Youth on Mission group seeks practical ministry impact
HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – How important is an engaging missions education experience for youth? According to Candi Mains and her sister, Linda Bradley, it makes a tremendous difference in young people's missions interest and involvement – both today and in the future.
Mains, who serves as family life director at Fruitland Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., and Bradley, who served with her husband for more than 25 years as volunteer youth directors, recently helped launch the church's Youth on Mission program.
Over the past several months, their Youth on Mission group has gotten involved in such hands-on mission projects as assembling and distributing "blessing bags" for the homeless, filling backpacks for children in Appalachia and providing needed resources for hurricane victims and disaster relief workers.
Bradley said she compiled a list of possible mission projects from National Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) resources, organized the youth into teams and invited each group to choose a project to plan and coordinate.
"Each month, we are doing an activity that they chose to carry through and see to success," she said. "That makes a huge difference. Someone's not just telling them what to do. They're actually getting to make a decision for themselves.
"Once they realize that they can actually lead and carry out an activity that makes a difference in somebody else's world, I think it will change their lives not just for today or tomorrow but for many years to come," she said. "I hope that they'll really be the leaders on the field in the places that have so much darkness."
"Me, me, me" vs. serving others
Noting that much of today's teen culture focuses on "iPhones, selfies, me, me, me," Mains said Youth on Mission is geared toward providing young people an opportunity "to focus on others and do things for people who are less fortunate. It's just been a blessing watching them and they really get something from it because of the time that they spend on others."
Citing her personal motivation for helping youth gain a passion for missions, Mains said, "As a child, I was involved in [Girls in Action] and Acteens, and I really believe that it has made me the person I am today. I learned to be a giver and not a taker. I learned the importance of missions and going and doing and praying for missionaries."
As a result, she wanted her church's young people to continue to enjoy and embrace missions education and involvement after completing Fruitland Baptist's well-established Children in Action program. The youth participating in the new Youth on Mission group agree.
"I like being involved in Youth on Mission because I enjoy helping other people," said Chloe Smith, who will be entering eighth grade this fall.
"I gain a lot from it," she added, noting that her leaders "help us experience a lot more than we would experience just sitting here listening to them talk. We like to do things and we actually get to experience it."
Garrett Jackson, who also will be an eighth grader this fall, echoed Chloe's perspective. Recounting the variety of mission projects that he and his friends have been involved in through Youth on Mission, he said, "It means a lot to help somebody and to help the community."
As an example, the blessing bags for the homeless featured Ziploc bags filled with such practical items as canned goods, bottled water, Band-Aids, cough drops and a pair of socks stuffed with a Subway gift card.
The students also included a handwritten letter in each bag.
After they assembled the bags, each of the students "was to give their bag to someone they saw that was homeless and ask their name and try to remember their face to pray for them," Mains noted.
"That's been a really neat project," she said. "In fact, they want to make some more because most of them have passed them out and they're ready for a second one so we're going to do that....I think their eyes were opened to realize there is poverty among us and that they can help right here in Hendersonville."
Ministering beyond the church
Walker Mains, Candi's son who is entering ninth grade, said he enjoys the range of activities that his group has pursued.
"I like going outside the church" to serve others in the community and beyond, he said.
"I love the church and all," he added, "but it's kind of fun to change scenery sometimes. It gives you a new perspective...and it helps change a lot of lives."
Emphasizing that "you don't have to go too far" to make a missions impact, Walker said, "Missions can be just in your school. It can be anywhere really."
He said one of the primary life lessons he has learned through hands-on Youth on Mission projects is that "it gives you the idea that not everybody has what you have and that you should give extra care to the people who may not have what you have."
And that's exactly the kind of lessons that his mom and aunt want their Youth on Mission group to learn and practice.
National WMU's curriculum for students "is written to where you get the Bible study, you get the mission action and then you get the life application for students to take forward with them," Bradley explained.
"This group of young people coming up now, they don't need to wait until tomorrow to do something to make a difference.
"The curriculum and activities allow them to be active today," she said. "It's crazy how much fun they've already had."
Mains pointed out, "the generation today wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I've seen nothing but positive come from students doing projects and helping others.
"I'm grateful to the leaders that taught me to give and to do and to share the good news of Jesus," she added. "I feel honored to be able to pass that down to the youth of today. Watching the youth help others and to be active and excited about missions is a wonderful feeling."
Mains noted, "In the end, all that's going to matter is what we've done to share His love. The fact that youth are doing it at such a young age is wonderful."
Missions Journey: Students, WMU's new digitally-formatted student resource, is a missions discipleship curriculum for all student groups.
Available at wmustore.com since Aug. 1, it replaces the print materials previously produced specifically for WMU's student missions organizations, including Acteens, for girls in grades seven through 12; Challengers, for boys in grades seven through 12; and Youth on Mission for coed groups.
To download a free sample of Missions Journey: Students, or to learn more about Youth on Mission, click on the "Students" link on wmu.com.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.