The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Don't just plan a mission trip …

build an experience

Maria Sykes is experienced at hosting the volunteers who often descend on her rural, isolated community of Green River, Utah. Volunteers tend to drop in, work hard and leave, requiring considerable management from Sykes and her Green River Community Center colleagues during their stay.

But Sykes also works with Colorado Lutherans who come for a "three-day explosion of energy and positive attitude." After they leave, they exchange emails and pictures with their Green River hosts and follow the community center on Facebook. "That gives us inspiration throughout the year," said Sykes, co-founder of Epicenter, a nonprofit agency that relates to the center.

A quick
A quick "go green" group huddle starts the day of service for Lutherans from Boulder, Colo.

This summer congregations will load up vans, count heads on buses and navigate airport security for mission trip experiences. Along with sunscreen and work gloves, a number of ELCA mission trip experts advocate packing reflective listening and relationship-building skills. In fact, they claim building relationships is just as — or even more — important than building that roof, shed or house.

Embarking on congregational mission trips has grown significantly in the last 20 years, said Mark J. Jackson, professor of children, youth and family studies at Trinity Lutheran College, Everett, Wash.

Recently several church leaders, including Jackson, re-examined mission trips and took a closer look at the long-term impact on recipients and participants. They asked: "Was there a richer, deeper experience to be had?"

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