21. Incorporating Mission Trips into Youth Ministry

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Angel Barrera
Patti Gutierrez

Show Notes patticc.com/21

Notas del Programa patticc.com/s21

Angel Barrera, shares about the ways that summer mission trip experiences can energize your youth ministry programs and teach young people how to live out their faith.

Recommended Resources:

Translation Services from Patti’s Catholic Corner patticc.com/services

Mission Trip Experiences:

Just5Days, a middle school summer mission trip
www.Just5Days.org
Susan Searle, susan@cmdnet.org
Locations & Dates – https://www.cmdnet.org/j5d-locations-and-dates

Young Neighbors in Action, a high school summer mission trip
www.YoungNeighbors.org
Joan Weber, joanweber@cmdnet.org
Locations & Dates – https://www.cmdnet.org/ynia-locations-and-dates

Rostro de Cristo rostrodecristo.org – If you’re looking for an international mission trip experience I highly recommend this program in Ecuador where I served as a volunteer for a year!

Other Resources:

Youth Ministry Access, a subscription resource for Catholic youth ministry leaders
www.YouthMinistryAccess.org
Angel Barrera, angel@cmdnet.org

Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies – https://www.cmdnet.org/youth-ministry/training-and-formation/certificate-in-youth-ministry-studies-program

Webinar Series – not sure you’re ready for a full program? Check out their ministry training webinars – https://www.cmdnet.org/youth-ministry/resources/cmd-webinar-series

Introduction

Greetings Gente Puente! In this episode, Angel Barrera, shares about the ways that summer mission trip experiences can energize your youth ministry programs and teach young people how to live out their faith.

Si prefieres español puedes encontrar un resumen del programa de hoy sobre experiencias misioneras para adolescentes y jóvenes en patticc.com/s21.

I’m Patti Gutierrez from Patti’s Catholic Corner. Our team strives to serve ministries like yours from behind the scenes. We provide best practices & encouragement with this podcast and our Facebook group, as well as Spanish translation services from a team experienced in Catholic ministry.

You can find all the resources mentioned in today’s episode and a summary of the episode in English and Spanish, in the Show Notes found at patticc.com/21.

If you want to be part of our online community, just look for Gente Puente on Facebook and join the group.

Today we are going to hear from Angel Barrera who works for the Center for Ministry Development. After years of youth ministry experience in parishes and the Diocese of Brownsville, he now helps equip youth ministry leaders through his work with the Center. As he shares in the interview, especially after participating in the V Encuentro process, they are very much aware of the need for great, engaging youth ministry efforts that can reach the growing Hispanic population as well as equipping adult leaders for that ministry.

Some important elements of excellent youth ministry are helping young people encounter Christ, learn about their faith and learn how to put their faith into action. A very powerful and energizing way to do that is to bring them on a short-term mission experience. Angel is going to share how any type of mission experience can be helpful to your youth ministry. If you’re looking for an organized summer trip, Angel tells us about the Center for Ministry Development’s programs across the United States, one for middle-school youth and one for high-school youth.

Let’s listen to my interview with Angel Barrera!

Interview

Welcome Angel, I’m so glad you’re here on the Gente Puente Podcast.

Hi and thank you for having me. I am excited to be here with you all.

Opening Prayer.

Angel, its such a pleasure to get to talk to you today. I’m excited to hear more about the project, but first can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, your background, your vocation and your ministry?

Absolutely. My name is Angel Barrera, I’m a project coordinator for Youth Ministry Services at the Center for Ministry Development. I am a project lead on Youth Ministry Access, a subscription resource; I do ministry training, workshops and certificate programs. Before that I was working formally as the Diocesan Director of Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Brownsville, TX. I have some campus ministry experience, and some parish youth ministry experience. In my domestic church, I am happily married to my wife of 7 years, we have 4 children together. I’m enjoying parenting, married life, as well as ministry.

All right, thank you. Can you give us kind of an overview of what the Center for Ministry Development is, and does?

The Center was founded back in 1978; we are celebrating 40 years of partnering with the Catholic Church and its ministry to young people and their families. Much of the work is around training and resourcing parishes, catholic schools, and Dioceses. One of the staple programs that have been around for a long time is a Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies. We also have Youth Ministry Access as a way to resource parishes. The project that I’m excited to share about is the Service Learning, or summer mission trips that we offer. These trips are launch pad to get parishes going with their young people and energize them to get involved. To embrace their faith and engage in service in their local communities.

Can you tell us a little more about those mission experiences? How do they get set up, and what do they do during their time with you?

We have a couple of different programs. One is the Just 5 Days program, which is our middle school service learning summer mission trip experience. We also have Young Neighbors in Action, the high school program. It is very exciting to have parishes participate in these, because it means so much for the youth that participates, you can see the transformation that happens. Especially when it’s their first time. We have a lot of returning participants. We organize mission summer trips throughout the country and we have parishes that plan and participate in coming to these. In our middle school group, they go out for 5 days, Monday to Friday. Usually they stay in their own state, because most parents are not confortable allowing them to go further in distance at this age. They spend the week with us, learning about Catholic Social teaching and putting it into practice, praying and having fun, building community. They learn about their faith and how to put their faith into action with other youth from around the country.

How would a parish who is interested in sending a group, how would they go about doing that?

I think it’s important for them to discern what their needs are. Hispanics are very young. Just coming off the V Encuentro looking at all the stats, doing good Hispanic ministry is looking at doing good parish Youth Ministry. I think they need to be considered one in the same. We need to do good youth ministry. So consider: what are the needs of the young people that we are serving and how do we mobilize them, how can they grow from this experience? If they are looking for an awesome summer experience that is going to build and energize a parish youth ministry, then a summer mission trip, or a summer camp are excellent ways to do that. Once they make the commitment internally with their parish, the pastoral council, the parents, they can then contact us. We help them find a site, each site is different and we work we local service agencies and organizations that have established relationships with the people that they’re serving. We plug in these visiting parish groups with these organizations. It can be from nursing homes to environmental nature centers, to the respite center here near the border. There are a lot of different opportunities for them to be able to get connected. We offer them some preparatory resources to begin to explore the theme. Each year we focus on a different theme. This year the theme for middle school is focusing on the Beatitudes and exploring that. And the theme for high school is focusing on how to be Salt and Light.

What would you say are some of the effects of this experience? The preparation and maybe the mission itself, maybe the unpacking that happens after. What have you seen as far as results in local parishes and youth ministries?

The single word that comes to mind is, transformation. There are many times when I’m working with the parish youth minister and they are expressing concerns from their parents, or from their young people about what they think will be true – about the area that they are visiting or about the people they are going to be serving. Many times the youth come with an attitude that I am coming to give something, and very quickly through their experience they begin to move from that position. They grow, and realize that they are gaining so much in their service. In a practical way for a parish youth minister, it means that they are going to have a lot of work ahead of them because they are going to have bunch of young people on fire, ready to serve the church, energized, wanting to get engaged. The youth come from this experience wanting to know what’s next; they desire to change the world. They see all the things going on that they want to change and they want to do something about it. Giving them this opportunity to make the faith connections, to do something, is very energizing. Through mission trips is a simple way (not easy) to transform and energize a group of young people and those adults that come with them. To be able to embrace their faith and live it out boldly.

For sure. When they return, does the Center for Ministry Development also provide any resources for continuing nourishing that fire that you are saying they come back with, do you have a way of bridging that to the next step?

Part of what we offer during this week is how they are going to share and continue the mission of what they’ve lived out, back at home. They prepare a message to give when they go back. Because bringing a group of young people to a mission experience isn’t cheap in terms of finances and time invested. It’s an investment on behalf of a parish community. So it’s important that they express and share the fruits of this experience, because even if it’s just a few attendees who participate, they represent their whole community. So during the week they prepare how are the going to share the fruits of their experience. We also explore the practical ways that they are going to continue their service when they return. Many of them stay in communication with the service agencies that they began to work with. We have returning teams that want to come to the same organization, to continue working with the same families. It’s the beginning of a budding relationship and a way to continue and living the faith between the summer experiences.

So are these reflections and preparation, the meetings that are happening throughout the experience, are those led by Center for Ministry Development staff or who leads those?

We prepare team leaders which are the ones in the parishes. So the parish youth ministry would work with their adult team to organize their group, get all the forms, etc. and we send them preparatory sessions to explore the theme and prime the group. So this year they’d be exploring the Beatitudes and learning some before our week together in the summer and then afterwards would be unpacking that. The same for the high school youth about Salt and Light. While we are on the week together, that’s when we have our adjuncts, the Center for Ministry Development staff, providing the instruction, formation and learning that’s happening there.

Break

We will continue with my interview with Angel in a moment, but I want to share a little more about my company, Patti’s Catholic Corner. We are a team with experience in Catholic ministry and we understand what it is like to have a lot to do and not have a big enough team to do everything you want to do in ministry. We want you to be able to focus on your ministry while we take care of your translations from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English. Myself and the other translators on the team, have many years of experience in both Catholic ministry and Catholic translations, so you never have to worry if your translation is true to its message. We know Church lingo and we have a heart to reach Hispanic Catholics. For more information, visit patticc.com.

Now let’s continue with the conversation with Angel.

Can you go into a little more detail about what a group would expect to experience, what the format is like, what the schedule is like during their mission experience? Maybe separate by the middle school and High School if there are differences?

There are some differences. My more personal and practical experiences are with middle school because I’ve lead some in Wisconsin and in our local sites here. They arrive on Monday, we get everyone settled in to their site, then we have some community building, and an introduction to the theme. We do a get to know you because we have parishes coming from all over the state. It’s an opportunity to meet other young people. They’re going to share a living experience for 5 days. Having 60-70 middle schoolers together and their adult leaders is always a fun experience. We have a prayer and music coordinator that helps. We empower the youth to take active roles in leading prayer or take lead in some of the dynamics and community builders. Part of what we do is also build the youth as leaders, we encourage them to lead, to come up to the microphone and lead a song or proclaim a reading. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we have a brief opening prayer experience, then we send them off to their service site to do the direct service with the service agency for those 3 days. At the end of the day they have a chance to shower and have dinner, and we do some evening programing to make some of those faith connections, so each day looks a little different. On Friday we end with reflections and the sending forth of what we’re going to do now and how are we changed by the experience that we’ve had.

Young Neighbors in Action, our high school program looks very similar, except it lasts 7 days. They have a culture night, were they highlight the area of the country that they are in, and bring in some element to explore the ethnic or national groups represented in that community. There could be dancing, there’s food, music – it’s just a very festive experience of enjoying that part of the country. We find that our high schoolers are much more willing to travel further distances. Some fly across the country to a site they have never been to. So besides the service, they are also experiencing the flavor of a totally different part of the country.

Could you go into a little more detail, about the spiritual aspects or the spiritual transformations that either you have seen personally or have heard about a through this mission experiences? How do the youth go away with a deeper faith experience or how do they encounter God throughout this mission experience?

Many times, young people are impressed with how much they are gaining from the people they are serving. Many come in with this superficial idea that they are doing something for someone else, like it’s a transaction. During the latter part of the week you can see the young people end up moved, even crying, by how much the people they are serving have given them in return.

I remember a family we were serving, in a community where there are very large families in single-room homes, in some cases with dirt floors. You wouldn’t expect this to be a reality for many people in the United States. But it is. The young people working in this area could see the overt poverty, but they would remark about the joy in the children, the joy in the parents, to be so hopeful in their faith and to be able to share that with the young people and their adult leaders. The youth are able to see God in them, in how thankful they are for God, and for the church and for those serving. The young people see how they are valuable, how they can directly impact the life of another person for the better, to be the face of Christ and someone else can present the face of Christ to them.

We had one family that didn’t have much and they prepared a birthday cake, for one of the team members and they celebrated their birthday. The youth were just moved because they knew the family was struggling. That was the way of the family to say thank you, it really touched the hearts of the young people and the team. To realize that this is not a transaction, this is relationship, this is accompaniment, encountering Christ in one another. Getting out there, living out missionary discipleship. That’s just one dynamic I’ve seen. It’s something that a lot of the parish youth ministers talk about. There are hesitations and preconceptions coming in and then they are walking away blown away by how similar everyone’s needs are even though their situation may be different.

It reminds me a lot of when I was a volunteer in Ecuador, and the experiences I had there. We would have groups come down for a week and even ourselves as missionaries for one year; you kind of start with the mentality of what you’re going to give, but like you said, very quickly you realize that it’s about changing you. Our organization would always say, this is about letting ourselves be changed so that the rest of our lives we are different. Then you go out and find ways to help change long term. Of course that is one of the main goals of this experience, tell me if you’ve also seen or can you share anything about the changes that you’ve seen in the receiving parishes or sites, or local agencies and the change over the years, of having mission groups come?

They are very, very grateful. Managing volunteers is a full time job. A lot of the people we work with, that’s all they do. Some service sites that we come to can never guarantee us if they will have work for us, because they have other groups visiting, but they are always grateful for the help. They are very creative in finding help for these young people. Another thing that I’ve seen is that a lot of times these agencies underestimate the amount of work and the quality of work these youth are capable of providing, especially the middle schoolers. The youth’s capabilities can blow some of the coordinator’s minds. The young people are very eager to serve, and that always impresses the service agencies. For example, no matter the hot temperatures, no matter what the weather, the young come out so joyful and eager to help. It’s a very powerful experience It’s a bonding experience for everyone. Even just the traveling to the mission trip. Parish youth ministries will be able to yield fruit from the experience for a long time – the preparation, the planning, the fundraising, the mission, the reporting back and unpacking.

If there is a leader listening who maybe works for Catholic Charities or a possible receiving parish or service site, what could they do to propose their site as a place to receive a mission?

They can get in touch with one of our Project coordinators; Joan Weber is a project coordinator for the high school program. Susan Searle is a Project Coordinator for the middle school program. So they can contact either of them and find out how many teams we have going, and how close our sites are to their area. So if they visit our website, we have listings of all the different sites across the country that are happening this summer. If we are in your area, or it’s within 20-30 minutes, they could be a good fit. There are some teams looking for new experiences so we’re open to having those conversations.

Ok. Mainly around 20-30 minute from the areas where you already have sites established?

Correct. Then they can contact one of the Project Coordinators for details.

Ok we will put all of the links in the Show Notes to that information and your website and the contact information for those program coordinators. Related to that, I was going to ask – are you set up in regions, where a parish in a certain state would contact a certain person, or any one interested in a middle school program contacts you?

The first point of contact is our central office, which is in Washington State. Their phone number is 253-853-5422, if you call that number they will put you in contact with the right people. They’ll help you facilitate those local conversations with the site coordinator, give you the details about the sleeping arrangements, dietary restrictions, the type of work available in that area, and give you all the details.

Also, knowing that our audience are mainly catholic ministers that are working with the Hispanic community, or want to be. What could you say to them, maybe specifically about resources, how you have overcome language or cultural barriers. Or how do you integrate or involve the language and culture of the groups that you are serving and then the groups that are coming to serve? Is there anything you would like to share about that?

It’s a hard question to answer in a blanket statement. I think that it’s about accompanying the people that you serve and getting to know them well and to be able to just talk to them and learn about their needs. That includes the young people that we’re working with and the service agencies you’re heading to. Having those conversations about language and people’s needs, the availability is where the answer lies in how to be effective. Getting to know one another helps.

I guess I’m thinking of maybe a Hispanic minister who is nervous about bringing their youth to a mission experience. Maybe the youth can’t speak English real fluently and maybe will feel alienated in some way or they are not sure if they are ready?

Sure, I would express those concerns to the site coordinator, to advocate for the needs of your young people. Always make us aware of that so that we can be intentional. We can make some of the small group conversations in Spanish to satisfy this need. We know that this is important especially for Spanish-dominant Hispanic youth, especially when speaking about the faith and God. For some of us it’s just more natural to speak about that in Spanish. Our program and the references are culturally sensitive and make references to Hispanic settings. If there was a youth minister who is nervous about bringing Hispanic youth, it’s worth having that conversation with our site coordinator. One thing that makes our program unique is that we are much smaller than some of the mega-conference experiences so that makes us more agile and more able to adapt to the groups needs.

If the minister themselves preferred to speak to someone in Spanish, is there staff or adjuncts that are able to do speak to them?

Yes, they can reach out to me. We can definitely have those conversations.

Can you tell me also in general, any resources specifically that the Center for Ministry Development has provided or has available for Hispanic Ministers?

I would recommend our Youth Ministry Access, it’s a subscription resource with gathered youth nights, there are a lot in English, some in Spanish. We are working to build that more in Spanish, but we do have a lot that speak to both cultures. We have a lot of parish youth ministers asking how do we explore Día de Los Muertos, Posadas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and all of these rich Hispanic cultural traditions in our youth group settings. We have gathered youth nights for that, we have entire retreats that do that. They use movies and a lot of different resources. We write about all sorts of topics – prayer, worship, catechesis, evangelization, community life, justice and service. We have a lot of different ways of helping these parish ministers have these conversations with their youth and their families. We have the faith conversations and topics and also special topics related to immigration, Catholic Social Teaching and morality. We have tools that can be helpful for open and honest conversations about those.

Great, that sounds like there is a good mix of resources that can help youth groups that don’t have any Hispanic members to introduce some of the cultural aspects of Hispanic Culture, but also for integrated youth groups or youth groups of Hispanics particularly, so that they can all benefit from the resources on there?

Absolutely, and if there are particular needs that ministry leaders are looking for, they can share those with us. We are still fairly small ministry organization, which means we can respond fairly quickly to the needs. That’s something we want to know. We recently participated in the V Encuentro, and we are still trying to discern what does this mean for the Center for Ministry Development. We’ve been around 40 years and the question is how to respond to the current realities of the Church in the United States today, and what does that mean in the context of young people and their families. You can’t get away from what does this mean for Hispanic Ministry? We’re asking those questions and discerning. If people want to share what their needs are, we would be all ears to listen to them.

Great thank you. Is there anything else that you wanted to share in general about the Center for Ministry Development?

I would want to encourage people, if they have training and resourcing needs to consider us. We do ministry workshops every year and we have a certificate program. A lot of what we do is partnering with parishes and Dioceses in your area to offer services. Sometimes people are surprised that they haven’t heard of us after 40 years, but many times we’re working behind the scenes helping parishes and dioceses and sometimes people don’t realize they are actually participating in one of our programs.

Before we close the interview, I wanted to ask you more generally as a leader in ministry, what’s something that you have learned that you can share with the ministers that are listening?

It’s a good time of year to discern how we are doing in our ministry and how we can be better. A lot of my training and workshops are with young, new youth ministers, so these are a lot of millennials entering ministry for the first time. It’s easy to go in head-long and get disillusioned with what they find in the Church or what they find ministry to be, day in and day out. I would encourage them to find a balance, to pray and discern what’s happening. To find community, to be able to lean on in these moments. Find ways to have recreation that isn’t in ministry. If ministry is all you do all day, you can burn out and get really bitter. And you can stay in ministry and be burned out and bitter and that’s not good for anybody. That’s not the joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis talks about. It’s the Lent with no Easter he talks about. So, we need to present a joyful spirit that we share in Christ’s hope, we are an Easter people, so it’s important that we maintain that.

Could you speak directly to someone who is in that situation of feeling burnt out, or frustrated or disillusioned, and encourage him or her?

Ministry in many ways can be a thankless job. So first I want to say thank you, I have 4 children of my own, and I pray that they have caring adults and ministry leaders, like many of the listeners to the podcast, that are striving to do their ministry, that are also striving to do their work with zeal, faithfulness and piety. Just going to a workshop or listening to these podcast episodes is demonstrating that you want to be better. You’re asking awesome questions. You are not alone in that – there is a community, be it the listeners to this program or be it in your parish community that want to present Christ in a faithful way in their ministry. I would encourage you to reach out them, lean on them and ask them for prayer. Know that we pray for you. There are so many people that work so faithfully, it’s very encouraging to see that – find strength, find hope.

Thank you. Could you close in prayer for those who serve the church?

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Father we thank you for this opportunity, to discern and to learn about how we can help young people find their giftedness, share their giftedness and put it in to action. We pray that summer experiences like these mission trips can be an important bookmark in the life of a young person, to be able to live out their faith, to encounter Christ, to share Christ. And we pray that the parish communities be faithful and joy filled communities to mobilize our young people to be missionary disciples. We pray for the needs of all those in our community, we pray that we can better resource our ministry leaders to carry out their work better. We pray for the intersession of St. Joseph who worked so tirelessly and quietly in the life of Jesus and Mary. That he can be an example of what it is to be a faithful servant with intimacy with Christ in that quiet. All of this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Amen. Thank you, Angel, I’m so glad that you came and shared with us about these mission experiences and I hope listeners will take advantage and incorporate that into their youth ministry.

Thank you, Patti.

Conclusion

What a great interview with Angel! Here are some of the key takeaways for me:

  1. Mission trips provide an opportunity for transformation. Like I shared in the Introduction Episode of the Gente Puente podcast, mission trips strengthened my own faith and commitment to use my talents to serve others and make the world a better place. And I saw that time and time again when high school and college groups would come down to where I was serving in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo for an immersion experience. If you want to see your young people transformed by encountering Christ in the poor, consider organizing a mission trip – even just one week right here in the United States can be extremely powerful.
  2. Mission trips are a way to energize your youth ministry. I just loved how Angel described having a bunch of young people on fire, ready to serve the church, energized, wanting to get engaged. They come home asking what’s next. They want to find ways to help solve the problems they have seen, locally, nationally and internationally.
  3. Successful mission trips take preparation, reflection and unpacking. Don’t just prepare the logistics, prepare the hearts and minds of the young people. Then during the mission trip take the time to reflect on what they are seeing and experiencing and help them to connect it to their faith life. And lastly, after the trip be sure to take the time to unpack their experiences, preferably with their families, and help them discern how they can use what they have learned to continue putting their faith into action all year long.
  4. Don’t forget to involve the entire parish community. Like Angel said, consider the mission trip to be an investment of the entire parish and that these young people are representing their faith community. Whether you use these formalized programs or organize your own, make sure there are elements that the entire parish community can get involved in and then share in the fruits of the mission trip as well.
  5. You are not alone! Like Angel says it’s really easy to jump into ministry head-long and quickly find yourself burning out. Finding community to support you is crucial to longevity in ministry. Join the Gente Puente community on Facebook to share your joys & struggles with other ministers. Also find ways locally to bring a few ministers together to support one another. Don’t be afraid to reach out and find support and ask for prayer. We’re in this together!

Well, I hope that you liked the interview too and that you’ll consider incorporating a mission trip into your youth ministry.

Visit the Show Notes at patticc.com/21 to see the contact information for the people Angel mentioned for those interested in bringing youth on a mission trip as well as links to all of the resources the Center for Ministry Development has, including the subscription service Youth Ministry Access.

I hope you also come to our Facebook group to share photos and resources of the activities you are doing in your parish or diocese. You can find us at www.facebook.com/groups/gentepuente or simply look for Gente Puente on Facebook.

In the next episode we will be talking with Jose Juan Valdez who leads a ministry for marriage enrichment called Serán los Dos Uno. He will share from his experience about how to create and maintain a vibrant ministry to accompany couples and help them keep their marriages strong.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Gente Puente podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss any future episodes!

Thanks for listening today. May God bless you and your ministry as gente puente!

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