faint of heart).
Our high schoolers were up to the challenge.
Every night they met around 4:30 pm and rode on the buses to pick up kids. On the bus rides, our students talked with the kids, got to know who they were, what they liked about VBS, and more. Some students reported bonding with particular kids that would open up about their hopes, struggles, and questions of faith.
Then our students would help lead Vacation Bible School from 7 to 9 pm before escorting the kids back to the buses.
This is in addition to the work projects that the students completed each morning. I am so proud of the work that the high schoolers did this week.
By far, the most enjoyable part of the trip for me was the “debrief” time that we had each night.
We would begin meeting as a large group by sharing in a time of worship. We would then share “Shout Outs”- a tradition of our youth trips that dates back at least 9 years. The students would share times when they saw other students working hard or putting in extra effort- and they would give a shout out to that person.
We would end our time together in our small groups. This was a time to share more deeply about the experiences of the week and how they felt God working in their life.
One night we asked our college leaders to share their faith stories during small group time. I was blown away by the authenticity and passion by which our college leaders spoke of their faith. They genuinely shared the ups and downs of their spiritual lives throughout high school and college in a way that was relatable to every student there. I was inspired to hear how God had worked so uniquely in each person’s life. The testimonies reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:
“I am confident that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” -Philippians 1:6
After the college students shared, other high schoolers volunteered to share their stories as well. It is incredible to know how God works behind the scenes, sometimes in very subtle ways, in each and every person’s life. God works to complete the good work that God is doing in each of our stories.
Now we are home. The jet lag has worn off. The sun actually sets at night. I don’t have to be on high alert for bear and moose in my neighborhood. It is good to be home.
But I will cherish this mission trip to Alaska. I will continue to reflect on the stories of our high schoolers and the many ways that God is active in their lives. I’ll continue to be amazed at a church that can mobilize volunteers to offer a ride to any kid that wants to come to church. I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to see a part of God’s beautiful creation that is so different from our Florida beaches.
Thank you, PCPC, for supporting a youth ministry that allows it’s students to travel outside of their comfort zones into the unique places of our world. It is clear that both here and in Alaska, God is at work.