How to Make a Missionary1…Youth in an Unmarked Van

It’s no secret we didn’t know what we were doing when we entered the mission field. I decided to share some of what made us who we are. The new series is call How to Make a Missionary, look for it. Maybe with this warning you can avoid the same kind of outcomes we had.

We were youth pastors at a local church, camp directors and volunteers within our Christian circle. As youth pastors, it was our charge to introduce these pre-adults to Jesus, secure a confession and send them back to their parents with hearts full of God. Easy right?!? Luckily, I had a tazer and was very wily with its use.

With this opportunity and an unmarked, white 15-passenger van, we embarked on our journey with these, our friends. We made every effort to instill in them something that had not fully developed in us yet. It was that mission DNA found in the “least of these” mentality permeating the New Testament. So we loaded up the van with teen-aged lunatics and went on a missional tirade through our area.

We made sandwiches and prepared snacks, then went in search of homeless people to give them to. We didn’t quiz folks about their current state of homelessness. We went with the tried-and-true method of “If they look poor and homeless then they could probably use a sandwich.” We soon discovered the best place to find the true homeless in our area was sleeping in the shadows of the homeless shelters themselves. These ministries were stretched well beyond capacity and there was always a line to get in. If you didn’t make it in then your best shot next time was to sleep next to the building and be closer to the head of the line.

We cleaned yards and raked leaves for the shut-ins at our church. We collected gifts for Operation Christmas Child. We did work days at the church. We visited the nursing homes.

On one such visit we went into the home and searched for our target room. Clearly you recognize the importance of having a well-defined strategy when entering a nursing home. Without a plan there is the remote possibility for a break out. Not of the viral sort, more of the incarcerated sort.

The homes I have visited always have a few of those residents who hang out by the door. They are “just getting a little sunshine,” but, beware of their shifty eyes and their track shoes. These are those who seek emancipation. They understand that if they were to get up and just walk out the staff would pounce on them like secret servicemen guarding the President. They are looking for a group to fit into to make a clandestine exit.

This is where having a plan that includes an exit strategy comes into play. Those poor saps without one will end up back at the church with somebody’s Aunt Gertrude neatly tucked in between Pastor Billings’ son and Deacon Rucker’s nephew. The whole time the boys are struggling to stifle the gut ripping laughter erupting from watching Gertie bob her head to the latest Snoop Dog ditty in an effort to blend in.

This particular trip stretched some of our group. It was their first experience with varying levels of dementia as well as the profound loneliness that some residents feel. The lady we went to visit was an Alzheimer’s patient. She appeared to be at a high level with one exception. She carried one of those old-school baby dolls with the plastic head and the eyes that shut when laid down. His name was Tommy.

My heart was sad for the family of our friend as they had to live through the unraveling of their loved one. However, my heart swelled with joy as the youth of our group began to coo at and fuss over little plastic Tommy. They took turns holding him and giving him compliments much to the pleasure of his “mother.” When we left there, we discussed the events of the night. Many of these teenagers said that if they pretended with that doll for a few minutes and gave an old woman some joy it was well worth the bizarre feelings.


After stopping by a Sonic for some ice cream we brainstormed other missional things we could do. On the way home we decided to take our plain white, what looked to be a government- issue immigration-mobile through some Hispanic neighborhoods…

 …Just to give ‘em a thrill. (I jest, I jest.)

I thank God for the opportunity to serve as a youth pastor to this group of extraordinary individuals. They taught me so much.

What do you do with the “Least of these?”  Do you practice a missional Christianity?

6 thoughts on “How to Make a Missionary1…Youth in an Unmarked Van

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  1. The whole experience of those kind of local mission trips are just incredible. More youth groups need to have that opportunity to go out and help those in need. Although what we did was simple, it affected multiple lives. I do have to admit if a sketch white van drove up as i was walking on the side of the road and asked me if i wanted food, i might be a little scared to take it. (Stranger Danger). Still to this day I tell people about the elderly lady who carried sweet ol baby tommy, great baby by the way, didnt cry at all. She was definitely one of those whom was looking for someone just to talk to, even if she didnt realize it. Plus im glad we fed her “pet” fish in that electronic aquarium. In all i loved that mission trip to the ghettos of greenville, nursing homes, and random houses of shut-ins. Since then i have done more small mission projects and made a video documentary on poverty in areas of Greenville. Thanks Ken for all you did for our youth at C-Heights!


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