The answer is yes.

Change especially happens if your student lost his passport and has to stay in Mexico for three weeks. (Not my story but a friend of mine.)

Last summer I had the extreme privilege of taking a group of students and leaders to El Salvador. It was an incredible trip filled with building a wall, doing children’s ministry, and life-changing moments for students. As part of our trip we had a free day at a local beach. (I know…tough stuff.) I was so excited to go surfing that I skipped the sunscreen bit. Three hours later, not only did I not catch any waves but my body was baked to a crisp! Later that night I found cool relief as one of the missions interns harvested an aloe vera plant from her yard. I love missions trips because of memories like that—and other more significant experiences.  

As a teenager my first missions trip was to this same country. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and believers there in El Salvador. I remember as a student the sweaty bus ride on our way out of San Salvador to our work site in the mountains. As we left the city I will never forget seeing a shanty town for the first time in my life. God started to break my heart for these people. It wrecked me to think that people actually lived without running water, electricity, or TV. I thought, “This needs to change.” As I have grown, I have learned that I really needed to change first. I’ve never been the same since. This is what youth workers want for students: positive lasting life change.

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How do we make sure that our students experience lasting transformation?

First, we do have to trust that God will orchestrate moments like I had on my first trip. Second, when students have life-changing moments they typically feel the need to act. Part of the experience is what you do with your students when you get home. If we provide no debrief or pathways for students to process their memories, their experiences will be just a great summer memory. However, if we do the hard work of providing pathways for them to respond, it creates space for God to continue the transformation.  

Part 2 will describe a few tools and ideas that we have used over the last few years that we found helpful and some major follow-up failure on our part. Before I write that, I’m curious to see what you’ve found helpful.  

What are some tools that you’ve found helpful in providing space for God to continue working in your students’ lives?

Any missions trip blunders that you want to share?  

Jason Veliquette

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  • ErinThomas says:


    Thanks for this post. I totally agree with you and am very interested to see part 2. We are getting ready to plan our follow up for our most recent mission. It is all too easy to get back from a trip (whether local or international) and get back into the swing of things and “forget” to effectively follow up. But it’s crucial.

    Two weeks ago we partnered with 3 other Presbyterian churches in SoCal to do a Middle School Mission trip (6-8th grades) during the day for a whole week. Each day a different city. Each youth pastor arranged the day in their city. Each church was responsible for getting their kids to the site each day. We did yard work for women just released from prison into a halfway house. We packed up paperback books to mail to folks in prison (Prison Library Project). We visited HomeBoy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, fed the homeless in a park, worked at a food bank, did yard work with Habitat for low-income senior citizens. The last day, we went to the beach to Surf Camp, just to be kids. It cost us all of about $50/kid plus transportation. We had them bring a sack lunch every day and we did a devotional from Luke about being servants.

    One day when we were walking back after feeding the homeless, one of our 8th grade boys said to me, “Pastor Erin….we did so little…and yet we did so much.” and he smiled. Austin got it. And now he wants to join the church and get more involved. Kids have huge hearts for service, we just need provide opportunities for them and then continue to encourage them to live out the Gospel.

    Thanks for your good words,

    Erin Thomas
    Riverside, CA

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