The teen years are full of questions, or at least they should be. It’s a time for learning what life is really about and finding purpose and direction to last for years to come. But many teens find the affluence of American life too small a challenge. I mean, is obtaining the latest gadget or following American Idol really where life is at?
Short Term trips that revolve around a service project is one tool that can pry teens out of their comfort zone and change the course of their life. Here are five things to integrate into the Short Term plans for your youth group, family members and students.
1. Learning on the front lines. How often have the convictions and opinions of your youth been tested? Do they really know what they believe and why? Do you know what you believe?
Belief-muscles get exercised in environments that create optimal learning. There is something about getting outside the comfortable into the uncomfortable that creates opportunities for growth. Knowledge flourishes when youth confront situations that challenge what they have been taught. Prepare your students for what they will face, get them talking about what they are learning, and then give them opportunities to tell others.
2. A perspective on the big picture. How many young people really know what is going on in the world? If you believe the news, not too many good things. That is a lie, of course. But how do you find out the truth? The best way is to see it first hand.
There are more human things teens can learn like how not to squeal at every bug. They can learn about malaria (although not by personal experience if you’re careful) and what it really means to be poor. They can learn more about a different culture in one week than they could learn in a year of studying textbooks. They might even find out how much they have yet to learn about other countries. Ask your student group to journal what they learn and then have a daily debriefing. The more they share their questions, comments and insights, the higher the chances that they will really be changed for the long term.
3. Training on how to make a difference. A lot of young people are idealistic. They want to save the world, but lack the practical “how to’s.” They can learn how to take the next step in changing the world if they are shown how. No matter what your short term project is, train them for it. Good preparation before the trip ensures that they will arrive in their destination ready to go from day one.
The Dream Center in Los Angeles has a method of training people how to make a difference in simple but profound ways. They are so good at it, in fact, that they routinely train other youth groups in their methods. They have also started an international training camp in Belize. Young people I know have come back from that training ready to change their city. They’ve even stuck with it for more than a year.
4. Living out the value of self sacrifice. Most students have the concept of giving to others less fortunate than themselves. But unless they are put in an environment where that is made possible, their ideas will be just that – ideas. Short term projects provide tangible ways to students to give sacrificially.
The best way to do this is to connect your youth group with people. Put faces to the projects. Talk about the “Fatima’s” and the “Daud’s” and the “Jose’s” and the “Sipoh’s.” Most of us won’t give sacrificially to a project, but we will to people. Because of this, try to get your students to connect personally with people from other cultures. Help them stay in contact with their “new friends” once they return home. Occasionally, send updates on the work.
Good Neighbor Insurance annually insures close to 100 short term teams. Check out our short-term team plans.