Each June, the Center for Ministry Development begins a new season of mission trips and youth leadership trainings. This past week, Young Neighbors in Action, Just5Days, and YouthLeader all opened across the country. This is an exciting time because it serves as a reminder for us as an organization to remember why we do what we do. Summer is an opportunity for the CMD ministry staff to switch gears from working with adults to spending time laughing, playing, praying, and serving with young people.
Personally, leading a Just5Days or YouthLeader week-long summer experience always brings me back to the memories of when I was a youth minister in Las Vegas. I still keep in touch with many of the youth I ministered with and I love to follow how their lives have grown over the years. Many now have children of their own and a few even are youth ministers in their parishes. We had such good times and many summer adventures together. I would have to say that of all my ministry efforts, traveling with youth during the summer was by far the most memorable and I believe the most impactful to their faith.
There is something very special about being able to travel with youth to a retreat, conference, or mission trip. I will always cherish the special memories of packing up our church van and heading off on some great adventure. Oh the stories I could tell! Like the time Fr. Bill got the church van stuck in the sand at the beach – again! Or the time the van broke down while crossing the desert when it was 120 degrees. It was so hot that we walked to a nearby hotel and asked if we could jump in their pool to cool off. The crazy thing was the hotel actually let us!
There are also memories of special moments when I felt God’s grace powerfully with us. Once when we were on a mission trip to Mexico, we visited a migrant worker camp where people lived in unimaginable poverty. I remember pausing to watch the youth of my parish laughing and giving piggy-back rides to hundreds of squealing children in the camp. I felt so humbled by their openness to play with the kids and so very proud of their desire to show God’s love to others. Later that night while sitting around the campfire, the youth shared with one another about their experiences of meeting the people who lived in the camps. They had many questions about why there was so much joy amongst so much suffering. I remember that we talked for many hours into the night before praying for the people we had met.
I can look back now and see that I learned so much more about faith from the youth in my parish than they may have learned from me. Young people truly are a witness to God’s grace in the world. They are a blessing and a gift to our parish communities. Tonight as I write this post, fifty middle schoolers are asleep (hopefully) next door preparing for their first day of service at Just5Days. Tomorrow, they and the adults who are accompanying them will create their own special youth ministry memories. I ask that you pray for them and all the young people who are setting off on their great youth ministry adventures this summer. May this be the summer that touches their hearts and opens their ears to the call to discipleship. I also ask that you to pray for the youth ministers and adults who will travel with youth this summer because without willing adults there would be no great adventure for our young people.
Finally, thank you to all the young people I have had the joy of spending a summer. You are the inspiration behind my call to serve.