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Why you can’t do a mission trip from home?

Missions is everywhere. Jesus made that clear by His final words on earth to His disciples, “…be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The call to go and make disciples, to dispense Christ love to all peoples everywhere is a call for every Christian. So why take your students on a short-term mission trip, if you could just stay home and do missions? Specifically, why do you and I expend so much energy as youth leaders to plan and prepare, asking families to put up significant amounts of money if we could just stay home and do missions in our community?

Can the answer be to do both?

At Next Step, celebrate youth groups committed to serving in their communities, quite candidly isn’t that what the church is supposed to do! And yet, we encourage and even appeal for youth leaders to come on mission trips because as a ministry we are convinced that God uses these experiences in student lives as a catalyst for life change – stepping out in faith always leads to life transformation!

There are three ways we find mission trips offer incredible life-change:

 

The Greatest Discipleship Window of Your Ministry

Over the course of a typical student ministry calendar, no other event or moment will give you as a youth leader the amount of time a student mission trip will give you to build into the lives of your students. In fact, if you added up all the hours of your weekly meetings for the entire year (52 meetings x 2 hours = 104 total hours) it would amount to less time than a one week mission trip (6 days x 24 hours = 144 total hours). The greatest discipleship window of your student ministry calendar are mission trips!

Besides the significant amount of time week-long mission trips afford youth leaders and volunteers to relationally engage with students, mission trips offer countless teachable moments. Students will experience and endure both challenging and rewarding moments as they step out in faith to do the work God has for them during their week of service.

 

Forging Strong Relational Friendships of Students

Given that your students will spend an entire week together, which will include close proximity such as a long cross country van ride together, working side by side on work projects, sleeping and eating in the same facility, and coming together each evening to worship and share what God is doing in their lives – students will forge strong and often life-long friendships with each other.

Often, we overlook the importance of Christian friendship, but as a youth minister myself, giving students opportunities to not only create shared memories together but presenting them the opportunity to share their lives together through a focused week of mission is a high priority. The benefit of giving your students the ability to build a strong community of like-minded peers when they return home and are confronted by all sorts of influences at home, in school, and around their neighborhood – is invaluable!

 

Ingredients for Growing Faith

Mission trips provide all the ingredients for a student to take that next step and grow in their personal faith and relationship with Christ. Students are removed from their typical everyday life, cell phones and social media are blocked out, family and friends from school are not near, and students will repeatedly be asked to try new things often in different cultures far outside their comfort zones.

When we choose to stay in comfortable situations, we stagnant in our faith and ultimately fail to see our need for God. Stepping out in faith always leads to life transformation, it may not be easy and there may be missteps along the journey but giving your students that opportunity is worth the investment!

 

Whether you choose to stay home this summer and focus your efforts on serving your community or you choose to do a traditional one week student mission trip, Next Step is for you and your students – may God be glorified!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Mission Trip Support Letter?

Support raising is one of the most intimidating things you will ever do! Asking others for money to help fund your trip is humbling, difficult – yet at the same time rewarding – experiencing first hand how God uses other people to provide for your needs…it is truly amazing!

To best help you prepare to fundraise for your trip, we have done two things: 1) Crafted a sample support letter, for you to grab some ideas out of to make it your own 2) Written up the following bulleted items for you to consider as you sit down to write your support letter.

 

Before the Letter

  • Pray!
  • Brainstorm a list of all the people whom should receive your letter.
  • Gather address and insert a pre-address envelope for any donations.
  • Create a response card for your donors to return in the pre-addressed envelope to track giving and needed thank you responses.
  • Pray: Did we mention that this should be top priority?

Writing the Letter

Introduce Yourself

  • Personal Greeting: Hand write reader names (avoiding general titles of “Dear Friend”).
  • Provide a Personal Update: Bring reader up to date on your life, what are you currently doing involved with in life

Explain the Mission

  • What you are doing: Describe what will you be doing. For all Next Step trips, read our “Trip Overview” for an accurate description of your mission trip.
  • Who are you going with: Educate about your church/youth group, Next Step Ministries, and any community partners you will be serving with on your trip.
  • Why you are doing it: What has prompted you to go on this mission trip.

Ask for Ministry Partners

  • Explain your need: Clearly and specifically state your need for x amount of prayer partners and x amount of dollars by a specified deadline.
  • How can they give: Inform how they can support (financial/prayer) you. Provide every detail needed for each potential donor to financially join your team. 

Express Your Thanks

  • Emphasize your thankfulness, appreciation, and gratitude for their consideration of joining your team!

After the Letter

Keep excellent records of your response cards of any donation that comes through so that you can write a personal thank you card to those who have sacrificially given to support your trip. A good idea is to also write a follow up letter after your trip sharing with each partner all that God did on your mission trip.

Lastly, support raising is a step of faith and the best place to begin is with prayer. Take time to pray and ask God to help you through this whole process! You are about to embark on an incredible adventure, not only on this upcoming mission trip, but also trusting in God for His provision for the needed funds. Throughout Scripture, time after time – God provides. We absolutely know that this will be an opportunity for you to grow in your dependence on God as you trust in Him to provide for your needs this summer!

 

Extend the Impact of Your Mission Trip: Passion Projects!

Over the past 10 years, Next Step has partnered with over 20 communities and has served with over 500 families and organizations through construction projects and service work. It has been thrilling to see God at work through every nail hammered, roof repaired, wheelchair ramp built, and more. When students come on a trip with Next Step the money raised for their trip fee goes directly towards the materials used to complete the work projects. It’s amazing to see what happens when students commit to giving back to a community. But sometimes needs arise that go beyond what our mission trip costs can provide.

If money were no object, our on-the-ground Partnership Coordinators in each community have big dreams of how they would love to bless their communities and build in their neighborhoods in ways that go far beyond our financial abilities on mission trips. They have worked these dreams into Passion Projects and are working towards getting funding from different businesses and partners within their own community. These Passion Projects range widely depending on the community, but some examples include an electrical work project for a family, improving a community night, and building an urban community garden. This is a fun new opportunity that goes beyond a mission trip.

Would it be crazy to ask if your youth group would be willing to adopt a Passion Project this summer?

If you would like to adopt a Passion Project with your students and continue in making a difference in one of these beloved communities, long after your trip – let us know! Each project focuses on a specific need that falls outside a typical mission trip that a community is facing and met with a plan to help meet that need. We pray one of these Passion Projects could challenge and inspire your students to make a difference.We are excited to see what God will do and pray for His Kingdom to come here as it is in heaven.

Check out the links below to read about the specific community Passion Projects.

South Carolina

Ohio

Colorado Springs

New York

Los Angeles

West Virginia

Guatemala

Questions? Ready to adopt a passion project? Contact me at: kinsey.tucker@nextstepministries.com or Donate Now at https://nextstepministries.com/donate/

Scooter Scott Program Update

What’s been happening at the Scooter Scott Program?

The Scooter Scott Program is an amazing ministry doing so much in our community for years now! Next Step has personally partnered with them for almost six years, which has been a tremendous honor and blessing.  Continue Reading…

Youth Missions Fundraising eBook

Mission trips are exciting, yet we know that same excitement so quickly can fade away when confronted by fundraising efforts. Fundraising, for many, can be uncomfortable, placing you far out of your comfort zone. This is why we have created our Youth Missions Fundraising eBook, filled with creative and detailed plans to get your next fundraiser all ready to go at your church!

Listed below are a few of our favorite fundraisers, download the ebook for a complete listing:

Pastor Bobblehead: The concept is simple: create a bobblehead of your pastor or a prominent staff member. The key is to do the right person at the right time. A great time to do this is if you have someone retiring, a new hire, a birthday or a special event. We have seen this fundraiser used for a pastor retiring, which brought in thousands of dollars!

Purchase Miles: Most churches going on a mission trip have quite a few miles to drive, so here is a visible and fun way for your congregation to help their youth arrive at their destination. Create out of poster board a large mileage scale (bar graph) showing clearly how many miles it takes to reach your mission field. Determine the price it will cost you to travel to your destination. Divide the total cost of the trip by the number of miles it takes to get there to find the cost per mile that you’re trying to raise (e.g. $10,000.00/500mi. = $20.00 per mile). And then…Sell miles! People can give $10 to buy a half mile, $20 for a whole mile.

Parents’ Night Out: Youth can give parents a night out by babysitting their kiddos for a donation! Plan games, crafts, movies, and music for the kids and see how not only a large donation comes in but also how the relationships will forms and grows between your youth and the children at the church!

50s Dinner: Themed dinners are great fundraisers for everyone! There are so many themes to choose from (e.g. 50’s, Italian, Mexican, Hawaiian, etc.), but remember, if you want to make this dinner a memorable experience for your congregation, as well as have this be an annual fundraiser for you, your presentation is very important! This event requires many volunteers and a lot of work to get it all set up, however, it can be very profitable and tons of fun!

Chili Cook-Off: During those cold winter months, a chili cook off is a wonderful way to warm up. This is a great event to do right after church on a Sunday. With this event, your dollar investment is low and your profit margin is high.

Rent-a-Youth: This event can be a great deal of fun, as well as a great opportunity to help out those in your congregation who are in need of help with physical labor around their homes. This event would be great to be coupled with one of the dinners, and another way to draw in your needed audience. The key to this fundraiser will truly rely on your volunteer base, especially that of the auctioneer’s ability to work the crowd.

Singing Telegram: Does your youth group have some talented singers in it? If yes, you could start an ongoing singing telegram service! You could sing over the telephone, deliver the singing telegrams in person, place of work, or at your local church.

Dog Wash: Here is a unique fundraiser for your youth group. Everyone needs their dogs groomed and pampered once and a while, so why not pamper them and have their money given to a worthy cause at the same time. For one day or weekend, a church congregation and their friends bring in their pets for grooming (partnering with a local groomer’s shop is ideal)!

Company Sales Partnership: Pizza Hut and Krispy Kreme both offer fantastic fundraising programs. They are perfect for raising money in your congregation or local community.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Local and professional sporting teams and events are always looking for volunteers to run their concession stands. Many concession companies (such as Aramark) will give non-profit organizations 10 percent of the sales that is sold during the sporting event. We have heard youth groups bringing in nearly 50K from this type of fundraiser!

 

For our complete list of ideas and plans for each fundraising ideas, click HERE

 

Seven Reasons to Send Students on Short-Term Mission Trips

“Are short-term student mission trips worth the cost and the planning fatigue…What possible long-term impact can your students truly have on another community in just 5 days’ time?”

As a youth leader, ever wondered these things…?

You are not alone. Many have. And many will continue to doubt, but at Next Step we believe taking your students on a mission trip is worth it – here are seven reasons why!

 

7) Mission Trips Build Community

144 hours. This represents the amount of time your students share together on any week-long mission trip. As in every student ministry, you have an eclectic collection of teens who vastly differ in their personalities, preferences, and interests. Mission trip living provides students the opportunity to create and share memories as they road-trip together, eat together, worship together, work and sweat together, live together, and on and on the list goes! The relationships forged during this one-week trip will allow for a deeper and more rich community when you return home!

 

6) Mission Trips Fosters Lasting Partnerships

When your students begin to serve with local churches and organizations, hearts are enlarged to the need of the community and also for the work that God is already doing to provide for these needs. Students will form relationships with community partners and members that will continue long after they return home. Your youth group will be challenged to stay involved in the community you partner with by praying with and for and supporting in whatever way is needed to help continue the work of God!

 

5) Mission Trips Expands Student Hearts to God’s Heart

Students are forced out of their isolated and often self-centered worldview to see and experience a God who compassionately loves and extends His love to all peoples regardless of race, economic status, or location. Missional participation always leads to life transformation – a transformation that awakens mission trip participants to God’s greater global mission for all peoples everywhere to know and understand the wonderful love of Jesus Christ.

 

4) Mission Trips Develop Spiritual Gifts

A mission trip is one giant gym for you to empower your students to exercise their spiritual gifts to extend service and love to the community you are partnering with! Consider the countless opportunities you will be given over the entirety of the next 144 hours to challenge your students in using their unique and amazing gifts God has given to them to serve and love fellow mission trip participants and community members.

 

3) Mission Trips Challenge Fears

By growing up in America, students often lack any understanding or experience of what it means to solely rely upon God to provide and sustain through the challenges of this life. Every day of a mission trip, students will have constant opportunities to break out of comfort zones and be reminded of their need to grow in their trust and dependence of God.

 

2) Mission Trips Ignite Missional Living

Living so focused in service and love, mission trips ignite students to return home to take that next step in living out their faith! By giving the opportunity to partner with such faithful and beloved missionaries for one week, students return home pumped to model their lives after these incredible examples: whether that is in beginning to serve in their church, sharing their faith with friends, or consistently reading their Bibles and praying for others in their youth group!

 

1) Mission Trips Fulfills Our Purpose!

Jesus’ parting words were, “Go and make disciples of all nations!” Taking students on a mission trip is often the beginning of their own lifelong commitment to God’s word and participation in God’s global mission. Mission trips are often the critical piece needed for students to commit their lives to following after Christ – perhaps this was true for even you?

 

Where will you serve with your students this summer?

 

 

 

How to Plan Transportation for Your Mission Trip

Does the thought of a long 8 hour road trip already make your head spin and leave you feeling exhausted? Maybe thinking about transportation for a mission trip puts you in a panic before you can even select your trip location! It sure is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders when thinking about safe driving, where to stop, when to stop, and more.

Believe it or not, for many students the drive to and from the mission trip is a highlight! On the way to the mission site a long drive gives an opportunity for students to get to know each other. On the way back home a long drive is the perfect place for your kids to reminisce over inside jokes that emerged on the trip, share testimonies, discuss ways to live differently, look at pictures, etc. Travel may be the most exhausting part of your trip, but it may also be more rewarding than you could ever imagine as it gives time and space for your students to keep connecting after the trip is over.

Thinking through transportation can actually be a helpful starting step in choosing your mission trip! Determine how far you are willing to travel with your group and this will help narrow down the options for trip locations. Are you hoping to keep your trip close to home and within a one day drive? Or maybe you are open to a longer road trip and taking a couple days to get there. Does a flying sound more appealing to you? Asking yourself these questions is an excellent place to get started.

 

Here are 3 key things to consider when exploring transportation for your mission trip:

 

Your team will need to provide your own transportation for everyday of the trip.

You will be responsible for driving your students to and from worksites everyday. You do not need a different vehicle for every work crew, but instead can plan on dropping off and picking up team members at the different locations. Some groups appreciate having a vehicle for each work crew for the comfort of having a vehicle available in case of emergency. For other groups it might not be feasible to have that many vehicles. Think about your budget and what will make your leaders most comfortable on the trip.

Split Up the Drive

If your mission trip is over 8 hours away, you may want to look into splitting the drive up into two days. In this case you’ll need somewhere to crash en route! Consider how many miles you would like to put in the first day and look at the map to pinpoint a big city for your mid-way stopping point. Once you have identified the town, it’s time to do a little research and find a friendly place to stay! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Contact local churches from your denomination. Reach out to share about your mission, explain your needs, and see if they would be able to open their doors for your group to crash on the floor! Most likely they won’t charge you, but you could leave a generous donation as a thank you.
  2. Contact a YMCA and ask about renting their facility for the night.
  3. Network! Talk with friends, co-workers, student parents, and others to see if anyone happens to have a connection in the area. If you are a smaller group, maybe there are friends in town with a big house they would be excited to open up to you! Or maybe through some networking you could get connected to another church happy to help.
  4. Talk with Next Step about it. We have many church partners through years of mission trips. We just may have someone to connect you with!

Look into flying across the country!

Some groups choose to put in the leg work to fundraise more money in order to fly to their trip destination. If your team is passionate about serving across the country or somewhere further away, consider booking flights and then renting vehicles when you land. Next Step can help talk through finding the nearest airport and any tips for getting to the site. When looking for group flights, set aside some time for some good old fashioned research! We recommend working with a travel agent, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look at group rates yourself. Try using a travel search engine or pick an airline and look up the flight options. This might be a quick way to determine if flying would even be a feasible cost for your team.

 

 

Breaking Cycles Vision: Vocational Training Center

WHY

Why are we passionate about creating a vocational training center in the middle of the small town of Sumpango, Guatemala? Because we recognize that the youth of today are the future. That the young people in Sumpango right now will be the adults in the near future. Continue Reading…

NY Passion Project

WHY

Every year we take on projects that we see could make a long lasting impact for the families we get to serve alongside. In the process of figuring what we can and cannot do, finances play a major role. With most projects, we are able to collaboratively plan for extra costs, however the challenge comes when unexpected surprises rise up. What if there was a way that money didn’t have to be as much of a deciding factor in selecting projects? What if, when those unexpected surprises came up we had a cushion to bounce up from?

WHAT

Everything that is raised will go right back into the community here in NY. There have been times where homeowners could have moved into their homes that have been vacant since Hurricane Sandy in 2013 a lot sooner if we were able to coordinate help even after the summer trips. If it comes down to hiring a contractor or a few skilled workers to finish the drywall, or stairs going into the house to get the final CO, these funds would be a crucial help.

 

HOW

A lot of the homeowners we serve alongside here in NY have inherited the homes they live in, homes passed on from generations. Many of the original owners bought theses homes at a time when living in theses communities was affordable. Times like this, when a hurricane has destroyed all that they had inherited and scams from contractors occur often, are were we get to step in share the love that they thought they had lost. Visit the convenient link below and select NY to Donate and help us go above and beyond.

(nextstepministries.com/donate)

Clendenin: Friday Summer Series

Why:

When I started brainstorming passion projects for Clendenin, I tried to really dig deep. It’s easy to have big dreams that are somewhat unattainable.

Should we do a flood wall? -No, that’s for a bigger agency, like, Army Corp of Engineers to attain, along with the millions of dollars to complete… not Next Step Ministries with a slightly smaller budget.

Should I focus on a certain project? I didn’t have one that God has been continually placing on my heart, and from past experience I knew that if that was the way I should go, He would guide me that way.

 

So eventually I came to this question: What do I dream of for Clendenin?

I dream of a town that loves one another and is knit together with unity and love for their neighbors. Isn’t that what we dream of for all communities?

This process has been years in the making in Clendenin. This town has existed long before Next Step arrived, and will exist long after we leave. So how can we be part of the process? By using our platform to advance unity in Clendenin.

 

What is it?

Each Friday night of the summer there will be a different activity to participate in for the neighbors in Clendenin, WV. The schedule will look a little something like this.

Date Activity
June 7th Food Truck Friday
June 14th Movie
June 21st Homecoming
June 28th Homemade Pie Contest
July 5th Emergency Management/4th Celebration
July 12th Mac and Cheese Cook-Off
July 19th Clendenin Car Wash
July 26th Movie
August 2nd   Tournament / Bouncy Houses

 

I wanted to make sure that this project was growing and stretching us to work hard, but also make sure we gave each other a break some weeks, so I made sure to switch up the theme of each night to create different interaction opportunities. For instance, on our homemade pie contest night, neighbors have to interact. They have to show up, or there will be no contest night. But on other evenings like Movie night, they can just attend or drop off their kids/grandkids to enjoy a fun night that didn’t take any preparation on their part.

This project won’t take much money, but I have dreams to match dollars if you feel led to give to our community events.

Actual Cost: The actual cost of these events might be $200 or so. Just enough to buy supplies like plates, forks, and maybe some fun prizes for our winners of contests.

Dream Cost: If donations are given in the $1,000 range, we will look to create t-shirts that we will be able to offer volunteers on our trips, as well as community members that are apart of the summer series. Our sponsors will be located on the back of the shirt if approved, and we will use proceeds from the t-shirt sales to contribute towards finishing the bathroom facility at Clendenin Little League Field.

 

How can you contribute?

1st – I’ll ask for a specific and quirky contribution. Do you or your church have an item you’d like to donate as a prize? To have folks from all over the country supporting this town has always been one of our favorite parts of summer missions. If you want more info on how to support in a specific way – please send me an email @ Hannah.Trautwein@nextstepministries.com and I would love to brainstorm more with you!

2nd – Click this link nextstepministries.com/donate and choose Clendenin, WV as your donation location! Again, if you would like your donation to be used towards something specific, please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know.

 

I am so excited for the ways God will lead us to new friendships this summer. Thank you for being a part of the process in Clendenin, WV!

 

Developing A Mission Mindset

We talk a lot both before our trips and during our trips about developing a mission mindset. We share qualities that we feel will be effective in helping you enter a community responsibly. As we continue to learn more about how to love and serve communities effectively, we have rebranded these names so they are easier to understand and apply when serving. Our goal is to equip and empower you to serve WELL. What do we mean by that? In serving WELL, there are four elements to live by.

What’s Your Why

Emphasize Gifts

Listen and Learn

Live It

We want these elements to be tangible ways for you and your students to engage with the communities you are entering. Read on for more details on how to grow in each of these qualities before your trip.

 

What’s Your Why

What’s your reason for serving on this mission trip? Entering a community humbly and with the right mindset is a vital aspect of serving well.

  • Take some time to journal and pray with God and ask yourself why you are truly desiring to serve, whether that’s on a mission trip or in your own community.
  • Read the gospel of John and make notes of Christ’s characteristics and attitude that you want to take on during your trip.
  • Talk with a friend or trusted mentor about the thoughts you are processing through and ask for accountability as you prepare for your trip. Ask them to text you during the trip and remind you of your WHY.

 

Emphasize Gifts

As the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to emphasize gifts through the way that we interact with the community we are serving. Each and everyone one of us, including those represented in the community you are visiting, have been created with unique talents and strengths. We challenge you to uncover and uplift those in the community you visit during your mission trip. However, you can prepare for this now!

  • Sometimes it is easy to envision dilapidated homes or research devastating statistics. During your quiet time, ask God to reveal the strengths of the community you will be serving in.
  • Conduct some research to find out what the community you are visiting is known for. Is is a quirky restaurant, historical happening, or unique landmark? Search online or connect with the Partnership Coordinator at your trip site for more info.

 

Listen and Learn

You’ve probably heard the common saying “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” You have an opportunity to take the time to truly listen to the people in the community you are interacting with on your trip. Challenge yourself to listen intently and learn their stories.

  • Reflect on someone in your life who you feel is a great listener. Journal about why you think he or she is a good listener and create a list of the qualities you see in that person.
  • Challenge yourself to practice each quality leading up to your trip. Take a quality a week and journal about your experience.
  • As your trip gets close, the best thing to do is prepare. Create a list of questions to ask community members you may come in contact with during your trip. This will give you confidence when you meet someone, knowing you already have questions ready.

 

Live It

During your trip you may come face to face with the struggles that families, individuals, and the community are facing. While it can be easy to become disheartened, we pray you will respond by living out the gospel not only throughout your trip, but long after you come home.

  • Before leaving for your mission trip, take some time to reflect on the brokenness you can identify in your own community. This can make it easier to connect to what you may experience during your trip.
  • Connect with local leaders in your community to learn about service opportunities available back home. This way you can jump right in when you return from your trip.
  • Pray for God to reveal vision for how your group can serve long term in your home community after your trip.

 

Developing a mission mindset before your trip not only helps you to serve more effectively in the community you are entering, but helps grow qualities in you that will help you to serve your own community and the people around you well. We pray that God empowers you with his Spirit to do his work well!

 

4 Steps to Serving at Home

Typically, when we return home from a mission trip, we experience a natural excitement & motivation to continue in the mindset of serving back in our home communities – we call this the ‘Mission Trip High’. All too often, however, we see this eagerness to share Christ back at home fizzle within just a couple months only to be replaced with anticipation for next year’s mission trip. For many of you, you are sitting in that exact place. It’s been a few months since your group returned home from your mission trip this summer and between summer vacation coming to a close and sinking deep in the routine of the school year, it’s safe to say that the ‘Mission Trip High’ has effectively worn off- or at least is buried underneath the new distractions and stressors that come with this season.

 

We have good news for you! Although traveling to a new destination packed in a van with your youth group for your next mission trip is certainly something to look forward to, we want to encourage you to exercise your mission mindset in your home community TODAY! The great news is that there are opportunities all around you, right at home, to live out our call to serve our neighbors on a DAILY basis. Sound like something your group is up to? Check out these tips for engaging in meaningful service projects back home.

 

1. Explore Your Connections

Is there a specific organization, family, or outreach your church is already connected to? Existing relationships are always a great place to start when considering how to connect with your community because often trusting relationships have already been formed. These connections can be through your church, your friends, family, neighbors- the possibilities are endless. Of course, there is nothing wrong with reaching out to make new connections. Just be sure that any new relationship is rooted in trust.

2. Identify Your Talents

What is your youth group good at? What type of commitment can you make as a group? Whether it’s serving food, providing childcare, organizing clothing, or mowing lawns on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis – we recommend brainstorming what exactly your youth group has to offer your community. Check out this post for guidance on how to use asset mapping in this process. This can help narrow the search when approaching local organizations, families, or ministries in partnership.

3. Assess Community Needs

Next, take some time to identify what is most needed in your community. Can your youth group fill that gap? Some ways to assess needs in your community can be through reading the newspaper, talking with community leaders like your mayor or council person, attending a town hall meeting, collaborating with local ministry leaders, asking intentional questions to your neighbors, and much more!

4. Commit to Ministry

Use your platform to build genuine relationships that honor who Christ is and are an example of his love. Nothing shows Christ’s love more than a consistent extension of kindness. Jesus was all about building relationships rooted in love and dignity. We challenge you to look to him as the ultimate example as you carry out HIS mission in your community.

 

Are you inspired to take action and begin serving in your own community? We want to hear about it and cheer you on in the process! Share your story with us on Facebook @nextstepmissiontrips or Instagram @nextstepbuzz or send us an email to tell us about it at missions@nextstepministries.com.

5 Reasons to Serve in San Augustine in 2019

Choosing a location for your summer mission trip can be a challenging task. If you and your group are still deciding on where to serve with us this summer, San Augustine might just be the perfect  location for you! Next Step been serving in San Augustine since 2014, and each summer we have continued to see God work in miraculous ways through this special community in rural East Texas. I fell in love with San Augustine the very first time I visited- from the warm welcomes, unbelievable southern cooking, to the powerful community vision. There is no doubt that this place is one of a kind.

Still not convinced on where to go? Here are 5 reasons why you should serve in San Augustine this summer:

 

1. Help with big impact projects

Like any community, San Augustine has strengths as well as challenges. San Augustine faces many economic and physical challenges such as poor living conditions and rising poverty. Partnering with this community provides an opportunity to build long lasting change in a big way. This is where you come in. Each year we have countless community members request for help on home repair projects that would hugely impact their lives. You and your team can be a part of building hope in a community by repairing a roof, building a wheelchair ramp, fixing a home, or even working on a full build. Come be a part of the big impact change in San Augustine by serving on a trip with us!

 

2. Get to know a homeowner

One of the coolest reasons to serve in San Augustine on your mission trip is the relationships you can build with the homeowner you are serving alongside. If your youth group is excited about big impact construction projects and being a part of relational ministry with homeowners, this is the perfect trip for you. The homeowners we partner with are eager to get to know you- often joining for lunch, helping with the project, or participating in a devo!

 

3. Be a part of racial reconciliation

When Next Step was invited to partner with San Augustine, we were inspired by the vision of revitalization and reconciliation in the community. Community leaders have aspirations to not only see the standard of living raised through home repair and building, but also to see their community unite together. San Augustine County, like many, suffers with disunity from neighborhood to neighborhood, which leads to pockets of hardship and tension. But beyond the physical poverty, there is also a struggle against relational segregation that San Augustine County faces. We are humbled to be asked to be a small piece of the puzzle in working towards racial reconciliation in San Augustine. By joining us on a trip to San Augustine, you have an opportunity to not only learn about deeply rooted segregation that can exist in a community, but also be a difference maker as the community strives to see reconciliation and unity. Next Step plays a unique role as a bridge builder between people experiencing division. We have an awesome opportunity to be a positive presence in the community that can give people something to have in common, instead of another thing to separate people.

 

4. Build Lasting Community Relationships

I cannot count the times community members have been baffled by the sheer fact that

each summer hundreds of youth groups from all over the country come to serve in a small rural town in east Texas, all to share the love of Christ. People in San Augustine are energized and excited by Next Step coming alongside their community to build lasting change and hope. The community is excited to host Next Step groups and build relationships each week with trip participants. They are eager to share the unique and wonderful part of their community, from joining us on a free day to the lake to offering a free Grapefruit High Ball treat at the local Drugstore. Homeowners often ask about groups that worked on their homes, keeping cards and letters from trip participants far beyond the summer. San Augustine understands what it means to build genuine community and they invite you and your group to be a part of their community far beyond a week long trip.

 

5. See Faith Lived Out

One of the most unexpected things about coming to serve in San Augustine is the ways you can be inspired in your own faith by seeing the ways community members display theirs. By many standards, it is easy to look in from the outside and view many community members in San Augustine as not having very much. In reality, they have so much because their faith in God is great. We have the privilege of working with and learning from community members whose lives are radically changed by the love of Christ. Many past trip leaders have shared with us that their students came back from their trip to San Augustine inspired by the ways they witnessed great faith in unexpected ways from seeing their homeowner provide a generous meal for their crew, to sharing about their unshakable trust in God despite the adversity they face.

 

Excited to be a part of the amazing things happening in San Augustine? Sign up for a trip HERE!

5 Pitfalls of Returning Home from a Mission Trip

Every year we see it. Students go on a life-changing mission trip and come back home excited and ready to live out their faith. However, upon arriving home MTE quickly sets in. MTE, also know as Mission Trip Effect, can be brought on by falling into one or more of several tough transitional pitfalls. Below are the top 5 pitfalls to be aware of, as well as a possible remedy for each.  

 

Pitfall #1:  Community Transition

During a mission trip your whole team of students and leaders are sleeping, eating, worshiping and working together on a daily basis. They are in a new community; meeting new, wonderful people; and serving alongside of them daily. When they get home, this is all quickly replaced with feelings of loss.

Possible Remedy: Find new and exciting ways for students to continue to partner with their mission trip community. For example, sending letters, keeping up on social media, making phone calls to community members, planning a return trip to the community again next summer, etc. Another idea is to have engaging conversations with your team, within a week or so of returning home, about how to serve and care for people right in your own home community.

 

Pitfall #2:  Social Group Changes

You’ve heard the old adage, “you become what you surround yourself with.” Upon getting home from a mission trip, students quickly move back into their old social environments and, more often than not, those environments can be a hindrance to their new commitments to Christ.

Possible Remedy:  Create social environments at your church or school that allow the students to surround themselves with people that reflect who they want to be and how they want to feel. Fostering an environment that lends to continued relationships with like-minded Christians is key to their continued growth in their relationship with Christ.

 

Pitfall #3:  Busyness of Life Back Home

Let’s face it, life just gets busy between work, sports, school, clubs, and keeping up your social profile. It’s easy to quickly let your relationship with God take a back seat.  

Possible Remedy: Encourage and lead your students when they get home to learn how to best manage their time so that God can stay the center of all they do.

 

Pitfall #4:  Idolizing the Mission Trip

The mission trip can be such an amazing experience that upon returning home students begin to idolize the mission trip experience. Students often look to the mission trip as the only way to get that same experience; as a result, they wait till the next trip to begin again to live out the mission God has called them to live out back in their communities.

Possible Remedy: Create a meeting with your youth group or school to go over how their mission trip hasn’t really ended; rather, it’s just beginning. Get families involved to brainstorm unique ways to serve along community members, seek ways to worship together, and keep that mission trip experience alive!


Pitfall #5: Programmed Daily Worship

It’s pretty much a fact that when you get home you aren’t going to be able to come home every night and have a full worship band and team of leaders excited to guide you and challenge you in your faith.

Possible Remedy: Create weekly events, if you don’t have them already with your youth group, that create a safe environment for students to continue to explore their faith, experience God and extend service to others, with music, speakers, service and good times. Just one word of warning, don’t wait until the fall to begin. When the students get back from their trip, they are pumped up and ready to go. You need to take advantage of the moment.

The Wards

‘These kids will seriously be in my eulogy. Those five weeks were the most joyful time in my entire life.’

 

As I entered their dining room for the first time since it had been a Next Step construction zone, Mrs. Ward shared the quote above. She quickly ushered me to the far side of the room where an entire wall had been dedicated to framed pictures and notes from the 5 Next Step groups who had worked on their home this summer. For the next hour and a half, I had the privilege of hearing just how much the Wards’ lives had changed as they experienced the love of Christ through the platform of home repair.

 

After being referred through our trusted partners at Neighborhood Alliance in the fall of 2017, I had the honor of meeting the Wards for the first time shortly after. As I toured their home, I was immediately impacted by the love they had for each other and their community as a whole. At the age of 70, Mrs. Ward commits 3-4 days a week to volunteering in a local thrift shop and Mr. Ward, at 74 years old, serves on the front lines of organizing fundraising efforts to send children with type 1 diabetes to a specialized summer camp. Mrs. Ward would later share with me just how nervous she was that first day as it had been a two year process for her to work up the courage to reach out for help with the growing hole in her dining room ceiling and the safety hazards on the staircases to both entrances of their home. It’s not easy asking for assistance.

 

As we got to know each other leading up to the summer, the Wards shared their stories with me. We talked about everything from their wedding 20 years ago, to their children and grandchildren, and even their separate upbringings- each full of different celebrations and challenges. As I learned more and more about this couple, I was certain that God had big things in store for what was about to unfold at their home this summer- and not just big construction projects either.

 

As I sat with the Wards just a couple of days ago, I asked them what their favorite thing was about their experience this summer. What Mr. Ward said was profound, ‘We are greatly blessed by the construction projects that took place at our home, but what really impacted us was the experience of it all.’ Mrs. Ward added, ‘The most memorable part of this experience was the hugs, dancing around my dining room with the kids, laughing, crying, and just the feeling of love like I’ve never felt it before, without any judgement.’

 

The Wards’ story is one of many displaying the power of the God we serve. Only a powerful God can create life long impacts using 5 groups of complete strangers for week long increments. Only a powerful God can use those strangers to portray a love like never experienced before. And only our powerful God can use this short period of time to change lives forever.

 

 

 

 

Back-to-School Prayers for your Students

Another summer has passed, and students are heading back-to-school. This time of year, brings great anticipations and dreams for what a new school year will bring, but it is also that time of year that causes great changes to our environment: new schedules, new teachers, new friends, and plenty of new activities with sports and music.

In the midst of the chaos of planning and strategizing your new ministry year, the buzz of being in the back-to-school season, let’s not forget that the most important thing we can do for our students is to pray. Here are five prayers I am using as I think about the students in my youth group. I trust these ideas may serve to jumpstart prayers of your own:

 

That my students would bear to life the fruits of the Spirit: 

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

 

That my students would boldly declare and demonstrate the Good News of Jesus

“Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:2-4

 

That my students would seek to serve needs of peers and community members

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Philippians 2:3-7

 

That my students would grow in encouraging one another

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

That my students would desire to grow in the truth of God’s Word

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16

How Mission Trips Play a Role in Community Development

 

Have you ever wondered if the work you did on your week-long mission trip made an impact? If the community was actually helped or if harm was done?

At Next Step, we are committed to being a place where short-term missions collide with long-term community development. What we mean by that is we believe that there is a distinct role that short-term mission trips can play in helping a community flourish in a long-term and sustainable way. But sometimes it’s not obvious how your trip contributes.

Here are four ways mission trips play signficant role in community development.

 

Incoming mission teams can provide encouragement and support to individuals who are working year-round in poverty alleviation.

Chances are that in whatever community you served in on your mission trip, there are countless nonprofits and ministries working day in and day out all year. They are pouring in and emptying themselves daily for the people of their community. You have a unique opportunity when serving on a short-term trip to pray with these ministries and encourage them in their efforts.

 

You can be a part of the larger picture of partners and organizations working together.

As mentioned above, people are working hard all year to serve alongside a community. When you enter in for a short time, you can bring resources and time to work on projects that these organizations may not be able to accomplish with everything else they have going on. Plus, as your group works with many organizations and ministries, you have a chance to be a bridge between them and create resource connections.

When you partner with local ministries, you get to be an extension of them in their community to reach more people than they could without you during the week you are there. You get to be the spark for the people you encounter that connects them back to a rooted ministry/organization for long-term growth!

 

You can have the chance to learn about the true narrative of a community and share it when you return home.

It’s easy to come into a community with preconceived notions of what people are like and have your own opinions on why things have gotten to the place they are at. What’s unique about a short-term trip is that you will meet and hear from lots of different people in the community who can tell their story so you come away with a clearer picture of the community. This is important because you can speak from a place of knowledge and experience when you go home of what this community truly looks like.

 

Mission trips can create lifelong justice seekers.

Mission trips provide an opportunity for you to learn about service and loving a community well so that you can take it home to your community. A short-term mission trip experience should never end when you get on the bus and head home. It is just the beginning of understanding poverty and the different facets of communities. Take what you learned on this trip and apply it to your own community year-round. Advocate for those in your community who don’t have a voice. Connect with organizations who want to serve alongside them. Then your mission trip begins to have a multiplying effect and the Kingdom of God is seen all across the earth. Learn more about how to engage in your own community here.

Five Ways to Engage Your Community After Your Mission Trip

Mission Trips are often the entry point for students and for youth leaders to critically examine and ask the question, “how can I serve like this in my own community”. And if you are coming back from a mission trip with Next Step, than you know our desire is for you and your church to take what you learned and experienced on your one-week mission trip and put it to use when you return home to your own community. Sounds great, right? While But where do you start? Here are five things you can do right now to engage your community after the mission trip.

 

Come up with a vision within your youth group.

There are countless opportunities to serve in your community, just like there were in the community you served alongside on your mission trip. While you can definitely serve in many different organizations, the most effective way to serve is to have a focused vision for your work and select projects that line up with that vision. Meet with local organizations and hear their vision for your community and what they are doing to create change. From those conversations, meet as a youth group and develop your vision of how you want to engage your community.

 

Create an asset map.

An asset map is a tool for identifying the assets, or gifts, already present in your community. This helps reinforce asset-based development, rather than needs-based development. Finding strengths in your community helps you to better understand what you already have to create lasting solutions. For more in-depth details on how to create an asset map, send us an email!

Check out an example of an asset map Next Step created for the community we serve alongside in Lorain County, Ohio

 

Introduce yourself to your neighbors.

This one should be a group activity or with your parents. One simple way to become more involved in your community is to know the people who live around you. With our increasingly digital world, we are beginning to see fewer and fewer in-person relationships. Just like getting to know the homeowner you worked alongside on your mission trip, getting to know your neighbors is important, after all ministry always happens in relationships!

 

Speak positively about your community.

This may seem like a simple one, but most of the time, we don’t even realize the types of language we are using to speak about our communities. You can be a light within your community by speaking about its gifts and blessings, rather than always focusing on the problems or what you don’t like about your community. Be a game changer among your friends and choose to speak life over your community.

 

Pray for your community.

One of the most powerful things you can do is intentionally pray for your community. Create a prayer journal and keep a list of the things to lift up in prayer for your community. As you meet with organizations and meet your neighbors, keep track of prayer requests and spend time each day praying over items on the list. One way to remember to pray is to set a reminder in your phone to pray at a certain time.

 

As you do these five things, we pray that God guides you in the best ways to engage your community responsibly after coming home from your mission trip. We are excited for the impact you will continue to have all across the country. If you want to talk further about these concepts and how to implement them into your community, feel free to contact Next Step’s Community Development Department!

 

How to Choose Your Student Mission Trip

You are ready to start planning for a summer mission trip, but how in the world do you decide where to go? There are so many factors that will influence your mission trip selection, but where should you begin? Here are four key areas to focus your attention while beginning the process:

  1. Trip Location
  2. Trip Dates
  3. Group Size
  4. Responsible Missions

TRIP LOCATION:

You don’t have to travel across the world for a meaningful trip experience! There are hundreds of different mission opportunities and locations that you can choose from. Take some time to consider how far you’d like to travel and if there is a particular type of experience you have in mind for your students. Here are some helpful questions you can ask yourself:

Determine how far you are willing to travel.The best way to get started is to narrow down your search by identifying what kind of distance is reasonable for your group. Do you need to keep travel within a one-day drive? Are you interested in traveling across the country? With a simple google maps search you can pinpoint which locations would fit your preference for a one-day drive or more depending on how far you’d like to go.

Discover what kind of trip experience you would like for your students. There are dozens of different types of trips that will provide your kids with meaningful opportunities to serve. Would you like them to participate in construction projects like drywall, roofing, building wheelchair ramps, etc.? Are you interested in challenging your students with relational opportunities like evangelism, leading Vacation Bible School, and volunteering in soup kitchens? Maybe it’s important to you for your kids to visit a community that is radically different from home so you’d like to travel somewhere that will really open their eyes. Perhaps you would like to give your kids a chance to learn about another culture and so visiting a reservation would be exciting to you. Take some time to reflect and consider what type of serving you would like for your kids to experience. This will help you discover a trip that’s right for you!

 

TRIP DATES:

What could be trickier than coordinating with a bunch of teenageers to pick dates for a mission trip?! Between sports, camps, and family vacations (let alone your own family schedule!) it can be intimidating to pick a week that works for everyone. Reality is, the week you choose probably won’t work out for absolutely everyone. Here are a couple things to consider:

Start with your schedule. Believe it or not, you are the most important person on this trip! You are coordinating all the details, getting everyone together, and the spiritual leader for your team. As leader of the pack, make sure the timing works for you and your family so you can be fully available and invested in the trip.

Look to your leaders and see what works for them. You will need about 1 leader for every 6 students in your group. Your adult leaders will be a vital part of making this a meaningful trip experience! Not only can they help with driving, assist in facilitating trip details, and help keep you sane, but most importantly they will be role models and mentors for all of the students in your group. Figure out some dates that work best for these special adults that will play a significant role on this trip.

Consider any big events that might cause a scheduling conflict for many of your students. For example, do a lot of your families go on vacation for the 4th of July? Are a lot of your students football players that have practice beginning in August? Do you have a lot of kiddos in band that go to the same camp? You won’t be able to accommodate everyone’s schedule, but if there is an obvious scheduling conflict that impacts a large number of your students, take it into consideration!

 

GROUP SIZE:

Okay, so there is something more challenging than coordinating with teenager schedules! Trying to anticipate group size can feel like such a shot in the dark. This is where it’s helpful to contact the mission organization you are serving with as they will be able to walk you through this process. At Next Step, our team is available to help with this process and make it as easy as possible! We love to learn about youth groups, hear about your hopes for the trip, and talk through some of your fears too. When it comes to reserving spots we will help make sure you feel comfortable and confident every step of the way. Bottom line, let us help you navigate the details! Here are a couple tips:

Start with the number of spots you hope to fill. Think you could fill 20 spots, but you’re not totally sure? We recommend beginning your reservation with the total number of spots you’d like to fill. This is the best place to start and then you can drop spots later as you get a better feel for how many people will really be in your group.

Get the word out and start sign ups. When you register for your trip with Next Step you will have 30 days before the deposit is due! This will give you some time to present the mission trip details to your group and get people to sign up. If you need to cancel some spots before sending in your deposit, no problem, it’s risk free! You can always add more spots later, as long as space is available. Still sound scary? We get it. Give us a call and we can figure it out together!

 

RESPONSIBLE MISSIONS

Not coming with Next Step? Well, of course we love more than anything to serve with your group, but we understand you might be looking at other options too and there are some truly great ministries out there. If you are looking for a mission organization to partner with, our best advice is to link up with a group that is committed to sustainable missions. This way you can be sure you are coming on a trip where you are serving with a community, and not just for a community. There are a ton of great resources about what it means to serve responsibly. We highly recommend you dig into some of these books while considering a short term mission trip:

  • When Helping Hurts
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open
  • Toxic Charity

We know selecting and planning a mission trip can be intimidating, but it’s so worth it when we keep in view the tremendous impact a week long experience can have on a students’s life. The trip you plan could be the difference in a student’s life and change everything. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started.

Ready to get started?! 3, 2, 1… Let’s do this!

 

How to Start Meaningful Conversations This Mission Trip

Mission trips offers youth leaders one of the greatest discipleship training windows in their youth calendars, giving over 150 hours to invest into the lives of every student who comes on the trip – which is by far more time than the entire rest of the year combined!

And, as youth leaders, we are all aware to the complex intricacies of a teenager’s life. Engaging and sustaining meaningful conversations can – at times – be brutal. Teenagers frequently put on a front of appearing uninterested or disconnected or remaining silent, which in turn can make our roles as youth leaders, a difficult and often hopeless path of building inroads with our students.

Whether you are a youth leader who finds yourself struggling to spark conversations with some of your students (I find myself here often!) or you are looking for ideas to equip your adult volunteers, here are a few thoughts for starting meaningful conversations on your mission trip this summer:

 

1) Build bridges, not walls

As youth leaders, we typically lead out of a pretense of a perfect life; meaning that we lead lives that are neatly packaged together, that we have figured out how to live the best life now, and that we have a life that is the perfect example for all students to follow. And while there may be value to that approach and even truth within those sentiments, but I find that leading from that perspective often builds walls between us and our students, distancing ourselves from our students who may be struggling to find their way forward in life.

A better way – I believe – is to build bridges. Remove our pretenses to what a leaders’ life should look like and choose to be honest, humble, and authentic in the time spent with your students. Instead of always digging for what God is teaching them throughout the week, frequently share what God is teaching you. Instead of imposing a confidence in every element of the trip, express your fears and all the ways God is challenging your faith. Instead of only asking how you can pray for your students, lead your prayer times by vulnerably sharing your requests. Bottom line: the more vulnerable, authentic and well – human – we are, the more our students will see as real people with real struggles, ultimately opening the door to far greater and meaningful conversations down the road.

When we stop building walls and beginning building bridges, we will begin building relationships with our students where openness and trust can grow and flourish.

 

2) Capture every moment

Jesus, our greatest model to disciple-making, was so great at this idea, leaving a wealth of examples for us to follow. Jesus would look at the flowers of the field or the birds of the air to teach His disciples about worry and trust…Jesus would look at the sheep in the pasture and the care of the shepherds to teach about God’s loving care for His children.

Pay attention to the community and situations around you and capture every moment that God brings into your mission trip experience. Oklahoma thunderstorms are great moments to remember the power and protection of our Almighty God. Enjoying a late-night brownie and ice cream after a hard day’s work on the worksite creates an experience to reflect on God’s goodness and provision of lasting joy. Conflicts amongst friends or other students on the trip are opportunities to talk about the importance of steadfast love and the faithfulness of God to always keep His promises.

Always be mindful of every moment that you can capture as a talking point with your students!

 

3) Listen. Listen. Listen

Like all of us, teenagers simply want to know that someone cares about their life. That they are important. That they are valued. And the more we listen to our students the more we will learn about their lives, their interest, and ultimately their faith journey. Speaking from personal experience, those who hold the greatest weight in my life are those who ask me about the things I have shared days, weeks, or even months ago. They gained my trust by the way they listened to my stories and by the way they remembered all that I had shared in previous conversations.

We all possess a default tendency to plan out our next round of questions without first listening to what is actually being said. And this typically born out of our fear of not knowing what to say next. You can untangle yourself from that fear by simply getting into the practice of repeating what you have heard. By this practice of repeating, you demonstrate a level of support and attention which will further induce conversation. Instead of frantically scrambling to come up with a new line of questions, get into practice of repeating back the very details that you heard – it allows the student to feel heard and understood, and it gives you time to frame up your next question.

Even if you do nothing else but listen to your students this mission trip, you will have more than enough content to engage in meaningful conversations for not only the rest of the trip but for the rest of the year.

Preparing Parents for Their Students Return Home from the Mission Trip

Life after a mission trip is often difficult for students.

After spending over 150 hours in an intensely-packed, life-changing experience with their peers, students return home to a family – to parents – who have not shared with them in this life-changing experience.

And while we pray for our students on mission trips to encounter God and be challenged in their faith, mission trips can often present our students a formidable difficulty in expressing and sharing these life-changing moments to their family and friends at home. The pathway forward for students to learn and discover their new way of living amidst the patterns of old habitats can prove to be complicated and problematic.

Yet the truth is, studies consistently reveal parents remain the greatest influencer on a teenagers life, meaning parents will far outweigh the influence of any youth worker. If we want to see dynamic and sustaining life change in our students, than we need to prepare our parents when their students return home: on the importance of making time to listen to their students’ stories, on the need to engage their students through meaningful questions, and on the impact their follow through conversations will have upon their students.

Here are a few ideas to help prepare and coach your parents on how to engage their students returning home from their mission trip:

Ask open-ended yet specific questions:

Articulating a life-changing trip into a few sentences is overwhelming. Asking broad or nonspecific questions will paralyze your teen and will hinder the depth to what is shared, ultimately giving the impressions you are uninterested about an experience that has been so life-changing for them. Try asking open-ended yet specific questions, such as:

  • What did you learn from the people in the community?
  • Tell me about the ministry/worksite you served at.
  • What were three things you did on this trip that you had never done before?
  • Who is one person you met that you will not forget?

Always look for ways to ask meaningful follow-up question:

As your student shares stories from their mission trip, whether it be about the work project they completed, the homeowner they met, the evening program they experienced, or the new friendships they made with peers, always – always – always look for a way to ask the more meaningful follow-up question. This will give your student opportunities to verbalize the deeper work God has been and is doing in their hearts, such as:

  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you learn from that
  • What did that motivate you to do?

Allow the student to discover their next step:

Instead of asking, “what’s next”, which often places upon any teen this unwanted and self-imposed burden for fulfilling a commitment they may not be ready to make, ask questions that imply what’s next, without saying, “what’s next” – such as:

  • What did God teach you about Himself?
  • What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
  • How did/is God changing your view of the world?
  • What is God teaching you as you get back into your routine here?
  • How do you want to remember this experience going forward?
  • How can I be praying for you? How can I be praying for the ministry/homeowner that you met in the community you served?
  • What ideas do you have for how our family can serve together in our own community?

Agree to patiently wait out the time needed for processing and reflection:   

Students will return home with some fairly crazy mission trip stories, especially if the trip involved a 10 hour van ride! And many of us will have that tendency to rush through those stories so that we can hear the stories of what God is stirring in their hearts. But we must remember that it simply takes time to properly process and reflect on all that God has allowed them to see and do on their mission trip. Where we may think we are helping, we may actually be interfering. Extend grace, offer more time, be patient, lower expectations, and proactively set up future times to communicate more deeply about the trip. Understand that students will continue processing days and weeks after their return home and what a student needs most is a parent who will patiently walk with them in the days and weeks following to continue listening and engaging their hearts as they navigate that often difficult pathway forward in their faith.

Best Social Media Practices for Your Mission Trip

We are all guilty – at one time or another – of the label, “#instagrammingyourmissiontrip”…carefully planning out a “self-directed Samaritan” photo that perfectly and beautifully captures our own sense of incredible sacrifice and profound impact we are making upon a poor, needy community:

  • “See all the less fortunate people I am helping”
  • “Notice the all the good things I have done for this poor village”
  • “Look what amazing place I have bravely and adventurously traveled to”

This summer as thousands of youth head out on mission trips, the base line question we – as youth leaders – need to repeatedly ask our own hearts this mission trip is, “Why are we sharing?” And then we need to teach and instruct and model to our students how to best leverage social media on our mission trips as a tool for positive and meaningful impact.

Here are four ideas to help as you frame up best social media practices for your mission trip this summer:

 

1) DISMISS SELF-PROMOTION

Social media is obviously a powerful tool yet sadly we often use its power as a means to make us look good, which rarely makes anyones feed completely honest. And yet it is impossible to fully love God and fully love others when are primary focus is to gain followers or likes for our own self-promotion.

Too often we use experiences that are meant to help other people, such as a mission trip, as a tool to build a grand narrative of our life that promotes an idea to others that we an amazing person with a great life. The challenge for us is to refrain from turning our mission trip into a photo opp and to keep the mission of the mission trip the main thing. Every time we fall into the ditch of self-promotion, we will likely fail in achieving God’s goals for our mission trip.

Before you post this mission trip, consider what reward you are seeking. Dismiss your desire of self-promotion and uphold the purpose of the mission.

 

2) TELL THE RIGHT STORY

Our default impulse is to always share what we are doing, making you and I the main character, the hero of the story. Yet the truth is that God has been doing something in this community long before you ever arrived and He will continue to do incredibly things in this community long after you leave. Yes, you are a character, but God is the main character and HE is the hero.

Build connections with those whom you are serving with and for. Listen to their stories, ask questions that seek to understand what God is already doing and what challenges for prayer remain. Take your time to learn about the ministries you are partnering with and place an emphasis on building a partnership that extends beyond just one week.

Do not make yourself the center story, the hero. Make God the hero of every post. Tell the right story by asking questions and understanding the bigger picture.

 

3) CHAMPION DIGNITY

The Bible says that each person was created in the image of God and regardless of race or economic status – every person – fully deserves the upmost dignity and respect. Yet how often, do you and I come into a community and into a community members home, assuming it is completely permissible to take photos of this community, of their homes, and of their kids? We need to remember that we are guests and unless permission has been granted the consequences of unwanted photos/story-telling can bring about far more long-term damage than good.

Post about others the way in which you would want others to post about you. Just because someone is poor, does not mean they themselves do not use social media. Your posts and photos could likely be discovered by the very community members you are posting about. A better practice is to focus your photos – not on people – but on the projects you are completing or the teammates you are serving with. If you do take a photo of a community member; first ask for their permission.

As you take photos, keep in mind how you would want others to post about you. Champion the dignity of every community member.

 

4) PRIORITIZE PRESENCE

Jesus’ final words to His disciples was a promise of His presence to be with them until the end of the age! All too often, we fail to truly live and experience the moments God gives us in life because we are under a crushing burden of feeling that we need to capture the moment, but some moments may not be created to be captured.

Instead of hiding behind your screen, free yourself from the pressure of having to capture every moment. Engage with those you meet in the community and be fully present with them. Often the most meaningful thing we can do on a mission trip is simply to sit by another person and listen to their story. And when you prioritize presence, you will begin to experience an even greater depth and meaning to your experience as you engage with those God brings into your path.

Set limits to how many photos you will take or how much time you will spend posting. Prioritize your presence in the community you are serving.

Six Prayers for Your Students This Mission Trip

The internet is littered with mission trip planning guides, but that one item buried at the bottom or routinely left out entirely is PRAYER! Mission trips will be one of the greatest game-changers for a student: they will be inspired to explore who God is, students will be challenged to understand poverty and pain in our fallen world, and they will be dared to live out their faith in extraordinary ways.

Yet, if we fail to pray for our students, what real benefit are we giving to our students? As student ministers, each one of us needs to prioritize prayer, moving prayer to be our top priority for our mission trip planning guide checklist.

Here are a few ideas to jumpstart your prayers for your students this summer on your mission trip:

 

1) That any student who does not know Jesus would respond in faith to Jesus’ faithful, persistent call:  

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

 

2) That all your students would share in the desire to become more like Jesus:

“Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2

 

3) That they experience a sense of belonging amidst a community of Christ:

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  1 Corinthians 1:10

 

4) That every student would courageously admit and confess sin in their life:  

“And Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

 

5) That they would cultivate a great love for God’s Word: 

“How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you—don’t let me wander from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. I praise you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. I have recited aloud all the regulations you have given us. I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word.” Psalm 119:9-16

 

6) That your students would hunger to go home and live out their faith:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.” Matthew 28:18-20

3 Conversations To Prepare Adult Leaders Before The Mission Trip

When leading a mission trip, I love finding out who is on their very first mission trip? And more often than not I discover there are as many first time adults as there are youth. One of the biggest obstacles for an impactful student mission trip is having experienced adult volunteers. Typically, adult volunteers sign up because vans need driven, youth need chaperones, and medical expertise is much appreciated. And as much as we would all love to have seasoned veterans of youth ministry join us on a mission trip, most likely your adult volunteers this summer are on their first mission trip!

Below are three conversations I encourage you to have with every adult leader BEFORE the mission trip, which I believe will profoundly alter the impact of your trip this summer.

 

THANK YOU

If you have yet to thank each adult volunteer who has willingly said “yes” to coming with you on the mission trip – STOP READING – go thank them right now!

For those of us in ministry, it is all too easy to forget that adult volunteers are most likely using their precious and limited vacation time to serve the needs of the youth and the church. They will sleep on hard floors not beds, they will shower in trailers or other such facilities that are most likely not as comfortable as their own, they will stay up later than preferred, and smell things they wish they never smelled. Yes, every adult volunteer is making a sacrifice, start every conversation with your volunteers with the words, “thank you”.

Be creative in how you do this: A hand-written note. A personalized prayer. A midweek cup of Starbucks. And if your adult volunteer is married or has a family, take the time to thank their spouse, their kids. Allow every family member – spouse and child – to hear your words of appreciation. A culture of thankfulness and of value towards one another builds an attractive movement others will want to join.

 

DISCIPLESHIP IS RELATIONSHIP

A week-long mission trip is around 150 hours. That is a lot of time! Take a moment and add up how many hours you typically have throughout the year with any of your students? If you have the traditional 90-minute youth meeting every week that only adds up to 78 cumulative hours (and that is assuming your students show up every week!). Here is my point, a one-week mission trip more than doubles your time with your students in any given year.

Mission trips offer you an incredibly profound discipleship window. The question remains, what is your plan? In my experience, the one thing that moves the mission trip from a mere mountain top experience to lasting life change is meaningful relationships with mentors.

While there is great importance in informing your adult volunteers of the details, make the effort to move from informing to equipping. For example, as you inform your adult volunteers about the daily schedule, expend even greater energy equipping them how to find those teachable moments within the schedule to connect with students. Provide insight and testimonies, give tangible tools, and ultimately offer vision for why this is a game-changer! Over the past decade, research consistently reveals the number one influencer to students’ faith was meaningful, Christ-centered mentors. Challenge your adult volunteers to intentionally have at least one meaningful conversation with a student every day of the trip.

 

YOU REPRODUCE WHAT YOU ARE

Ostriches do not reproduce giraffes any more a wallaby can reproduce a jellyfish. The truth is you can only reproduce what you are. And if you are in the business of reproducing disciples (which I trust that you are!) than it is profoundly essential that you and your adult leaders possess a faith that is worth reproducing. Students will mirror their own faith by what they see and witness in you and the adult volunteers.

Offer your adult leaders a pre-trip devotional guide, a list of Scriptural based prayers to be prayed over the students, a selection of verses to memorize as an encouragement for their own soul, etc. The spiritual health of your adult volunteers will largely dictate the spiritual health and impact of your students on the mission trip. Help your adult volunteers grow in their own passion for Christ and give them the necessary on-ramps by which they can be energized in their faith this summer.

————–

Here at Next Step we are incredibly grateful for every student, youth leader, and adult volunteer who will join us this summer. We are praying for you, asking the Lord to stir your affections to greater heights and depths in your love of Christ! We are for you!

Not Me but We

This past week I was able to serve for the first time as Partnership Coordinator (PC for short) on a spring break mission trip. In many ways, this is what PCs plan all year for- to have students come and experience the community we fell in love with. While the Next Step interns and students were here, I learned a valuable lesson.

Since moving out to L.A. I have been fighting this I mentality. I am moving to L.A. to serve Skid Row. I am working for both Next step and Union Rescue Mission. It is up to me to make sure that the off season trip goes smoothly. As soon as the Next Step interns landed in L.A. this mentality was tested.

If I am going to be honest, it was very hard for me to give up control of the week. It was even harder not to worry about the friendships and partnerships I had worked so hard to create in my community would not be harmed. This fear caused me to want to be involved in every decision that was made so that I would have control over what was going to happen. It took every ounce of energy not to be this way. But once I took a step back, I was able to see the beauty of this Next Step trip, and see how Christ created his body to serve.

The first night of the trip I was reminded of Romans 12:3-8. Which states:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

It was amazing to see the visiting Next Step staff use their gifts and passion to lead students in their service projects and advocate on behalf of the community. Because the staff were willing to be servants of Christ, they facilitated an unforgettable week for the visiting group. Each and every staff member had special gifts and talents. Each used their gifts to bring God glory, and that is how God was able to work through the students.

The students also acted as a valuable part of the body of Christ as they put in the hard work on the service projects. Because of the students, people experiencing homelessness heard about how much their everlasting father loves them, a new urban garden was built, flooring at Hope Gardens was replaced, kids at Hope Gardens were invested in, and their moms were able to rest with the extra set of eyes caring for their children. There is no way I could have accomplished even a fraction of this with the mentality I wanted to have.

As a member of the body of Christ, I can never have full control. It is not me. It is we. Only we were able to accomplish what we did through Christ.

Spring Is Here

It may still be freezing temperatures here in Wisconsin, but inside the Next Step office it is certainly starting to feel like spring. We are in full preparation mode for summer 2018, and could not be more excited!

Within the Internship Department, a lot happens during the springtime as we are preparing for another amazing summer of mission trips. We spend time each month connecting with every summer staff member through our Pre-Summer Development Program. This program is designed to help prepare summer staff with position specific training content while also providing the opportunity to begin building relationships with full time staff members. We have a big heart to support, encourage, and walk alongside each summer staff member from the beginning of the internship on, and our Pre-Summer Development Program is an incredible way to begin.

In May, all of the summer staff teams arrive in Madison, WI for Training Week. This is a high energy week where all 170 staff members get hands on training before they head off to the communities they will be serving in all summer long. The full time office staff is busy planning and preparing staff training sessions and position specific training content to share with the summer staff during  this week.

As I reflect back on the seasons leading up to my summers serving with Next Step, I remember just how integral prayer was during that time. God was preparing my heart for the ways I would grow through the experience. My relationship with Christ deepened to be something I never expected it could. The summer changed my life; and that is why we spend time each week praying for the summer staff members individually during this season. We pray that God will work uniquely in each heart to ready the summer staff for how He will work through them and in them this summer. We invite you all to join us in praying for the 2018 Summer Staff as they prepare for a life-changing summer serving with us.

As we prepare for the summer, we are busy hiring final positions for our teams as May is right around the corner and we still have some spots to fill. If you know someone who would like to serve with us for summer 2018 please encourage them to apply!

Tomorrow Today

I’m going to stop putting things off, starting tomorrow! – Sam Levenson

How often have you found yourself saying, “I’ll get to that tomorrow” or “Tomorrow, it will be different”? Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow has become the mantra for all those dreamers of big dreams and all those great thinkers coming up with new or once forgotten revolutionary ideas. Maybe there is a passion in your heart to be an artist of sorts, or an architect, a doctor, builder, poet or simply fill in the blank. Unfortunately, most dreamers and great thinkers are vastly unknown today because they are stuck in the never-ending mantra, which gives birth to a tomorrow that always alludes and is consistently one day out of our grasp.

Many dreamers, like myself, dream of a place where every human being has a place to lay their head, food for their bellies, and shelter from the storms. We dream of a place where no one is denied health care and where racism, sexism and nationalism is replaced by the uncompromising love for God and humanity beyond our own borders.  Dreams where political, religious and ethnic walls dividing us are broken down and we see each other for what and who we are, God’s children. It’s time for dreamers around the world to unite. To share their dreams with others, creating think tanks of people to further their passions, finding ways for their dreams regardless of what they are to become reality. There is a whole world of dreamers out there, the question is, what kind of dreamer are you? Are you going to be a dreamer that’s stuck in the never-ending mantra of tomorrow or are you going to be a dreamer that will take a chance, take the risk to make your dreams evolve into reality.

Ten years ago Nick, Andy and I had a dream to create a nonprofit that furthers the kingdom of God through short-term mission trips, which collided with community development. Trips that focus on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and partners with communities, churches, schools and individuals to love their neighbor through both actions and words.  While I’m the first to say I’ve fallen into the mantra’s trap at times, I’m sure glad that I can look back to the day Nick, Andy and I took the next step in our dreams, risking everything and letting God turn our dreams into reality!

Preparing For Your Mission Trip

Are you going on a mission trip this summer? If so, you’ve probably already thought about the week, what it will be like, and what to pack. But have you thought about the community you will be serving in yet? Here at Next Step, we want to do everything we can to equip you to enter into whatever community you are serving in this summer with knowledge of the community and a humble heart ready to serve.

 

Here are a couple of ways to prepare your heart and mind to enter into the community responsibly this summer.

 

Community Partnership Research

Choose 3-5 nonprofits and organizations in the community you are working alongside this summer (if you need help selecting the organizations, check the Community Partnerships section of the Community Information Packet sent to the leader of your group). Research the following questions:

  • Mission Statement:
  • What population of people does this organization serve?
  • What types of services do they offer?
  • How can people volunteer and get involved with this organization?
  • What kind of impact has this organization had on the community?
  • What do they share on social media?
  • Share anything else notable or interesting about the organization.

 

Skype a Community Member

In many of the communities we serve alongside, we have full time Partnership Coordinators who live in the community year-round. If you and your group are interested in hearing from them, we can set you up with a time. They can share information about the community you will be serving with, the different partnerships we work with, and how you can specifically be praying and preparing for a week in that community. It also gives you the chance to ask any community-specific questions you may have.

 

Watch our Facebook Live Mission Mindset Videos

Get your group together, grab some snacks, and settle in to watch this four-part video series focused on our Mission Mindset core values. Afterwards, take time to reflect as a group on your reason for serving. If you would like additional resources and reflection questions, connect with us and we can send them to you.

 

Humble servant:  https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154495243532153/

 

Fervent listener: https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154572448057153/  

 

Zealous developer: https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154637080302153/  

Discontent ambassador: https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154714594432153/

 

Message us if you would like any of the additional resources mentioned!

Thank You and See You

To Our Friends,

On February 1st, Mel and I will be leaving our positions at Next Step and moving to Phoenix, Arizona to
start a new adventure in our lives. After serving in full-time ministry for the past ten years we have
decided it is time to step out in faith and experience what God can do in our lives in a new culture and
context. We are leaving Next Step with full hearts and love for this amazing ministry, along with a
childlike anticipation of how God will continue to work in our lives personally.

I would like to start and end this short letter by saying thank you. This organization and all those that are
part of our Next Step family have been an instrumental part of my life that I will forever be grateful for.
This ministry is where I learned to serve. Where I was forced to rely on Christ.. Where I was challenged
to live recklessly and selflessly. Where I was pushed to lead like Jesus. Where I met Mel. And where
my worldview and theology was shaped. At the end of the day, it is where I fell in love with countries,
cultures, people, and Jesus.

There are countless co-workers, summer staff, pastors, community members, students, supporters and
above all, friends, that have poured their lives into Next Step and into my life personally. Thank you.

In the coming days, we will introduce our new Missions Director, Barak Tschirhart. I am so excited about
the future of Next Step. This ministry has never been stronger and the team here continues to push this
ministry as a true trailblazer for missions done the right way. There are exciting things on the horizon for
our continued growth in community development, discipleship, and our passion to create the best
possible student mission trip experience.

Over the past ten years I have learned many things from many people. But one of the things I will always
hold dear to my heart is the way our Native American friends speak their salutations. Whenever we
depart from a visit, our friends don’t say “goodbye”. They share a simple “see you”. This indicates it’s not
goodbye and it’s not even see you later. It’s a simple, see you. Whenever that is, wherever that is, the
friendship will continue. So, to all our amazing friends and partners, a warm and heartfelt ‘see you’.

The best is yet to come,
Nick

You may connect with me going forward at nick.cocalis@gmail.com

The wind ran out of breath

He told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
Mark 4: 35 – 38

You can’t help but wonder what Jesus’ tone was when questioning the disciples about their lack of faith and trust in Him.  Even knowing Jesus, the miracle worker, was sleeping below them, they too were overwhelmed with the unknown of their circumstance to trust.

How often can we relate to these disciples?  Finding ourselves in a season where our trust in Jesus is so tattered and torn by the waves, that we find it hard to hold onto his faithfulness.

Vulnerable moment, recently I’ve known this season well.  I know what you’re thinking, “wait, don’t you work in ministry?”  Or  “Brent I’ve heard you singing songs on trust and hope in Jesus.  Do you not believe that?”  I do, most of the time.

A lot of times I find myself singing out and declaring truth for those around me, but can’t fully embrace those same truths for myself.  Because just like the disciples, I find myself so easily blinded by the chaos of my storm.

The beauty in that vulnerability, in that human nature, is that there is a God of rescue, waiting to rush in.  By just the simple sound of His voice, He can bring our storm to a calm.  He’s a God who understands our fear, worry, doubt, and shouts out peace.  He’s a God of action, even in your lack of faith.

So let us remain confident in knowing whose name we can call upon in the midst of the chaos.  Sometimes it’s a shout of victory, and other times a whispered promise, regardless it will never return void.

The storm is temporary.  The wind will run out of breath.  The sea will smooth and you will look up to find Jesus, the one who never left. He has always been there.  Life jacket in hand, wet from the waves, and arms extended ready to see you through; always.

TRUTH AND DARE FILM SERIES

Every year we produce an original video series that plays during the evening worship on our summer mission trips. While every series is different, we always aim to share inspirational and challenging stories about the Christian faith.

We’re excited to announce that last year’s series, a continuation of the Truth and Dare series, is finally available online. For this video series, we interviewed 7 unique individuals who overcame tremendous obstacles through faith in Jesus Christ. We hope these videos can be an awesome resource for students and youth groups looking for inspiration and encouragement to dive deeper into their faith.

There are a few ways you can view this video series…

1) Visit http://www.nextstepministries.com/films to easily access all the videos from this series and previous series.
2) Visit https://www.youtube.com/NextStepFilms to watch our videos and subscribe to our channel.
Thank you for taking the time to watch our original video content. We truly hope it helps you along your journey following Christ!

Salt and Light

For most of my life, I’ve had the tendency to get sucked into the achievement culture that is so prevalent in today’s world; honestly, it’s hard not to do. You don’t have to look too hard to see messages that tell you perfection is the standard and even the perception of failure is unacceptable. Not only does this mindset give us a false sense of identity, but it can also cause us to overlook some exceptional claims that are in the Bible about us. Take Matthew 5:13-16 for example:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

If you have the same tendency that I do, you read this text and your mind goes down a rabbit trail of thoughts that go something like this, “Shoot, I’m not as salty as I should be, and I have definitely hidden my light under a basket”.  Now, I’m not saying that a realization of our fallen nature is a bad thing. However, if we want to make continued progress in our faith journeys, I think we must understand our relationship with God and how he sees us.

One of the unique things we see through scripture is how God tends to name people by what they’ll be long before they actually are. For example, God takes a 75-year-old man with no children, Abram, and gives him the name Abraham meaning father of many nations. Even after his name change, Abraham would wait another 25 years before receiving the child he was promised.

So, what’s going on here? God sees in us what we cannot see ourselves. Circling back Matthew 5 we can see that God says we are salt and we are the light of the world. Just like Abraham, we’ve been given a name by God that only he can truly fulfill in us.

What does this mean, then? I’d like to make the case that, in light of how God sees us, we can read this text and find encouragement instead of discouragement. Instead of focusing on our lack of saltiness or our dim light we get to celebrate in the work of God in our lives. Then, as we strive to be Christ’s ambassadors on this earth, it can be from a place of grace instead of shame.

Well Worth It

Summing up just one summer with Next Step is hard. Summing up three summers is even harder. I try to think of where to begin and am reminded of a hundred different funny stories, and those are probably just from one summer. I could tell you about the elaborate pranks I helped pull on our partnership coordinator; the time I had to go to K-Mart to buy paint thinner for one of our worship team members who spilled oil-based paint ALL over his hands; or the time we went kayaking and almost sank them in the river. Those stories are probably only funny to those of us who experienced them, but I love to tell them because they remind me of the friends who became like family and the good times we shared on summer staff together-one of my favorite parts of a Next Step summer.

However, these stories are just a few in a sinking kayak’s worth of stories and experiences. I could not accurately describe my time on summer staff without even mentioning some of the ways the Lord has transformed my life-another of my favorite parts.

Each day, as I poured myself out, He showed me areas of weakness, the areas He is made strong. In my first summer He taught me about servanthood, leadership, humility, and community. In my second summer He dug deeper and revealed a belief I’ve long held. This belief that my worth is gained through the tasks I accomplish and how hard I work in “perfection”. Instead of “doing” so much, I was challenged to invest in others. In my third summer I was challenged even more to find a balance between tasks and relationships. In all of this, I saw the Lord work through the community and teammates I served alongside, the students I met, evening programs I participated in, construction projects I helped with, various challenges I faced, and the leaders who walked with me through them. Jesus used that setting to catalyze deep transformation in my life, and it is continuing to this day.

But in spite of all these things, I almost didn’t do this internship all three summers. I always came up with a list of silly excuses I thought were justifiable. These were all excuses that gratified my desires for my academic plan, travel plans, and social plans. What I realized each spring, when I made the final decision to commit to the internship, was that an experience on summer staff was well worth the plans I thought I was leaving behind.

Maybe He is calling you to do the same. Maybe He is calling you to step out into community, ministry, servant leadership, growth, friendship, and one of the most transformative summers of your life. If He is, know that He is faithful, and you won’t regret it.

The Simplicity of Yes

This week I was reminded of the beauty and simplicity of simply saying yes to God. To obeying what He asks us to do. To taking a step in the direction where doors and opportunities are open, and trusting Him with the rest. Continue Reading…

What We Value, We Cultivate

Community development sometimes feels like a big, vague idea. It’s something we really want to see happen here at Next Step but how do we tangibly do that? For the most part, it’s taking small steps each day towards community goals. But sometimes those small steps need some direction. That’s where our core values come in.

 

The community development department is excited to roll out our core values. These are what we are focusing on as a department in our day to day ministry.  They are listed below with a short description of what they mean to us:

Caring  //  Our goal is to love our communities by caring deeply for them and having their best interests in mind, knowing that relationships are at the heart of community development.

Supportive  //  Our role in communities is to be a support to the initiatives currently taking place, to community members, to incoming mission teams, and to summer staff.

Bridge-Builder  //  Our department has the chance to truly live out Next Step’s desire for a collision of short-term missions with long-term community development. We act as a connection point between our short-term summer trips and a community’s long-term hopes and efforts.

Learner  //  We are constantly seeking new research and developments in our field, seeking to grow in our knowledge of community development. We also take on the position of learners in our communities, knowing that those who operate in a community offer the most insight.

Initiator  //  As we collect new ideas and knowledge on community development, our desire is to initiate new thoughts and ideas into our standard mission trips to make them more community-minded.

 

There you have it! These are the guiding values as we navigate how to tangibly live out community development on a day-to-day basis here at Next Step.

Consider taking on these core values in your own community and in the communities you may visit on your next summer mission trip. What we value is what we cultivate and our prayer is that you continue to cultivate a community mindset on your mission trip.

Why are so many Christians stagnant in their faith?

God did not just save us from something. He saved us for something. The good news of Jesus does not stop the moment we get saved. Our salvation is only the beginning of God’s work in our lives.

Just yesterday, as I strapped on my daughter’s sparkly gold jelly shoes to embark on our regularly scheduled afternoon trek around our neighborhood, I was reminded of this profound truth. Standing up, she instinctively and immediately shot up her tiny arm to tightly grasp my thumb. In this precious moment of knowing that she was looking to me as her father to protect her from something on our walk…a thought came rushing to my mind: “my daughter was not only given to me to keep her from something but to help prepare her for something.”

God has charged me to keep my child from harm – that is vitally important – yet in the same breath God has also charged me to prepare, to teach, to train her for something:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

I am convinced of this: you and I will always remain in stagnant and pungent waters when we fail to realize that God not only saved us from something, but that He saved us for something. By saving you from your sins, God has graciously invited you to join Him, to live on mission – to be a disciple of Jesus who makes disciples of Jesus!

Are you stagnant in your faith?

Examine your own heart or ask a friend to honestly speak into your life by asking the following: “Am I bearing fruit in my life?” (John 15:5)  “Do you see evidences of God’s Spirit in your life?” (Galatians 5:22-23)

If not, you may be failing to recognize that God has not only saved you from something but that God has saved you for something.

Living Missionally

Read more about bringing your mission trip home and serving alongside your own community.
Continue Reading…

So, When should I register for a trip?

One of the more common questions we get at Next Step is, “When should I register for my summer mission trip?”  Well, the first answer of course, is whatever is best for you.  Next Step is intentionally set-up to accommodate registration at any time of the year, from over a year in advance to a week before a trip.  But, there are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you try and figure out when is best for your group to register.  Here are 5 tips to help you with your registration process at Next Step:
1. Sooner is Better
Each year, registration opens in July for the following summer.  And believe it or not, by August many weeks at many locations are full. Next Step asks for a $50 deposit per participant, so if there is any way your group can get that deposit money together, we recommend you register right away and then we can work together to get the details in place after registration. Also- remember that Next Step allows you to register and hold your space for 30 days without a deposit.  So, if you are in the decision making process, even if its going to be a few weeks, get registered as you wait for your final decision.
2. Community Partnerships are Valued
In an effort to encourage continued relationships between churches and local communities, Next Step offers a pre-registration period in June and July every year.  During this period, churches have the first opportunity to register for a trip to the same community, the same week as the previous year. If you use this pre-registration option, your deposit is not due until October 1st!  We never want a church to be penalized for wanted to return to the same community and not being able to register due to space.
3. Spots are Transferable
What if a student needs to drop out between registration and the trip?  No problem!  We understand that a student’s life can take many unexpected turns throughout the year.  At Next Step you can transfer a spot to another student at any time.  You’re “spot” will never go to waste, we are happy to have another participant join at any time.
4. Think About Other Groups
So far, we have talked a lot about the value of registering early.  But- if your group is flexible on dates, there is sometimes great value in waiting to register.  It allows you to see what other groups are registered and help decide what is the best fit with your group.  Want to go on a trip with 100 other high schoolers?  Prefer a week where it is just your group?  Want to link up with another church from your denomination?  IF you feel comfortable waiting until after the new year, Next Step can help you set up a specific trip experience.
5. We are Here to Help!
These were just a few tips about registration, but we understand that every group has different questions and needs during the registration process.  Just remember that Next Step is your partner and you are our customer!  We are happy to customize deposit amounts, payment deadlines and other requests that would make this process easier for your group.  Don’t hesitate to ask, let’s make this trip work!

Privilege in Ministry

Isaiah 61: 1-3 NLT
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.[a] 2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,[b] and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
3 To all who mourn in Israel,[c] he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

I came across this scripture, specifically verse one, recently as I was scrolling through the Gospel inspired artwork and prints from a company I adore, All Good Things Collective. It’s a company created by women who are seeking a beautiful and abundant life with Christ and passionate about equipping other women with the tools they need to do the same. I am a big fan.

At the time I saw Isaiah 61:1 written out beautifully on a print, I immediately was motivated by the reminder of the mission, ministry, and privilege I have (and yes, you too) as a follower of Christ to speak these truths into my life and to those around me. I love the book of Isaiah, and find that it’s one of the most marked up books in my Bible. So I know for a fact that I have read this chapter before, probably many times over. But again, God’s Word is living and active and at that moment spoke to me from a digital print.

Isaiah is speaking here about the ministry God equipped Him for at that time, which is the same ministry our great God gave His Son, Jesus, when He walked the Earth. And again, it’s the same ministry God is giving us, as followers of Jesus, to do as we walk this Earth.
I love the way this scripture is written, it’s simple. It lists exactly how we can share the Gospel to those around us; to be a bringer of good news, and share that healing, freedom, comfort, and much more are found in Jesus. I am thankful for the reminder this scripture is, and I am motivated and excited to speak these truths more often to those in my life. What a privilege it is to share the path to everlasting life and a life of love, grace, forgiveness, hope, healing, peace, and comfort.

But what I am MOST excited about is how many lives Gospel truths, just like Isaiah 61:1-3, were spoken over this summer, and how many lives I pray are forever changed by the power of the Gospel. With over 6,000 students registered for mission trips, 16 communities with hundreds of community members, and 152 summer staff… I am confident that A LOT of people have experienced beautiful truths found in the Gospel. That’s A LOT of good news shared; broken hearts healed; prisoners of addictions and worldly expectations liberated; saddened, hurt souls comforted. Powerful! What a ripple effect this will create!

I find it a privilege to share the Gospel truths of love, grace, forgiveness, hope, healing, peace, and comfort to those around me, but it’s an even greater privilege to share in this ministry with all of you. I hope you feel encouraged by how much was done in Jesus’ name this summer, but may we not feel satisfied. Our ministry continues on, and may we see it as a privilege.

What is the Gospel to You?

What is the gospel to you? Would you say you believe in it? Chances are pretty good that, if you’re reading this, you would say you do. But let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you find yourself feeling anxious about your life events, both big and small?
  • Do you often fixate on what others think of you and act in a way to gain their approval?
  • Do you compare yourself with others, thinking they are either better or worse than you?

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Are You Making Disciples

Francis Chan states, “Simon says, ‘Pat your head.’ We pat our heads. Jesus says, ‘Go therefore and make disciples.’ We memorize that verse.”

Francis is right. I have memorized this verse…

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But am I making disciples?

Or stated another way – is my life worth following? Would anyone want to imitate my life?

As a Christian, Jesus’ words are a command for how I am to live my life. This is not optional, it is not merely a suggestion or suggestive add-on to enhance my Christian faith.  

Sharing my faith with others, praying for my unbelieving friends, leading and teaching a Bible study, faithfully encouraging my Christian community, and daily living with a missional mindset to declare and demonstrate the good news of Jesus – THIS IS MY PURPOSE as a disciple of Jesus who has been called to make disciples with my life.

It is true. Disciple Making can be hard. Messy. Uncomfortable. Fearful. Costly. Intimidating. And yes – seemingly impossible.

But Jesus never promised that making disciples would be easy, rather Jesus promised that He would – ALWAYS – be with us, even to the end of the age. And that is a far better promise!

Over the years, Next Step has had the amazing privilege to witness thousands of students explore their faith and experience God in radical ways on our mission trips. But we have also witnessed some of these same students struggle to bridge their mission trip experience to their daily life upon returning home — commonly known as the “mission trip high.” While our short-term mission trips focus on the week-long student experience, we saw an opportunity for a trip that prepares students and leaders for the next 51 weeks.

What if the real mission trip was the one you spent all week preparing to start?

Next Step has teamed up with Francis Chan, the best-selling author of Crazy Love, to create Disciple Maker Trips, a unique, one-week experience that trains young people through what it means to take the next step and radically live out their faith when they return home – to be a disciple who makes disciples!

We believe these trips will be TRANSFORMATIONAL…giving students an opportunity to leave what’s familiar and step into an extraordinary experience focused on Jesus.

And these trips will be EMPOWERING…providing next level training to empower students with practical tools and the confidence to become an effective disciple.

Resting in His Presence

Matthew 11:28-29
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I will never forget the night I almost lost it all. I barely made it to the bathroom before I was completely frozen with fear. It was about 3am and my heart was racing faster than an indy car in the 500. Sweat rolling off my body; I thought to myself, this is it. It’s over. In nothing more than my boxers I turned to the mirror and couldn’t even recognize my own face. Fear had gripped me like your worse nightmare; only this wasn’t a nightmare. This was real; this was happening and happening now! Slowly I turned from the mirror and turned my attention to the bathtub, lucky for me it wasn’t far from where I stood. Wobbling a bit, I fell to my knees quickly hunching over the tub, and began to vomit. Almost immediately I began to cry out to God.

“God if you’re there, if there’s a chance, will you please save my life? I know I’m not worthy of you, but if you save me today, you can have my life forever!”

Tears filling my eyes, I knew in that moment it was up to God and I really had no choice in the matter. I should have died of a cocaine overdose that evening but instead Christ chose to save me. The amazing thing is, He didn’t only save my physical life but He also saved my spiritually life as well. Physically, I’m now able to share my story and the good news of Jesus Christ with all of you today. Spiritually, Christ took the heavy burdens I’ve been hauling around for decades and he placed them upon himself. I will never be able to repay Him for this. For this was the first time in many years I was truly free. While I’m much older now, that experience, lives in me forever. When my life get’s hectic and I try and rely on my own power, I know that I can go back to that everlasting moment, that moment on my knees where God reintroduced himself to me. C.S. Lewis once said “pain was a megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I didn’t believe that in my youth but I do now. I know who Jesus Christ is; he’s in the good times, as well as the hard times. He is ever-present and ever-lasting and he wants you to rest in him. He want’s you to fully rest in the perfect presence of Abba, our Daddy.

Mission Mindset: Pre-Trip Resources

As we began a journey towards responsible missions, to be a place where short-term missions collides with long-term community development, we felt that the place to start was with ourselves. With our thoughts. With our heart. As outsiders entering into a community that isn’t what we consider home, we understood there was a role we needed to play in how we entered that community. As we worked through what we thought was most important from our own experience, we felt it was necessary to share this with those coming on Next Step mission trips. In response, we created what we call a Mission Mindset. This Mission Mindset simply includes four core values to embody over the course of a mission trip; values we believe ultimately contribute to a dignified interaction with the communities we are partnering with.

 

In order to make this accessible to those going on a mission trip, we created a packet of information to help guide you through the core values. This includes scripture, main points, a key takeaway, and follow up questions for each core value. If you are interested in reading more, click here to access our Mission Mindset Packet.

 

In addition to the packet, we wanted to make this information more accessible and decided to take it to Facebook Live over the past few months. Each month we dove into one core value and hosted training sessions to engage listeners. We encourage you to explore this content and use it for pre-trip training with your students, engaging them in conversations about responsible missions before your trip takes place. Here is a link for each Facebook Live session:

 

Humble Servant

As humble servants, we are eager to partake in the work of Christ. We are motivated to serve for Him. We are able to serve through Him. We are only effective with Him.

https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154495243532153/

 

Fervent Listener

Listening opens the door to long-lasting relationships. A fervent listener is one that cares about the community, and seeks to invest time and energy into educating oneself of the community you will enter.

https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154572448057153/

 

Zealous Developer

As the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to become zealous developers through the way we interact with the community we are serving alongside. Simply becoming aware of these concepts is a great start. You have the opportunity to be a part of sharing in the gifts of the community you are entering, in order to see work continue much after your mission trip. Pour yourself into the people, resources, leadership, and skills that already exist in a community.

https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154637080302153/

 

Discontent Ambassador

As discontent ambassadors, we recognize that we hold a significant responsibility. Our responsibility is to carry Christ’s name in a way that honors Him. His strength is our momentum to continue sharing love and when, even when situations are grim and hopeless.

https://www.facebook.com/nextstepmissiontrips/videos/10154714594432153/

Just Let It Happen

Just let it happen.

…and by that, I mean, let God. Let God move. Let God author. Let God provide. Let God choose the time. Let God take the lead. Let God change your perspective.

You see, I was in a tough season of life.  Haven’t we all had those?  I graduated from college, served another summer with Next Step, and then landed at home in fall of 2016.  I’m usually the one who prepares and plans ahead; the responsible one.  But I was home, with nothing to do.  I was home desperately seeking purpose and direction.  I was home with passion and dreams waiting to be lived out.

I tried everything I was trained to do to get a job in my field of study, and sought God throughout that time, confident He would give me an opportunity. But every door I tried, wouldn’t open.  It was with a genuine heart that I sought the Lord so diligently in that time. I knew He was in control and I knew that the plans He had for me would be for my good. But when? And why was it taking so long? And why wasn’t I hearing His voice?

It was when I heard the lyrics to this beautiful song that everything changed.

You are full of life now
Full of passion
That’s how He made you
Just let it happen.

And He whispers
To your heart
To let it go
And to be a light

(Let It Happen by United Pursuit)

Even though I was praying for God’s will to be done in my life, I still had a tight grasp on it.  What the Lord taught me was to step back, sit down, and watch Him move. I pictured it as if I was observing Him by looking through a beautiful window out at the He ways He is working in my world.  I continued to press into the Lord at that time, but it was no longer a demanding cry for immediate answers, but an invitation to let Him do what He does best.

As always, God definitely moved and I had peace about where I was at with life.  He provided a job for the time being, so He could eventually open a door for me to join the Next Step team where I  could start to live out the specific calling I believe He has placed on my heart. Just wow, God is faithful. I’ve now learned the peace and freedom that comes when I take a step back to let the Lord, who is so faithful, steadfast, and loving take the lead. I’ve learned to just let it happen.

Merry Christmas from Next Step

I wish there were more times of the year like this.  Times where you can stop and put the perspective front and center of why you do what you do.

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Kingdom Come

Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs is a hub for many of the surrounding homeless population. Daily they provide clothing contributed by donation – whether it be a warmer jacket for the winter months, gloves, hats, underwear, or t-shirts. Continue Reading…

The Timeline of a Coffee Bean

Recently I was sitting in a coffee shop, enjoying my cup of coffee and simply looking around. Allowing time to observe opened my eyes to see people surrounding me, people who have stories and lives. Continue Reading…

Go Small

In 2015 Next Step Ministries had the privilege of filming Francis Chan for a worship series in San Francisco, which in turn gave us an opportunity to film at some of the most breathtaking landmarks in the United States. One specific landmark that sticks out to me was the Golden Gate Bridge.  The views from the bridge and the mountain lookouts overlooking the bridge were nothing short of amazing and not to mention, a true accomplishment for human engineering; yet, as stunning as the bridge is in terms of it’s beauty and engineering, it is also known as the second most popular destination in the world for people to end their lives. Continue Reading…

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