Video of the Week: Isaiah’s Story

My wife pointed me towards this video this week, and I had to share it:

Isaiah’s Story from 31Films on Vimeo.

Video of the Week: Compassion International – One Meal One Day

Our students are doing this in November. Consider getting involved at

One Meal One Day from Compassion International on Vimeo.

Rachel Beckwith’s Wish (Video)

Because it’s good to celebrate God using unlikely people to do amazing things: below is the story of a young lady–nine years old–who wanted to raise $300 to bring clean water to a village in Africa. She passed away before that wish could come true, but since she died, over $1,000,000 has been raised in her memory:

Center for Student Missions Trip – San Francisco

Last month, we took 42 students and 11 adults from our church to San Francisco on an inner-city mission trip through Center for Student Missions (CSM). It was a fantastic trip (feel free to see our trip’s Facebook page for some more insight), and I’m really glad we went. It was my second trip with CSM (the first was with two small churches on a trip to Chicago a few years ago), so I knew I could trust the organization to host a meaningful trip where we not only served, but we learned about God’s heart for those who live in the city and how we can love and serve people when we got back home.

If you’re a church looking for a good, affordable mission trip for teenagers or college students, I’ll give you the short version first: CSM is a great organization to work with, and they’ve got sites in several U.S. cities (and in Toronto as well), making travel by vans or cars relatively easy.

If you’d like a few more details, here’s the longer (but not too long) version: The thing I like most about CSM is their philosophy of ministry and missions: they partner with ministries that are already “on the ground,” so you know that you’re supporting ministries that have been serving faithfully before you got there, and they’ll continue serving faithfully long after you leave. This is no “parachute” in operation where a youth ministry jumps into a situation, feels good about the perceived difference it makes for all of five days, then leaves without affecting any real change. That’s a must for me when working with a missions organization, and it’s a core part of who they are.

Another thing I really like about CSM is their staff. No matter how large of a group you bring, you’ll be divided (by you, of course, not by CSM) into groups of 10-15 students and adults–for us it was 10 people per group. Each group serves together for the whole week, and has one CSM staff member (a “host”) who leads the group’s week of serving. The amount of organization that goes into planning a week of serving is incredible–not only does each CSM site build relationships with great ministries and organizations, but they have to make sure they schedule everything correctly to make sure the right people show up at the right places. Chad, our junior high pastor, commented that it would have taken us months and hours and hours of work just to schedule where we would serve during the week. The hosts do a great job managing our schedule, letting us know beforehand what each ministry site will be like, and sometimes making last minute modifications when something changes with the ministry site’s schedule or needs.

Probably the only downsides to our week was some confusion in the pre-trip planning (mostly regarding the number of vans we needed and how many students we could bring), as well as some issues regarding our group’s size. Serving in smaller groups was a HUGE win, but it made it tough to keep connected with leaders who weren’t in my particular group (something I share the blame for). It also made for several confusing mornings and evenings, because there were times when our groups were literally going in five different directions, and there was very little time for us to be together as one large group and simply ask, “how’s everybody doing?” As a youth pastor, I enjoyed my previous trip with CSM to Chicago more, where we brought six students and three adults.

After processing the trip for the past four weeks, I can safely say that we would use CSM again, and I definitely recommend them to any of my YM colleagues. It’s a relatively inexpensive trip for what you get (for 2011, CSM charges $390 for six nights and five days, which includes all meals–check with them for special pricing for college students). Of course, other expenses are involved such as travel as well as parking/tolls when we were in the city.

If you’ve ever partnered with CSM before, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Video of the Week: Faint Not by Jenny and Tyler

Amazing, thoughtful song from Jenny and Tyler. Their music has been medicine to our (Jennifer’s and my) souls at times. This song’s a great work of art on poverty and how a follower of Jesus should engage the issues surrounding poverty.

If this blogger is not on your roll, he should be…

Seriously. And if you feel like you’re already following too many blogs, then please feel free to stop reading mine and start reading this one. Actually, it’s authored by a married couple, Jim and Heather, but Jim does the bulk of the writing. Jim and Heather are missionaries in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Jim is perhaps the most loyal and faithful friend a guy could ask for, and both Jim and Heather are amazing friends to Jennifer and me–we miss them dearly.

Jim’s thoughts regularly tear me apart. This excerpt is from his latest post on poverty:

Several months ago, we began partnering with a Kenyan national on an HIV project feeding women and families who are HIV positive once per month. You may recognize hearing about him in this earlier post. A couple of months ago, Zack showed up at our door and said, “I have a domestic problem.” The way he said it almost made me laugh. Then he explained that his wife was down at the hospital. They had been expecting a baby, but began to fear something was wrong. The hospital ultrasound revealed no heartbeat. They’d lost the baby. I was embarrassed at my initial flippant attitude.

He quickly explained that surgery was necessary but they could not afford it. The bill was to be nearly 400 dollars. He asked us for a loan of the money. He was frantic.

I was concerned; Four hundred dollars is over half the average annual income of 730 US dollars… an income most probably inflated by a few incredibly wealthy individuals – the ones driving brand new Mercedes, Lexus, and Hummers through dirt streets. We paid about half the bill as a gift and the other half as a loan.

I felt totally conflicted. Were we helping? Was a loan fair?

I felt like an idiot. How much could Zack earn as a piki (motorcycle) driver? It wasn’t even his piki. I couldn’t imagine his profit was very much.

Definitely head over and read it all.

"Frugal" man leaves behind millions for community

This is an amazing story of generosity; may we all learn from Loren Krueger:

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Advent/Christmas Activity Idea: The Twelve Deeds of Christmas

I tutor at a local high school once a week, and Suzie, the teacher I work with, posted a great idea she does with her family for Advent/Christmas. I thought I’d share it with you:

Over twelve days (you can do this anytime during the Advent/Christmas season, but if your a stickler about the church calendar, you’ll do it December 25th-January 5th, the real twelve days of Christmas), do one act of service a day. It can be done as a individual, as a youth group, or as a family. Come up with twelve ideas of ways they can serve someone and write them on 3 x 5 note cards. The cards are then put in a box (you can decorate a gift box to put the cards in, if you’re into that kind of thing). Each morning, a card is drawn out, and each person in the family/youth group commits to doing that act at some point during the day. You can choose to debrief at the end of the day how their acts of service went, or they can vow to never talk about their acts in an effort to keep their left hand from knowing what their right is doing (Matthew 6:3).

There are several variations of this out there, but here’s a sample list:

1) Walk a friend’s dog
2) Write a thank-you note to someone from your past.
3) Make a card and send it to a friend for no reason.
4) Write a letter to a full-time missionary.
5) Give someone a sincere compliment, especially people who are overlooked, such as a boss, teacher, custodian. Make sure others hear it.
6) Donate something (books/toys, etc.) to a charity
7) Stay after work or school for a few minutes to help someone (co-worker, teacher, etc.) with a project or extra work.
8) Do a chore that you normally do not have to do without anyone knowing.
9) Treat a friend to a movie.
10) Hold the door for someone at a store and help them carry their stuff to their car.
11) Pay for someone’s coffee at a coffee shop.
12) Give a complement to every person you interact with during the day.

The list can be customized in many different ways. For instance, you might tie it in with a lesson on homelessness in your city and challenge your students to do twelve acts that serve the homeless in your community.

Enjoy your twelve deeds of Christmas!

Invisible Children – a Great Group to Speak to Your Youth

This past Sunday, a team from Invisible Children presented to our combined junior and senior high group. They told of the plight of children in northern Uganda, where war has devastated the region and torn families apart. Here’s the story of how invisible Children got started (taken from the organization’s website):

In the spring of 2003, three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys from Southern California discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims.

After returning to the States, they created the documentary “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” a film that exposes the tragic realities of northern Uganda’s night commuters and child soldiers.

The film was originally shown to friends and family, but has now been seen by millions of people. The overwhelming response has been, “How can I help?” To answer this question, the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. was created, giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation.

It was an amazing presentation, and it inspired our students to take further action–several have pledged to start an Invisible Children club in their school (through the Schools for Schools program), and we will be doing a book drive at our church the beginning of 2011. The best part of the morning was that a young college student from Uganda who is a part of Invisible Children’s scholarship program spoke and told us what it was like to grow up in a war zone and how she managed–with Invisible Children’s help–to go to college.

If you’re looking for a way to highlight for your students how much injustice exists in this world today and how to take steps to help in Jesus’ name, I highly recommend contacting Invisible Children to schedule a presentation at your church (they are usually in every region in the U.S. at least twice a year). Invisible Children is not a religious organization, which might turn off some churches. But it is a cause that followers of Jesus can definitely get behind, because it seeks to eliminate the injustice brought about by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. In addition, several of the group members that came to present to us–including Skovia, the young lady from Uganda–spoke openly spoke about their faith in Jesus.

Check out this video that tells what Invisible Children is all about: