I stood in front of a group of parents feeling proud of myself. I had clearly outlined the upcoming school mission trip: location details, the schedule, the work we would be doing, the significance of our potential impact on that small coastal community, and anything else the parents could possibly want to know. No one could criticize my expert planning of this trip. In fact, I’d cast the vision so well, I half expected applause to break out. Instead, the parents responded with nods. Good enough, I thought. Ready to call it a night, I asked the group, “Any questions?”
“I’ve heard rumors that the students plan to sneak out at night. What are you going to do about that?”
“Do you really think it’s best to lead a trip with such immature kids?”
“Are you prepared to handle discipline issues when they arise?”
I knew this group of students had a reputation for mischief, but this was the first I’d heard of a nightly jailbreak. Needless to say, I slept by the door the first night of the trip, blocking the way of any would-be teenage escape artists. The parent meeting had put me on high alert, so I vowed not to let any students sneak out and get into trouble.
But by the end of the next day, everything had changed. For the first time in their lives, my suburban students came face to face with real poverty, and it rocked them. Questions started surfacing:
“Why does this school house only have one room for so many students?”
“Why do these kids still have slave names?”
“How can this kind of poverty exist in America?”
But one question stood out from the rest: “What can we do?”
Most of the students who came with me on this trip could only be described as “bad kids.” But the trip uncovered something remarkable: They were all influential leaders—just leading their peers in the wrong direction. They needed a spark to catch, an opportunity to use their gifts to move the kingdom of God forward rather than hindering it. This trip gave them that spark.
My students returned home with a new passion. They planned and launched a student-led worship service that grew to over 100 students from multiple schools. They shared with other students a desire to meet God and to discover how he wanted to use them to make a difference in his world.
The trip changed them, and it changed me too. Originally, all I wanted was to give these students a powerful experience, something that would make them think. I had no idea that God would meet them in such an amazing way and that they would bring it back home. That trip transformed the way I viewed students. Trips were more than learning opportunities; they were invitations to join in the Great Commission.
That trip was 20 years ago. Since then, God has met countless students in powerful ways because of the lessons I learned. I’m grateful for the role I’ve played in this mission, and I’m grateful for how God transformed my thinking all those years ago. It’s remarkable what students are capable of when they discover the impact they can make for the kingdom of God.
I’m praying for that same transformation to take place in the lives of students today. At this very moment, a group of high school students are in Costa Rica on a LeaderTreks trip, and they are leading it. They are in charge of almost every aspect of the trip, from planning the food to managing the worksite. I know God is tugging on their hearts as they learn how to lead. I’m excited to see what will happen in their homes, schools and churches after this trip.
Students are capable of so much. I pray we give them opportunities to see their potential through God’s eyes.