When many of us think of mission trips, we envision travel to far-away lands. As a parent or youth leader, you understand the profound impact that a mission trip can have, but might not be ready to consider leaving the country. Are there truly opportunities to serve, here in the United States? There certainly are. I’m not suggesting that you should forgo an overseas trip to avoid a little bit of hassle. There is a need for mission groups, worldwide. If, however, you follow a call to serve closer to home, it can also be well worth the effort.

The first time that I had the opportunity to work with a group of US based missionaries was in 2009. For many years, I’d worked for faith-based non-profit organizations and had often relied on volunteers to assist with day to day tasks. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this influx of teenagers, on-fire with faith and full of enthusiasm. Over the next 5 years, I had the opportunity to work with 10 mission groups. What I learned is that US based mission trips can be a great way to spread the gospel, make a difference and achieve personal growth.

One of the obvious benefits of choosing to embark on a mission trip that’s close to home is the expense factor. Mission fundraising is an important consideration, to be sure, but there are other reasons that you should consider a US based mission.

The Need at Home

We don’t often see it, but there is a profound need in the United States. I have seen the impact of poverty, hunger and lack of spiritual support, right here at home. Local mission trips offer a unique opportunity. It’s easy to relate to people who share similar experiences. US based trips pull youth out of their comfort zones while still maintaining a sense of relatability. Lasting relationships are built that are easy to maintain, because of proximity.

With minimized language and distance barriers, US based trips are easy to coordinate and manage. This can mean greater opportunity to serve. Many of the groups I encountered were able to assist with building projects for Churches and homes, as well as completing large projects for area non-profit organizations, all the while interacting with Christians and non-believers.

Learning to relate to others, regardless of their situation, is a life-changing skill, which needs to be taught with care. When young people are prepared to serve without judgement or fear their lives can be thoroughly enriched.

What to Expect

When preparing for any mission trip, it’s important to understand that we are all people, made in God’s image. This sounds like a simple concept, but without this understanding, you’re bound to build road blocks, rather than bridges. A US based mission trip is a great way to gain this understanding. Participants on a local mission trip will have the opportunity to interact with people that they can easily relate with.

The most successful missionaries I have encountered have approached their mission trip as an opportunity to learn. Sure, teaching happens, but not always in the ways we expect. While watching a group make repairs to the home of a woman in her 80s, I witnessed a transformation take place. This woman shared her life experiences with the group and expressed the ways that her faith had changed her. The impact of that day reached far beyond a repaired roof.

A mission trip is not a vacation, or a retreat. It’s important to be prepared to work! Some groups will have set projects waiting for you, other situations might require some ingenuity on your part. Flexibility is important. Often it’s as easy as two people painting. One boy asks the other why he’s here and the second boy answers, “I’m here because I’m serving God.” Suddenly the door is eased open and meaningful conversation begins.

Deciding to go on a mission trip is a huge decision. Deciding what that trip will look like is an equally arduous task. Choosing to serve in the United States is not the only option, but for many people, it’s the right one.