Serving and Seeing Christ

Not all Young Life trips lead to camp. For kids from Norcross, Ga., the greatest week of their lives occurred in March and involved (among other things) airplanes, paintbrushes, drywall, sweat ... and an education in love. One of Young Life's "hidden treasures" is its Expeditions Program, which enables groups to help Young Life ministries throughout the world (see bottom of page). The Wesleyan School in Norcross sent students on two Expeditions trips this year. The first took female students to work with Young Lives, Young Life's ministry to teen moms and their babies, on an American Indian reservation in New Mexico. The second brought 16 guys, three teachers and two Young Life staff due south to Costa Rica.

"The whole program hinges on local staff recognizing the benefits of having a group come for a week or so," explained Jeff Tait, on staff with Young Life Expeditions. "They decide how to best use this resource we're sending. So in Costa Rica that looks different than in the Dominican Republic or Africa." For this trip, that meant going to the home of Jean Carlo and his mother, Liliam.

Walls down, ceilings up

Jean Carlo lives in a small town in Cedros, San Jose, and, like many kids his age, he's funny, joyful and loves to dance. Jean Carlo also happens to have Down syndrome, which is how he became involved in Young Life Capernaum, a ministry for kids with disabilities.

Allen Dixon, area director for Greater Johns Creek in Georgia, knew the trip would stretch students. "At the beginning of the week, they didn't know how to react to a kid with Down syndrome — they hadn't experienced that sort of thing — and they'd never seen a two-room house, with no ceiling and just a tin roof."

As the week progressed, however, barriers fell as Jean Carlo and the kids from Georgia spent time together. Tait witnessed the transformation. "The first day (traditionally a non-work day) we went to the hot springs. Jean Carlo came and was very quiet on the way out, but after he swam with us all day and spent time with us on the bus, the walls came down. He began to win over their hearts that day."

Sharon Acon, on student staff with Young Life Capernaum in Costa Rica, also saw the tentativeness between the students and Jean Carlo melt away. "The group fell in love with him. That was one of my favorite things; they started loving him and what they were doing for him."

And what they were doing was giving the family a phenomenal home makeover. The work included hanging a drywall ceiling, tiling the entire floor, sanding and painting the front of the house, rebuilding their fence, installing new gutters, and working on drainage issues in the back of the house.

Another part of the project was more spontaneous. Nate Rupp, an art teacher at the Wesleyan School, asked if he could paint murals in Jean Carlo's room. Rupp took it upon himself to give Jean Carlo two perfect images — the local Capernaum logo and a "window" opening out to a view of the beach.

Tait said, "Jean Carlo didn't know what to do when he saw the murals, he was so excited. He had no words — all he could do was dance for 20 minutes!"

Leaving and loving

"The group really put their heart in the house. But the best part was creating that relationship with Jean Carlo," Acon said. Through tears, Jean Carlo's mother, Liliam, thanked the team for all they had done. "She said, though, that the care and love the guys showed to Jean Carlo was more important to her than all the work we did on her house."

Coming home, Dixon witnessed the impact the trip had made in the Norcross community. "Since we've been back, two of the guys are super excited about doing Young Life Capernaum in Gwinnett County. Adults in the community came up to me and said, ‘Whatever you did in Costa Rica, thank you. My son came back with a different mindset.'

"My favorite part was watching kids see relational ministry happening inside a community. They went in feeling sorry for Jean Carlo, but as they got to know him, they fell in love not with a Down syndrome kid, but Jean Carlo himself. I think Jesus led us down there certainly to work on and invest in the house and Jean Carlo's family, but I think Jesus brought Jean Carlo into their lives to teach them how to love and be loved."

What did Jean Carlo take away from this week? A month after the trip there was a Capernaum club, where the skit featured superheroes. These characters, with names like "super soccer player" and "super friend," each came out and talked about their super powers. Then, another "superhero" entered — Jesus. The leaders asked the kids to name some of the powerful things Jesus has done. One kid raised his hand and cried out, "He fed people!" "He healed people!" another offered. After a few more responses, Jean Carlo smiled and said, "Jesus fixed my house."

Short-Term Mission with Long-Term Vision

"How can you see the world as Christ sees the world unless you've seen the world Christ sees?"

The Young Life Expeditions team helps leaders craft and implement the great discipleship experience of a short-term service mission. Most Expeditions trips are international, but more and more are taking place in the United States as well: on American Indian reservations and in inner cities.

"This really is a win-win all around," said Hunter Lambeth, Young Life Expeditions director. "We're doing this in more than 30 countries around the world, and this year we've sent 81 groups to 25 countries. We truly believe in the equation: Resources + Relationships = Regeneration."

Expeditions works by:

  • Deploying teams from the United States to serve in practical and beneficial ways alongside international Young Life staff and volunteers in their communities
  • Connecting individuals in the United States with international Young Life internships

"Most folks who take a trip are ready to sign up for the following year before they even return. Kids leave with a vision for the world and come home transformed. The impact of teaching about servanthood is good. The impact of doing servanthood and then teaching it is great. Expeditions can help you fulfill your calling to disciple as well as anything I know." – Marty Caldwell, Senior Vice President, International South Division