Taking teenagers on a short-term trip a long way out of their comfort zone is the best way to give them a real heart for global mission.
That’s the verdict of one-time Serving In Mission worker and now Danbury Mission youth pastor Dave Hartwell, who helped lead a team of 14 people to Ethiopia over the summer.
Dave and his wife Vicky spent three years as teachers at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, so when his church was looking to do a mission trip that was the natural destination. But the key for everyone at Danbury was in the word ‘mission’.
Dave said: “We knew the young people would encounter great poverty almost as soon as they left the airport in Addis but we didn’t want this just to be a humanitarian aid project.
“We wanted to show them as much about mission as possible and to show them that everyone’s greatest need is to hear about Jesus.”
The team was made up of nine young people aged from 16 to 19, with five older leaders. Their major project during their 15 days in Ethiopia was to run a holiday Bible club for the children of Bingham staff.
Dave said: “We had a day of setting up and then ran the club for seven mornings. It was wonderful to see the young people engaging with the activities and working with the children.
“We’d also planned to run some activities for children who were being served by a local mission agency, Strong Hearts. But when we arrived, it turned out the children had left at the end of term so we ended up re-decorating their elementary school.
“It showed our team that not everything in mission work runs smoothly, but that there is always something that needs to be done. And, after the relatively privileged experience at Bingham, it opened their eyes to a mission which does not have foreign funding and operates at a very different level. They saw people at both places who love Jesus and want to help the community.”
The team also helped with English lessons at Horizon Boys, a charity set up by Bingham teachers to serve children from the poorest parts of Addis.
Dave said: “I think the highlight was sitting around the bonfire on our second-to-last night and talking about our time in Ethiopia.
“The young people were very honest with us and said they were shocked that the best moments of the trip had been when we’d read the Bible together. We were looking at Colossians and Psalm 119. To be studying Colossians in that pressure cooker atmosphere, but when we were ambassadors for Christ and wanted to represent Jesus well, was very challenging but rewarding.”
Dave and the Danbury team are now planning their next trip in three years’ time — and they’ve already seen great encouragement from their last trip in 2014.
At least three of the young people who made that trip are now putting mission at the forefront of their lives as they plan their futures — profound testimony to God’s enduring grace.
For the young people on this year’s Danbury trip to grow in their faith as a result of their experiences in Ethiopia.
For the three young people now actively working out how God’s mission can be fulfilled through them.
For more churches to see the long-lasting gospel value of short-term trips and want to get involved.