In this anniversary year, we continue looking back at our history to see how it applies to us today.
When I was in high school, I always felt I wanted to do more in the way of outreach, but to do so seemed to mean traveling to a foreign country sometime after college. The history of outreach in our Synod, however, shows the opportunities were not only there, but that youth have served and continue to serve an important role in the work of the church.
In 1974, the ELS Youth Board called upon youth groups (Lutheran Youth Societies, as they were called) throughout the Synod to adopt a foreign mission as their own personal mission field. Youth were to apply to serve as short-term missionaries in a youth volunteer program. The Youth Board of the Synod supported fundraising, candidate application, and other administrative details of the program. It was called “Project ‘74.” They focused on Nicaragua, sending three ELS youth and a Bethany seminarian there in 1975, but already in 1974, sponsored by her home congregation, a young lady went to work in Peru.
Project 74 was a major undertaking and social and financial concerns all work against such major projects, but that doesn’t mean outreach is impossible for youth. In fact, most outreach isn’t foreign. Outreach, most importantly, is to our neighbors – not necessarily physical neighbors, but anyone God has placed in our path.
In the 1950s, the Youth Board of the Synod began publishing the precursor to Young Branches, the YPA Quarterly (Young People’s Association was the former name of LYA). Back then, YPA was more than just a national convention. It included even college and seminary students and functioned more like a “mini synod.” Each church of the Synod had their own youth society, which elected individuals to go to the convention. There, these individuals elected their own officials and conducted their own business as well as participating in standard youth convention events.
Through YPA and the YPA Quarterly, the youth of the Synod actively reached out to their neighbors, to the people God placed in their path. Seminarians promoted the pastoral vocation to college-aged men. College students promoted Bethany Lutheran College as the best way to minister to high school students looking to go to college. High school students promoted ELS summer camps to younger youth. Some students wrote devotions for the fellow students in the YPA Quarterly. It was outreach centered around vocation. Each Christian youth, in their current vocations – as friend, as sister, as student – was able to reach out. This is the exact same type of outreach that any older Christian is given as well.
Youth are vital to reaching out to the people God has placed in their path. Hear now from two mission pastors in our Synod as they answer why youth are important to outreach in our Synod today.
Were you involved with outreach as a youth? How did that impact you?
Pastor Matt Behmer (Cristo Rey Lutheran Church, Bell Gardens, CA; Member of the World Outreach Committee of the ELS): I was blessed with many opportunities to be involved in outreach as a youth. Specifically, I was able to serve on short-term mission trips to northern Mexico through an organization called Mission to the Children. The truth is, short-term mission trips may not always have a large impact on the field. Teams come into a new setting for a short period of time, which does not provide the opportunity for relationships to be formed. There can be language barriers. There are other limiting factors. It’s often the participants that benefit as they get to see the gospel message at work in other parts of the world. This was certainly true for me. It was inspiring to see people from a different culture with a different language in a different country hearing the best news in the world.
Pastor Daniel Ruiz (Hope Lutheran Church, Leander, TX): I was involved with outreach as a youth. It left an impression on me how much the church strives to reach people of different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, to be united in the Word of God. It even led me to ask who outreached to my family.
How are youth vital to our mission work as a Synod and your particular mission field?
MB: In our mission setting, we haven’t had direct involvement of youth. However, we look forward to a variety of outreach projects that will involve youth in the future. A way that youth have been indirectly involved is through financial support. We have received mission offerings from several grade schools that have allowed us to conduct outreach initiatives. In general, youth are crucial to mission work. One of the best ways they can get involved is by bringing their friends to church. Almost all visitors in our mission setting attended because they were personally invited by a member. Youth can participate in the great commission by doing the same at their congregations.
DR: Youth are vital in that they are able to reach certain people who many adults would not, people of their grade and ages, relating with them in personal and real conversations. Youth impress on adults a faith that is childlike, clinging to every word of the Lord, reinforcing Jesus’ encouragement to have a faith that is trusting in Him. The youth of Hope have expressed these exact things, telling me how they have been able to redirect friends back to scripture or work through questions of morality. They especially help the new youth in the church feel like they are with a family. And they have helped with various outreach projects.
What are some ways youth can get involved today in the work of Foreign Outreach?
MB: There certainly may be opportunities for mission trips. Youth can also consider studying to be a pastor or teacher. Youth could consider pursuing another career that may somehow be connected to world outreach. But one of the best ways youth can get involved is through prayer. Pray that our national pastors in South America, Asia, and India are encouraged in their work. Pray that the members and leaders of churches in other parts of the world are continually nourished through Word and Sacrament. Pray that the Lord would open new doors for mission work in new places. Prayer is a way to have an influence around the world while never leaving home.
DR: For Home Outreach, youth are able to be involved with finding people who are near home. Many are gifted in interaction and creating bonds. They are able to use these gifts with those near their church home. Youth could write for local articles with the guidance of a Pastor. Most these days are able to post in the quickest manner through media, any type of church event being hosted.
Rev. Jeffrey Hendrix
Faith Lutheran Church