I’ve been involved in events that draw young people together to serve and bless local communities on a short term basis, for many years. I’ve done this both as a leader with young people and as a community worker in an area where teams have carried out this outreach, or mission, as it is usually known.
Over that time, I’ve had good opportunity to reflect on some of the pros and cons of these times. On one hand, there’s a danger that we teach young people that sharing faith and serving communities is not a simple and every day affair, that it’s something that requires special organisation and going to somewhere “other”. There’s also a danger that local communities receive short term and fleeting input, often from people who have a very different life experience to those living there, and then are left to continue as before when the visitors are gone.
However, I believe that, done well, we can shape such times to be precious and valuable, where young people grow in confidence, develop their understanding of faith and their relationship to God and people, and bless local communities in the process.
This year in Meanwood, one of the areas where I work, a team of 8 young people who were taking part in a residential called Mission United, joined and enhanced the community work that is already going on there. For members of the local churches, they brought challenge and blessing – young people from another place, standing alongside, being vulnerable in their own inexperience but passionate in their hope for change, full of energy and enthusiasm to serve. For local residents and agency workers, it was so important to see young people in a positive light, willing and able, working hard simply to be a blessing. Those “receivers” were also presented with a challenge – to be gracious with young people who weren’t always graceful in the ways they served and to be humble enough to receive. There was opportunity for growth everywhere and that opportunity was not lost on any of those involved. It was a really great experience.
The beautiful thing about special events is that they create space for us to raise up our eyes and take a look at things from a different perspective. Sure, life doesn’t continue each day as though we’re at an amazing gig, on a once-in a-lifetime holiday, on a spiritual retreat or, indeed, on a mission residential, but memories made at those times can be precious memories indeed, not just as recollections of the past but as things which shape the way we go forward. I know great memories were made when our Mission United team joined us this April, and I know that it made a positive difference to people’s lives. I’m very grateful to have been a part of that.