9 Tips from a Veteran Trip Leader

I’ve had the privilege of leading several Expedition teams in Europe, Central America and South America. There are a few things I wish I would have known and a few things I learned along the way so I figured it would be nice to share them with you, my fellow (and future!) trip leaders.

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Let me start by saying, “You’ve got this, it’s going to be great!”

My Tips and Tricks

  1. Be flexible, plans change, go with the flow; when things change I’ve learned God is doing something even better. Your kids pick up on your emotions and frustrations so if you are flexible and positive they will be too.
  2. Get time with Jesus. Ask your host when is a good time for you to sneak away, off alone for a bit…don’t go too far…just far enough to have space for you and Jesus (it may be while your students are working…that’s ok, it’s more important that you model following Christ than working yourself to exhaustion. These trips can be tiring enough, without some good time with Jesus it will be even more exhausting.) Also without coffee it can be exhausting…it’s ok to ask for that (or bring some) too.
  3. Make space for your students to have time with Jesus. They need time with Jesus just like you do. Set aside 15-20 minutes in the morning for them to get some solo time and be sure to set aside ample time in the evenings for small group discussion. This is always my favorite part of the day with my team.
  4. Let your kids do it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing all the “heavy lifting” to model hard work and to ease the burden from your students. Let them serve! You will serve with them but let them do the big things. They will get great satisfaction from pushing through, working hard, and problem solving. Be their biggest cheerleader.
  5. Ask questions, take a posture of learning. In Young Life we have a culture of being gracious and patient with questions; it’s ok to ask your host about why things are the way they are or when things seem confusing (not in an accusatory or demeaning way but in a gracious way where you genuinely seek understanding). Your host will be happy to share with you more about their culture and will genuinely appreciate you wanting to know more. Don’t be shy with your questions.
  6. Invest deeply. Get to know your host, the community, your students, the culture. If you aren’t leaving with new friends you’ve missed one of the best opportunities that an Expedition can provide, the opportunity to love people and learn from them. Don’t miss it!Ecuador2014-1
  7. Get quality time with your team. Regularly check in with your students (individually and corporately). Set aside time to hang out with each kid individually even if it’s just over a meal (make sure your other kids are within view!). Ask them questions and listen. This will help them to really process their experience.
  8. Journal. Write things down. Write down stories, ways God revealed himself, prayers, and names you want to remember. Even if you just write down simple bullet points it will be nice to be able to remember what God did when people inevitably ask “how was your trip?”
  9. Make it memorable. There is way more room for flexibility on an Expedition to get creative than there is on a traditional Young Life camp trip. Maybe tell your host you’d like to stop at a local grocery store and get a few new foods for your team to try (or have everyone pick out something interesting). Plan an extra ice cream trip. Surprise your team with an after work swim in the river. Have a silly dance off in your hotel. Your local host knows what is safe and appropriate, take advantage of their knowledge of the area and have fun!

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Written by: Lauren Wallace

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A Day in the Life of Svetlana Mosias

Meet my friend, Svetlana Mosias. Actually, I think of Sveta more as a sister…or another daughter! We first met when she came to the U.S. to help with translating for other Russian leaders who were also visiting. When we picked her up at the airport in San Francisco it was easy to spot her…the only beaming smile in the long line of weary travelers.

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It was love at first sight. That first night in our home, over cups of her favorite Russian tea, we heard her story. She shared about her early days in Lithuania where her father was stationed serving in the USSR Army and how the family eventually moved back to their former home in Krasnodar, Russia. Svetlana was an eager student and avid English learner, often using classic old movies from Hollywood to polish her skills. (We wondered how she knew so much slang from the 50’s!) It was during this time that she began attending a Young Life Club in Krasnodar and was struck with the love and reality of the living Christ. Her faith grew and she became a Young Life volunteer leader. During this time she also pursued her love of linguistics, graduated from university, and began translating for the Young Life ministry in Russia and the Former Soviet Union. Svetlana has made many trips back to the U.S. to translate for FSU leaders who have come to share their stories at U.S. staff gatherings, meetings with foundations, camps and churches.

Svetlana now serves as the Regional Administrator for Young Life Russia. She spends countless hours translating training materials for leaders, helps translate YL Area and Regional updates from FSU leaders to friends in the US and participates in camps and clubs. Sveta also helps host and lead Expedition teams all while parenting her adorable little daughter, Masha.

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Sveta calls me her “American mummy.” I love to think of my “Russian daughter” sharing her heart with the leaders and kids in Krasnodar. These past fifteen years of knowing and loving Sveta have brought deeper faith and unity in Christ to us both. We have shared countless hours over tea sharing joys, challenges, family relationships, laughter, and tears.  These “tea times” are truly God’s gift…a glimpse of His Kingdom. I’ll never forget our trip to Krasnodar, meeting her parents who didn’t speak a word of English and yet feeling a kinship as we expressed our love for their daughter. These deep relationships are the essence of the Gospel and are truly life giving. What a joy it is to know Sveta! What a joy it is to know she is bringing light and life to those around her!    

We never dreamed (as we have vivid memories of the Cold War years) that we would think of a young woman in Russia as a member of our family. But here we are…experiencing the greatness of our God whose arms are big enough and strong enough to carry this whole, wide world. We are no longer US and THEM. We are now getting a glimpse at what God has had in His heart all along…one incredible fellowship in Christ that crosses all boundaries, languages, and cultures. Thanks be to God!     

Written by: Lin and Dennis Ashlock, Young Life FSU Committee Members

Mission Trips & Matching T-Shirts

I have the privilege of overseeing Expeditions, the short term service division of Young Life. Over the year, I’ve come to learn there are many opinions, misunderstandings and very strong feelings about the idea of short term mission trips.  From time to time in this blog space I’ll address some of these hot topics because they raise important questions. Plus, truth be told, now and then I just love to stir the pot.

The Expeditions staff team knows if there’s one soap box I will stand tall on it’s the subject of mission teams wearing matching shirts while traveling and/or serving in an under-developed nation.

Now I do realize a group of people dressed in bright purple or yellow in a busy airport can be very helpful. I also can appreciate matching shirts creates a sense of unity. However I would say those well-intended purposes or conveniences may also have unintended consequences.

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I’m aware I’m probably making some people squirm or even feel badly because they have a drawer full of said matching shirts, collected over many years of travelling to a place filled with people they have come to love and adore. And these shirts can evoke great memories. The intent behind these souvenirs is good. However, Americans wearing matching shirts, arriving with eager and caring hearts in a developing or under-developed nation, can actually, inadvertently, communicate something negative. It can say things like,“We are here to save you.” Or matching shirts can even say, “Look at us.  Look how ‘Christian’ we are, giving up our spring break to come serve people in material poverty. We are here to make your terrible horrible no good very bad lives better.”

Am I using too broad a brush to paint a complex topic? Perhaps. They’re just tee shirts for goodness sake. However, I do think we (by ‘we’ I’m referring to westerners and/or Americans) need to ask deeper and more thoughtful questions as we seek to serve those in need.

“Is what I’m thinking, saying, doing and even wearing honoring to our hosts, their culture, community? Are we serving people and an authentic need? Are we seeking to build trust and enhance relationships by adding to, not subtracting from, a community?”

Our goal in service needs to be about relationship, about engaging more deeply.  We can’t just go in for a short, defined period of time and then leave. We can’t, like the Lone Ranger, show up, do a quick job, then ride off saying, “My work here is done.”

We need to not be the heroes in the story. In Expeditions, everything we do is to point people first to Jesus. We do this by coming alongside staff, leaders and kids in a particular place and time. Our focus is to encourage, affirm, listen and learn from our new friends, the heroes of the story. We might do this while mixing cement for a new school walkway, or by helping serve food or run activities at camp for kids with special needs. Or it might happen while we sit under a mango tree after lunch hearing someone’s family story, their suffering and their rejoicing.  

Robert Lupton in his book, Toxic Charity writes, “For some reason healthy people with hearts full of compassion forget fundamentals when it comes to building relationships with those they attempt to serve. Forging ahead to meet a need, we often ignore the basics: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability. In doing so, relationships turn toxic.”  

Following Jesus is always about building loving relationships and lifting other people up, particularly the lost, the last, the least and the forgotten. The sooner we figure this out the better.  Compassion, kindness, goodness – these are all the fruit of God’s character, and we need more and more of it every single day, whether we’re leaving the creature comforts of our lives to serve elsewhere, or we’re walking across the street to talk to a lonely neighbor.

There are many great resources that can help us think more broadly about how to serve in meaningful ways.  “More or Less,” by Jeff Shinabarger” is one of my favorite books to help you think about how to live out generosity day to day.  Poverty Inc. is a fantastic documentary the sheds light on the cycle of politics and misguided efforts to help move people out of poverty.

Am I saying stop caring; stop serving? No. Never. Just the opposite. But be wise, think and act in strategic ways, and for goodness sake, wear what you want to wear. But make sure it’s never about you and always about the other.

In Expeditions, we send a fun shirt to each person who serves Young Life within a few days of returning home. We include some suggestions on how to serve back in their own neighborhood. Our hope is that those shirts get worn a lot and initiate conversations about where they went and what they learned and their new friendships and how they’re changing their own lives.

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It’s a lot to ask of a shirt but God can use anything he wants to change people’s hearts and minds!

Written by: Michele Sbrana

Young Life Camp Across the Globe

This past summer I spent a week in Spain serving with Young Life Expeditions. Our team was putting on a Young Life camp for students from Sweden and Norway. This was hard to explain to people, that I was with Norwegian and Swedish students…in Spain. However, traveling country to country in Europe is pretty similar to traveling state to state in the US. Most years these Young Life areas from Sweden and Norway travel to the United States to experience the magic of Young Life camp. Last summer Thor, the National Director in Norway, and his leaders wanted to create that magic closer to home, in Spain.

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The Young Life camp was held at a rental property. It was an incredible place, but not one designed with Young Life camp in mind (the property was normally used for elementary school aged children). Because of this, the program team, work crew, and assignment team worked hard to transform the camp and set the stage for the Gospel to be proclaimed that week. The work crew built an obstacle course from nearly nothing, put up and tore down volleyball courts in a matter of minutes, and did so many other things to help create the Young Life camp feel. One thing that really stuck with me was watching the local camp staff in Spain observe what was taking place. They had many questions and wanted to know why we were here to help students we didn’t know and why we spent so much time on something a kid might see for only a matter of minutes. We got to share the why, the heart of camp, the idea of setting the stage so perfectly for the Gospel to be shared each night.

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Being part of the week was surreal for me—seeing Young Life camp happen in Europe, on a property that had never experienced anything like it. But the most compelling piece of the trip happened on night 5 when the camp speaker shared about Jesus dying on a cross for each of the students in that room. One of the students there was of Islamic faith and all week we saw his leader love him, we watched him experience the magic of camp, and then he heard the truth of who Jesus is. That night we saw him in tears while listening to the speaker share what Jesus had done. The Gospel softened his heart and in that instance every ounce of work we had done felt like nothing.

As a Communication Studies major one of the things that fascinates me is the many languages & dialects we speak. I’m sure you can think of a few words or expressions only you and your friends share. So much of our life is understood through the lens of our own language. That week there were so many different cultures and languages all combined into one shared week of Young Life camp. American work crew, program, and speakers. Norwegian and Swedish campers and leaders. Spanish camp staff. However, one thing that is not confined by language is the Gospel message. We watched the power of Jesus’ story in action. With tears and overwhelming joy we served as Jesus allowed us to be involved in His work of transforming lives. I have traveled abroad a few times to serve but each time I have returned home feeling as if I was the one who had been served.

Written by: Landon Dermott

D.C. Day of Service: Love God and Love Others For Real

In January, Expeditions partnered with the Young Life Capital Region in Washington D.C. for a day of community service. Our hope was to provide an accessible and tangible discipleship opportunity for kids and their leaders who might not be able to serve on work crew, summer staff or go on an International Expedition trip.

We wanted to deepen the understanding of the Scripture’s teaching on generosity of heart, mind, body and spirit. We also wanted to give kids a way to practically love God and others while giving them an opportunity to engage with others of varying backgrounds offering them a new shared experience and relationship.

We held the event on Martin Luther King Day as a way to model Dr. King’s life and teachings that community service helps empower and strengthen local communities. Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” We wanted to spur students on to view service as a way of life in response to the Gospel and not just a way to earn community service hours for college resumes.  

The location was a key factor and was chosen by Chris Chiles, the Young Life Area Director in Southeast DC. Chris is working to start a WyldLife club at Charles Hart Middle School and contacted school administration about holding a Day of Service. They welcomed us and shared a number of possible projects we could work on – ultimately the school asked us to paint lockers.

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We had 152 students and leaders participate and by the end of the day we painted an entire floor of lockers. Ashley, a teacher at the school, sent us this email the following day.

Good Morning Chris,

On behalf of Charles Hart Middle School, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SERVICE! We are so grateful for the wonderful job you and your students did on the lockers yesterday! The students were respectful, detail oriented and professional. I was beyond impressed with the team’s organization and commitment to doing a great job. You all far exceeded my expectations and the impact of your work will be felt for years to come. Please feel free to share our gratitude with the rest of your team!

Also, please let me know if you are still interested in bringing Young Life to Hart! If you’re still interested, we would love to begin moving forward!

Thank you,

Ashley

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If you would like to hold a day of service in your community Expeditions would love to help you make a plan. Email ylexpeditions@gmail.com and let us know what you are thinking!

Written by: Mike Miller

A Healthy Dose of Ohana

Young Life University Southern California (USC) to Molokai, Hawaii. March 11-19, 2017.

Our Young Life Expeditions trip was three years in the making. In 2014 we didn’t have enough interest in a trip and it wasn’t until this spring that our team of 14 finally boarded a plane for Molokai, HI.  It was everything I hoped that it would be and an even greater amount of what I never expected.

We traveled to this self-proclaimed “Friendly Island” and birthplace of the Hula with these preconceptions: it was a former leper colony, there were no stoplights, and there would be a high level of poverty. However, when we arrived the story had so many more facets. We were welcomed by a people in Molokai who were not only far from
impoverished, but rich in heritage and pride in their island culture. We were treated to a healthy dose of OHANA which means family. We were greeted as cousins, uncles, FarmingGroupShotbrothers, and sisters of our hosts. We were invited to worship with them, celebrate a birthday feast with them, assist in Young Life ministry with them, and take part in weekly sports activities with them as if we were fellow citizens of the Molokai community.

As opposed to serving them, we served alongside our friends in their endeavor to preserve their beautiful island and its resources. We did so by helping paint and beautify the grounds of the church and the adjoining pre-school. We also learned about the importance of keeping the beaches of Molokai clean in light of the constant debris that found its way to the shores of Moo’momi Beach as a result of the tsunami in Japan. We learned about the vital and integral farming resources that fill the small island and help feed and provide a living for the population of approximately 7,000 homesteaders.  In the process we were each invited into the privilege of planting a tree and labeling each one with our names. This earned us an invitation to become honorary members of theBen's Tree Hawaiian Tropic Fruit Growers (HTFG). We were blessed to be able to clear overgrown foliage from the property of a single mother of two who had just acquired her property, but found it too daunting to clear it herself. We did so while she was teaching at school and left before she came home to the surprise of a slightly improved landscape.

There was much beauty to see in the sheer cliffs, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and unique beaches that are unlike any beaches we have seen in Southern California. In all of its quaintness, the small downtown area of Molokai bore a charming resemblance to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and offered a warmth that was ever-present in the frequent gestures of its citizens who would never hesitate to wave “hello”. Exchanges like this and laughs shared with our new friends over games made it difficult to leave.  When the time came many of us were not ready to go home, simply because we had been made to feel so at home. In the end, each participant expressed their desire to return to this friendly island full of culture, delicious fruit, and citizens so warm that they would truly give you all that they have if you express the need to have it. In so many ways, they were far richer than we could have ever imagined, and they shared that with us through their love, grace and “others-oriented” way of life.  MAHALO Molokai for sharing your warm and wonderful wealth with us!

Until we meet again….

Written by: Ben Chambers, YL College Director USC/UCLA

International Travel as a Single Woman

Here at Expeditions, we’re all about team and group travel but we also know there are plenty of people who have gotten the travel bug from  Expeditions. We get it! We do too! We thought it might be helpful to  offer a few Cultural Intelligence and Safety travel tips.  We’ve reframed  these tips from our team training for women who might find themselves traveling solo and not serving on an Expedition.

Here are some tips for all you single ladies that will help you be a street smart traveler!

  1. Let your family or friends know  your travel itinerary and ways to contact you – call, text, email.

  2. International Cell Phone
    1. Get a sim card when you arrive or contact  your cell phone carrier before you leave to set up a temporary international plan
    2. Be sure to have phone numbers of emergency contacts
  3. Do your research
    1. Spotting tourists a mile away  – I used to live in San Francisco, and you could always spot the tourists in the summer by their clothes – shorts, tshirts, sandals.  They looked ridiculous because it was usually 50 degrees and foggy in the city.
    2. Educate yourself on the local dress, customs, food, transportation, etc – talk to friends who have visited the place you’re going, look up travel blogs, buy a book or download an app!
  4. Have local contacts
    1. Arrange airport pick-up – don’t accept ride offers
    2. Translator or guide – you’ll want this person(s) not only for great local suggestions but also for translation help at markets, where they usually give you the “foreigner price” aka about 10 times the local price.  They can help you translate the culture (example in India – tell you when to bow or not to shake someone’s hand with your left hand)
  5. Have a plan
    1. Spontaneity can be fun but it can also be stressful if you aren’t familiar with the area where you’re traveling.  Be sure to research attractions, activities, and restaurants beforehand so you get the most out of your trip!
    2. Google Maps and other travel apps will help you figure out the best routes.
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  6. This ain’t the South (of the United States)
    1. Eye contact and smiling, especially directed at men, isn’t always the best decision
    2. A nonchalant acknowledging smile in the South can be translated in some countries as “I want to be your friend (or more!), please talk to me.”  Simply being “nice” could put you in a situation you’ll regret.  Don’t risk it.
  7. You’re not in Kansas anymore – don’t go wandering at night
    1. Yes, this might be common sense, but many women wrongly assume they can do the same thing as they can in their town or city at home.
    2. If you do choose to go out at night, be sure to go with someone, preferably a male.

Written by: Megan Stephens