If you have ever been on any mission trip in your life, you know the first rule of all mission trips is to stay flexible.  Let me tell you our story.


Day 1 of our mission trip was a Sunday, we had arrived late the night before … that’s a whole other story about rental car shortages, but that is for another day. Anyway, I had been texting with Ann Palmerton all morning. She asked the congregation that morning for prayers in worship because 12 hours into our mission trip, a youth had already tested positive for Covid-19. Ann said there was an audible sigh in the sanctuary… thank you all for that groan of a prayer.


To state the obvious, we aren’t done with the pandemic yet, you all know this from your own travels this summer. The session, pediatrician Dr. Bill Long, and I set up really thorough covid procedures for these summer trips including required vaccinations, masking when in public inside, and testing prior to the departure… we were prepared, and yet, no plan is foolproof in this ever frustrating pandemic.


Our mission trip to Baltimore was the first overnight experience and mission trip we had attempted in nearly 3 years! Anticipation and excitement were all I was feeling heading out. I wanted these youth to really get their hands dirty (literally, it was a week focused on food justice and community gardens). I wanted these youth to experience the transformational power of an urban mission trip, seeing systems of racism, classism, and oppression stripping people of their humanity and creating deep injustice that Jesus says no to. I wanted our youth to experience the stories of people on the margins and read scripture and pray in creative ways in a new context that helps those who attend mission trips rethink the world around them. I wanted to ignite a flame in them that helps them come home and live in a new way and work with us here in Columbus to build God’s kingdom here on earth, one of peace, love, justice, and kindness. But when a youth test positive before you even leave the mission center housing, you smile at the goals and hopes, set them down for now and likely for a whole other trip, and you make new ones.


The first thing I told the youth after everyone took a covid test and was negative was to eat whatever you want in the kitchen. I mean at that point I was thinking, who knows how long we will stay?!?! So kids were making brownies and eating raw cookie dough and going wild in the best way possible. We then brainstormed as a group on what to do that Sunday since we no longer felt it was a good idea to attend a church in a marginalized community. We decided to go down to the Baltimore harbor and adventure, we packed our lunches and even took the youth who had covid with us since it was outside and we had N95 masks. After we got to the harbor and ate, I saw a water taxi and sent a youth to ask the captain about the price… $20 a person, absolutely we are 100% in for the boat ride! The wind, social distance and masks will keep folks around us safe and we needed that silly spontaneity. We laughed a lot that Sunday, we unplugged, ate junk food, and ended our night playing dice and making friendship bracelets. The youth with covid was picked up by a parent and went on their way back to Columbus. And since then, she has fully recovered.


These high school youth are part of Gen Z, a generation marked by extremely high numbers of anxiety and depression. Our youth are no strangers to mental health issues whether it’s in themselves or in their best friends, they know it intimately. The whole world has experienced trauma from the Covid-19 pandemic, and our youth are no different. My goals for the trip changed, I realized what might serve them best given the circumstances would be non-anxious leaders, freedom to be silly and cell phone free, and good old fashion play.


We tested each morning for covid, and if all stayed negative, we went to the community gardens to serve… and we did that for 2 days! The youth worked hard in the gardens pulling weeds, shoveling mulch, building compost containers and more. They also engaged in prayer stations, bible study, a snap benefit challenge, and a justice tour. AND we also played hide and go seek and sardines, we went to CVS to play Secret Santa, and the youth cooked almost all the meals together and did the dishes smiling too! We built community.



But another virus entered the house- the stomach bug. First it was one youth and then by the time the second youth starting the get sick, the group gathered and voted unanimously to leave in the morning as they had enough of being exposed to sick peers and it felt time and that we had accomplished enough. We all were getting more and more anxious with every covid test and new person sick, the goal of mental wellness drove the decision to leave early.


As far as we know, no one else tested positive for covid or caught the stomach bug. How? Why? Maybe that sigh of prayer from you all in the sanctuary that Sunday was just what we needed haha. I love a good mission trip, this one had its moments, but now, a few weeks out, I can truly say, I am glad we went, I am glad we were together and building community and doing the best we can. I truly enjoy being with the young people in our church, and even in the midst of all the craziness of this trip, I am thankful for the time with youth.


And the true heroes are chaperones Karl Whetherholt and Chris McMaken, they were amazingly steady, calm and fun adults.


Now, enjoy this slideshow and a song Karl wrote inspired by our trip!


And please, the middle school trip leaves for Massanetta in Virgina July 12, begin your praying now please!


-Written by Brittany Porch

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  1. Betty Lou Stull June 30, 2022 at 11:47 am - Reply

    The third paragraph of this blog has all the components of a mission statement for youth mission trips.

    I loved the video, the song, and everyone’s commitment and flexibility. May we be free of Covid next year! But it seems to want to hang around.

  2. Lisa Bruun-Seibold June 30, 2022 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Well, it will be a trip that the youth will remember, that’s for sure.

    Pru leaves with the group on the 12th for her 1st youth trip. Believe me, fingers crossed and numerous prayers for a safe and fun trip for the Jr. High youth.

    Loved the slide show and song.

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