Mission Trip Goes Virtual
Glastonbury First Youth Engage in Virtual Service Program As Alternative To Planned Trip
"The best way to do direct service is in person."
Andrew Wicks repeats this phrase several times as he explains how First Church of Christ Congregational, in Glastonbury, CT, is completing an virtual mission trip as an alternative to a planned service trip to Miami.
The contradiction is obvious —how can you serve directly from far away? — but it is inevitable in a time when schools are closed, many for the rest of the academic year, businesses have shut down or significantly reduced hours, and churches have closed their doors to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 virus.
For the high school fellowship group at First Glastonbury, a mission trip to Miami to focus on immigration and migrant workers was planned and ready to begin when the trip was canceled due to the virus lockdowns. Wicks had prepared advanced learning materials on immigration and immigration laws, planned the hands-on service projects, developed discussion material for making faith connections to the daily work, and arranged chaperones for the trip. When the trip was canceled, a question surfaced: "If schools can go online, why can't we?"
So a shift was made. Wicks and Amy Woodruff, Interim Director of Senior High Fellowship at Glastonbury First, arranged for the trip's participants to engage in a week-long virtual mission trip. The youth engaged in online learning about immigration, migrant workers, and refugees. They watched videos, played some games, and read about the various topics. They had online discussions, including an interview with a refugee family, and professionals from refugee resettlement agencies. The youth also learned about advocacy; one of the online meetings involved a discussion with local state legislators and Michele Mudrick, the Southern New England Conference's Legislative Advocate. The youth have also been encouraged to write to their state and federal representatives.
The hands-on mission work was the real challenge, but the Glastonbury group found a way to connect their study of migrant workers with direct service work. One project involved creating welcome cards, which will be sent to immigration resettlement agencies to be handed to newly arrived refugees as a way show the extravagant welcome of the church community. Another project involved contacting a relative or neighbor, offering to do some yard work or other manual labor for them.
And connecting all this study and work were evening discussions facilitated by Wicks, Woodruff, and the adult chaperones. During these discussions, the participants shared thoughts on the day's work and made connections to their church and faith.
"The most surprising element of the virtual mission trip was the ability to come together in a very isolating time to do meaningful mission work with people nation-wide," said Woodruff. "Our mission work may have looked different compared to one of our typical mission trips - but I think the conversations and skills the youth learned were ones that they can access throughout all walks of life, in both local and distant mission work."
Wicks, a member at Glastonbury First and owner or Incredible Days Group LLC, an organization that specializes in Immersive Learning, Leadership Development, and Marketing Services, thinks the virtual mission program may have some future benefits for churches. Though he maintains that direct services is the best way to learn, he admits that many churches may not have the critical mass to run a mission trip. Trips are often expensive. Also, churches may have members who cannot travel for one reason or another, may not be able to participate due to physical requirements, or simply cannot find coordinate a schedule that allows for traditional service trips. The virtual mission trip is an alternative that could meet the needs of churches who find they have the energy, and desire to serve, but may not have the means to engage in more conventional service trips.
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Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.