Crossing Cultures with Pre-Teens
In late July, while his coworker Aaron was gearing up for a mission trip to East Africa, Southeast Christian Church Southwest campus youth minister Craig Donnelly was preparing to lead six green middle school boys all the way to sunny . . . South Louisville. At SECC, it is typical for high school students to begin exploring the world and having their first overseas mission experiences. Donnelly’s vision is brilliant: he wants to prepare his younger guys for the not-so-distant future by making a far shorter journey to the diverse Beechmont/Southside neighborhood. He has a point. Learning to interact with people who are different than oneself and facing culture shock for the first time is a lot easier if it’s only for a couple of days and fifteen minutes from your own bed.
Earlier in the year, Donnelly contacted Hope Place and he and staff began working together to build an experience that would benefit both his young team and Hope Place’s wider community. The result was a combination of educational trainings, testimonies of in-cultural believers, community service outside of the building, and several delicious meals prepared by immigrant-owned local restaurants over the course of two and a half days.
Ten-year-old Ryder Munday explains his thought process after Donnelly personally invited him to join the team. “My brothers go on mission trips a lot. When my dad told me there was going to be one for sixth and seventh graders, I wanted to go so that I could see what a mission trip really is.” Ryder’s father, Chris Munday, came along to chaperone.
Snapshots of a Middle-School Mission Trip
On Friday morning, the team set up tents and sensory bins in the Hope Place garden in preparation for Fun Friday–a summertime staple in which neighborhood kids have free playtime outside. While a diverse group of children moved rocks with toy dump trucks, served mulch “smoothies” in the playhouse, or painted watercolor masterpieces on the fence, nine-year-old Yolian sat on the steps and chatted about Ethiopian politics with the Mundays. As a member of a persecuted people group, she is keenly aware of the situation that brought her family to America.
Hope Place volunteer Amy Cunningham later led the team through a simulation designed to help them understand what it is like to live the life of a refugee. Their small, subdivided groups found themselves choosing between holding on to cash, food, and family heirlooms or facing dire circumstances: situations true refugees are faced with every single day.
On Saturday afternoon, after playing an intense cross-cultural learning game, they headed to a nearby apartment complex. People originally from Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Cuba, Mexico, and other nations call the collection of brick buildings home. Here, the team kicked around a soccer ball and played games organized by Hope Place volunteer Jonathan Fields. Local Hope Place kids called their friends out of their homes to join in and soon a small crowd gathered on the central green space, sweat trickling down their necks, as they refilled their cups at the orange water cooler.
Saturday night’s dinner at Caribbean Cafe, a restaurant situated on Beechmont’s main drag, began with owner Francis Bien Aime discussing his journey from Haiti to America and the growing business that his family operates. His story echoed many of the themes Haitian-American Sarah Thomas shared the evening before. The team enjoyed their meal which was arranged for and purchased in advance, talked about the day, and then headed back to rest for the night.
Going and Growing
What was ultimately the SE/SW team’s takeaway? “I love when I see students getting out of their comfort zone and engaging another community,” says Donnelly. “[The] neighborhood interaction and picking up trash, . . . both [activities] allowed for growth in our students.”
Ryder Munday elaborates, “The first day I sort of felt weird and stuff, like, ‘This is new. It’s different.’ [But] I got to meet a lot of new people and I enjoyed serving and getting to meet people from different backgrounds and learning how they or their parents got to America.”
Donnelly notes that this group of kids has definitely grown in their cross-cultural knowledge and confidence and he hopes to return to Hope Place with them–and other newbies–in the future. Hope Place, on the other hand, is proud to be a launchpad into the world for young people like Ryder Munday and his teammates.
Steps to Bringing a Short-Term Mission Team to Hope Place:
- Choose a Team Leader to contact Hope Place staff.
- Determine the size of the team, budget, and how you would like to serve.
- Meet with Hope Place staff to determine dates and potential activities.
- Nail down service and learning activities.
- Locate housing and plan meals.
- Have each team member complete the Volunteer Training Manual. Return surveys and background check forms.
- Arrive. Lean and serve in prearranged areas.
- Impact lives!