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Service Learning: Much Better than Anti-Wrinkle Cream!

There are times when I think I am too old to work with adolescents. My memory fails me. My back hurts and my knees creak. I don’t know how to Snapchat, and I wouldn’t know 5 Seconds of Summer from...five seconds of summer! How can someone my age relate to today’s generation of teens?

But then I go on another mission trip with high schoolers and something amazing happens.

I am inspired and energized by young people who give up a week of their summer to serve those in need—and pay to do so! I see them scraping paint off a small mission church in 103-degree heat—without complaint and with lots of laughter. I watch them gently chatting with elderly people in an assisted living residence, bringing smiles to wrinkled faces. I gaze in wonder at them dancing with Native Americans after working out in the sun all day. And I am renewed.

I know young people often get bad press. But so many of them live up to Pope Francis’ challenge from World Youth Day 2016:

"The time we are living in does not call for young couch potatoes but for young people with shoes -- or better -- boots laced...Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths."

The youth I meet on summer mission trips aren’t sofa sitters. They have the courage to share their gifts and talents with those who need them the most! And they do so with joy. I feel a deep connection with them, one which transcends age and generations. They care.

It saddens me when ministry leaders let fear, frustration, or exhaustion keep them from giving youth the life-changing experience of mission. Who knows what might have happened to that one young person who needed to serve? It might have opened the door to a vocation, to a service career, or to being a better, kinder, more giving person. It might have made the world a better place!

"God expects something from you," Francis told the young people in Krakow. "God hopes in you...He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different.” I believe in mission trips with youth. They can make the world better—one square foot at a time! They can connect the generations and bring all of us together. They can reveal the face of Christ to the world.

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