KIRKWOOD — Youth at Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Louis, held three fundraising events to boost their mission trip budget fund to over $14,000. Then they packed their bags and headed to the group’s destination: their own city.
This year, the mission trip dollars were able to go to people in need instead of funding travel, said associate pastor for students Daniel Johnson. The funds will go to organizations supporting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger — particularly focused on those who make less than a dollar a day. Nearly $13,000 will go toward that cause, Johnson said.
He decided to stay local when he sensed a trend for thinking about where the next “big trip” would be. Kirkwood is becoming more community-focused, he said, so he started planning the trip in a way that would reflect that — and allow the student to be “change agents in the world,” he said.
First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis provided housing for the week. Students took showers in the afternoons at Fontbonne University.
Each day, five teams went to different locations across the city. Ministry partners included the Christian Activity Center, St. Louis Food Bank, Nurses for Newborns, St. Patrick Center — an urban farm — and Gateway Homeless Shelter, among others.
The older youth participated in “the walk.” A homeless man led them through what someone who is homeless in St. Louis does during the day. He spoke of particular struggles for females. “You will not meet a woman on the street who has not been beaten or raped,” Johnson reported him as saying.
“It was a great idea Daniel had to put together projects in our own town, because the youth — and I — had no idea of the opportunities to help others right here,” said adult sponsor Susan Eaton. “One of the kids in my group even said one day, ‘Well, I could come here and volunteer someday during the summer when I’m off school.’”
Johnson said the idea was to expose the youth to as many different organizations as possible and to demonstrate the great need within their own community. With work in the St. Patrick Center’s urban farm, time at the food bank and service in the homeless shelters, the youth had the opportunity to “see the whole chain of how hunger is taken care of in the city,” Johnson said.
“In general, the youth of Kirkwood did not shy away from any task that was requested of them,” Eaton said. “They shared their time and energy willingly and had fun doing it. They are a great bunch of kids, and I am very proud of them.”
They planned a worship service at one of the downtown shelters. Johnson said the youth are accustomed to planning worship due to experience leading on youth Sundays at the church.
Eaton especially enjoyed watching the youth interact with the children at the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis. The youth played with the kids, worked on tumbling skills and led arts and crafts. “Several of our girls sat patiently for quite awhile, allowing young girls to fix their hair in all kinds of ‘unusual’ styles,” she said.
“I believe it was good for our kids to see that sometimes, all it takes to help someone is to give a smile and a hug — things that cost nothing, but might be priceless to a needy child.”
Jennifer Harris is News Writer for Word&Way.