By Jennifer Johnson
It’s common to hear of youth groups participating in short-term mission trips, both here in the United States and around the world. Usually these trips are meticulously planned with detailed itineraries, long packing lists, and organized daily activities. Calvary Christian Church in Bellevue, NE, does things a little differently.
For more than a decade, teens from Calvary have participated in “Destination Unknown,” five-day trips that begin with a surprise.
“The morning we’re scheduled to leave, we meet in the church parking lot and draw a distance and a direction (north, south, etc.) from a hat,” says Scott Beckenhauer, lead minister at Calvary. “And we’re off—we drive that many miles in that direction, and as soon as we arrive we begin looking for ways to serve.”
Trip leaders allocate money for supplies, and give as much decision-making responsibility to the teens as possible.
“We have three rules,” Beckenhauer says. “Trust in God, open your eyes to see a community the way God would, and work hard and get sweaty!”
Often the day’s work does include plenty of manual labor. In recent years the teens have washed hundreds of windows, cafeteria tables, and desks for a school district; tackled yard work and other maintenance for the elderly; and painted a youth center.
The next morning the process is repeated—the kids select a random destination and the team heads out for another day of ministry.
“Every day is an adventure,” Beckenhauer says. “We don’t even plan in advance where we’ll sleep at night, since we don’t know where we’re headed. Someone always offers us lodging at a church, a community center, or even in their home.”
He acknowledges that some parents feel anxious about allowing their kids to participate in such a spontaneous experience, but says God always provides—and the kids are always changed.
“We’re teaching them to recognize a need and then giving them the freedom to do something about it,” he says. “It leads to amazing conversations and great experiences. Students remember the people they met and the people they served. We’ve done this since 2003, and there’s never been a disappointing day.”