In July 2022, for the 14th year, the youth groups of St. Paul’s, Conway and St. John’s, Florence served together during our annual summer mission trip in Jacksonville, FL, where we worked with City Rescue Missions (CRM) to help out at a thrift store and food pantry. Previously we have served together in New Orleans, Asheville, Atlanta, Tampa, and Chattanooga. These joint mission trips between our two churches have helped to create a family that is bigger than one church or one location.
Since COVID hit, CRM has struggled to find and retain volunteers. A thrift store they oversee was overrun with donations, so we were able to help clean and organize it. They also oversee the running of a local food pantry. The kitchen at this pantry was poorly managed and very recently had a leadership change. We walked into a place full of moldy food and dirty appliances. Though it may seem hard to believe, our students had a blast cleaning, organizing, and throwing out old moldy food. Our hope is that these opportunities to serve in Jacksonville will motivate and guide these students to serve at home.
Chapel time consisted of worksite stories, games, worship, and a message. The theme for the week was “Being a Disciple.” A major focus at each chapel was the difference of “being” a disciple and “doing” as a disciple. We learned about abiding in the Lord, loving like the Lord, and counting the cost to follow Christ. The chapel time will hopefully guide further discussions about “being a disciple.”
The best part of the trip was the relational side…all of us hanging out. It was a true glimpse of authentic community. Undistracted authentic community. No phones were allowed on the trip, which gave students an opportunity to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with each other. New friendships were formed and people were welcomed and accepted. We could go on with stories from the week, but we will leave you with this: While lying in bed, students were talking into the wee hours of the morning, and one said, “This is the best week of my life.” Perhaps this was an overstatement on the student’s part, but perhaps not. This particular student tends to be viewed as awkward and an outsider in school, and yet he was completely accepted within our youth group community this week. May our students continue to embrace others and welcome those who have a history of feeling unwelcomed. Jesus did this first, and we are to follow in his footsteps.
If you have taken some time off from ministry or serving since COVID, we want to encourage you to get back into it. It was great to be away with students for a week and watch them grow in their faith after a two-year hiatus.
By Sean Richardson, Youth Pastor, St. Paul’s, Conway and Charlotte Smith, Youth Pastor, St. John’s, Florence