Today we are wrapping up our mission trip with a little bit of rest and relaxation. After spending the first part of the week giving a 110%, our students deserve a much needed break.

Every time I take students on a trip like this, and truthfully just about every time I get to spend time with my students, I am taken back by what a blessed man I am. Truthfully, I have the best job in the world. And this trip is the best parts of my job all wrapped up and condensed into one week.

Building Community:
You may not realize it, but building community is an art form. It is something that takes continuous effort and care. It is something that can not be neglected. And building community is my bread and butter. I love, love, love, creating environments, making space, creating memories that draw students together and create a sense of family.

A trip like this can either bring together a group, or the drama factor can kill it right in its tracks. We managed to have zero drama, zero romance, a lot of laughing, and plenty of dance parties. I love these students and I love the community that we have built. I hold sacred the traditions we have built and the larger story of faith and of our student ministry that gets worked out. Our incoming senior class stepped up in huge ways and is ready to lead!

Spiritual Transformation:
It is so pickin' difficult to get students to slow down, un plug, and be quiet. And without making space for students to be reflective, there is no way they will be able to encounter God. For all the work that we did, we managed to create some peace and quiet, some silence and reflection, and the fruit of that has been overwhelming.

Students have had the opportunity to reflect daily on where they have seen God show up. And in just a short week of daily living into this discipline, I am noticing an increased level of spiritual receptivity. I am watching our students serve and care for one another and some of my most difficult students embrace God or at least be willing to wrestle with Him.

Jesus is grabbing a hold of our kids and giving them a much bigger picture of faith, of the church, and of ministry. It is such an honor to be a small part of these students spiritual awakening as they figure out their faith.

Life altering experiences:
One of the students on this trip was actually born in Guatemala and abandoned at a hospital. After going from orphanage to orphanage he was finally adopted by a family in America, in Marin. He has never been to Guatemala, he has absolutely zero cultural touch points.

It has been incredible to watch as this students' eyes are opened up to his roots. He is soaking up this experience, and receiving endless love from the Guatemalan couple who are facilitating this trip for us. What is even more incredible is that our group decided to give up one of our touristy activities so that we could, as a group, attempt to find the hospital where this student was born. So on Saturday, before we hit the airport, we will get to go to the hospital, and even get to go into the maternity ward and see where abandoned babies are left. It is going to be an incredible and powerful moment! I am blown away that I get to be a part of it.

There is so much more:
However, being that it's the end of the trip and I am officially sleep deprived, I will wrap it up.

The truth is, I could go on and on with all the things I love about my job. I am honored to be called into student ministry, and I am honored to do it at such an amazing church like Marin Covenant. I can not believe that God allows a weak an broken vessel, like myself, to be used as part of the spiritual development of these students!

As we reenter our community and get back to life as normal, please pray that we would continue to be sensitive to the spirit of God and faithful to follow through in the ways and places He leads.

Thank you for your prayers and support this week! I am looking forward to landing back in SFO and getting some much needed rest. See you Sunday at church, or later this week for coffee, or Wednesday night at youth group, or around the intra-web. :)


The hidden danger of mission trips for students:

This article was published at youthworkerjournal.com

It is once again time to start gearing up our annual mission trips.  There are so many great options out there.  Some are as close as an urban setting, some are in rural and isolated contexts, and some are international ranging in proximity to Mexico all the way to Thailand or Africa.  One of the key considerations when planning a mission trip with students has to be assessing the potential dangers of the context we will be traveling to.

Our church has changed our context for short term missions several times depending on concerns for danger.  We have taken into consideration the violence in an urban setting or an outbreak of hepatitis within the street community.  We have wrestled with the potential danger of crossing a drug warfare zone in the boarder towns of Mexico.  Add to the danger of the location transportation and housing, and we start to realize that a mission trip for students is a costly and dangerous endeavor.

As someone who thinks that short term mission trips is the bread and butter of student ministry, I have come to the conclusion that these potential dangers are part of the process of helping students (and parents) to live outside their comfort zone.  And taking our students and putting them in a totally foreign and partially dangerous context softens their hearts and opens their eyes to see the working of God in new and fresh ways.

But after leading dozens of trips over the years, I am starting to realize that while the surface dangers are real and must be taken seriously, there is actually a bigger danger that is hidden lurking just below the surface.  This danger is cementing in our students a false view of missions and of themselves.

Every year we ask students to fill out an application.  One of the questions has something to do with why they want to participate in this trip.  And with almost 100% unanimity the answer is “we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”  Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome value, it is a value that is at the heart of the Christian faith.  Those of us with power and resources are to care for the orphan and the widow, for the poor and oppressed.

However, when we unintentionally frame missions as us, wealthy suburbanites, helping those poor people, we continue to instill in our students that they have their acts together and are “above” others.  I am not saying that the suburban church is the problem, or that we need to beat down our own context or culture and make students feel awful for the blessings and resources they have.  The suburban culture is just that, a culture.  But when we engage in missions we must consider and celebrate the culture in which we are going to.  We have to help students see that we are guests in another culture, not superior to those we visiting.

Our students are naturally self-absorbed and limited in their worldview.  And when we set up our trips as us coming to save the day, their foundational worldview doesn’t have the chance to be challenged.  And this is the true danger of student ministry short term missions.  We take one of the most significant spiritual experiences of their high school carriers and actually solidify some of the worst of suburban thinking.  Missions is not suburban kids with their wealth and privilege helping the poor.  This is the danger in compassion ministries.

One of the best books I have read on mission for those of us leading trips from a suburban context is When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Brian Fikkert.  This book is a must read for anyone leading a trip.  My biggest take a way from my read of the book is that we must change our view of wealth and poverty.  All of us are wealthy in some ways and poor in others.  The challenge is to identify the ways in which we are wealthy and the ways in which we are poor.  Once we have done this, then we can come into any context, specifically impoverished ones, and easily become partners who share resources.  We then have a real chance for cultural exchange, instead of seeing ourselves as superiors above the poor people we help.

As the fundraising, logistics and training for our annual short term trips are gearing up.  There are many practical dangers we must take into account.  But it takes intentional work and training to breakthrough and breakdown the traditional mindset of many suburban students, and leaders.  Here are four values to consider as you plan your short term missions trip this year:

1)   Short term missions is about recognizing that God is already at work wherever it is we are going. The God we serve, so loves the entire world.  And the place that we will be heading off to for our short term missions trip is already loved by God and God already has people in place doing great ministry there.  This immediately takes the focus off of us and what we bring, and opens our eyes to the spiritual reality that God is alive and at work long before we showed up.

2)  Short term missions is about partnering not helping. We now have the privilege of coming alongside the people who God has called to love that community for the long haul.  And when we see our role as partners there becomes an exchange of blessings that occurs, we become givers and receivers, rather then saviors.  For this to be successful we must find organizations that are not only established and committed to that particular community, but organizations that we can trust.  The more you trust an organization, the more you can truly partner and celebrate all that God has done before you got there, is doing while you are there, and will continue to do when you leave.

3)  Short term missions is about student development. There is little long term benefit our students can bring to mission field.  We are only there for a week and often have little knowledge of the culture and language.  At best we are a blessing to the organization / missionaries we partner with.  Because that is the case, we get to use this experience to shape and transform the students we are called to be missionaries to.  And that means that we must help shape this trip in a way that broadens their view of ministry, not affirm their privileged world view.  Their spiritual health and development is our chief concern.

If we are taking students on short term mission trip we must clarify what we are doing.  It is true that many of us come from churches with significant resources and we want to partner with the heart of God in doing ministries of compassion.  But we cannot solidify the thinking that financial resources are the definition of God’s blessings.  Wealth does not put us a superiors.  We can not let our students live into this false and dangerous reality.

Our task in short term missions is to help our students understand how big God’s heart is for the world, to partner with those who are already there, and to be a blessing for the short time our paths cross.  We all have wealth and we all have poverty.  By helping our students identify and articulate where they are wealthy and where they are poor allows them to truly be partners in ministry and cultural exchange.

Are you looking for a missions opportunity for your students?

It is getting to be missions season and I love looking through the many opportunities that are available for our students.  Short term missions is the bread and butter of student ministry and I hope that you are planning on finding some way for your students to get missional, get cross cultural, and serve the poor in what ever context you are and are going.   Nate McHenry is the Founder of IMchange a missions organization that provides missions opportunities for students.  He wanted to share is origination with you, and I wanted you to be spurred on to think biblically, mission ally, philosophically, and theologically as you consider missions.


Engaging Jesus through the poor

Have you ever asked yourself, "How in the world can I get this student to see that Jesus is what he/she needs?" For the last 15 years, nothing has accelerated my student's passion and love for Jesus and others more than mission trips.  For me personally, mission trips and serving the "poor" have provided unparalleled context to my pursuit of Jesus. Several years ago, I watched (and re-watched and still watch) an interview with Bono of U2 (not just because I love U2) by Bill Hybels that significantly encouraged my suspicions that the greatest way to connect young people to Jesus is through the poor.

James 1:27 (the message) says, "Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

Next to the theme of salvation, the poor is the most dominate topic throughout the Holy text.  The reason that student's relationships with Christ go deeper in missions experiences is because Jesus is with the poor, marginalized, forgotten, and underprivileged. It is impossible to not see Christ at work in the lives of the poor if you hang out there with any sort of sustained time.  He resides there.  If a student is struggling in his/her relationship with Christ...stick them in an outreach with the poor. It is a transformational epiphany or recognition and reality that places correct context around our lives at a quickened pace. I often liken it to the original Mario Brothers on Nintendo.  Throughout the journey to save the princess, you're given the opportunity to advance your play through "Warp Zones." The warp zone fast forwards your play to higher levels.  Likewise, providing our students with missions experiences will propel them to a new level of relationship with Christ and with people.  There is nothing like a compassion encounter with the poor that stabilizes and reduces the pervasive humanism spirit and reorients us to Christ at the center of our lives.

The light of Scripture

IMchange Mission trips have evolved out of this revelation of "Christ is with the poor."

1. Take a quick look at some of the Bible's commentary on where God resides and spends His time. 

Deuteronomy 10:18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing

Psalm 12:5 "Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise," says the LORD. "Then I will protect them from those who malign them."

Psalm 72:12-14 For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."

2. Now look at how God invites us to the place of His presence and dwelling among the poor.

Proverbs 31:8-9 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Isaiah 1:17 Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Luke 14:12-14 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

I John 3:17-18 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth

5-P's benefits of a Mission Trip in a student's life

1.  Positions a young person to experience Christ in a formative encounter.

2.  Personalizes a common bond for a student with his or her peers in a context that propels everyone toward Christ.

3.  Provides a tangible life and purpose to Christianity in our world today

4.  Postures a student's heart to live their life purposefully for others and not just for their own pleasure.

5.  Pushes away the affections and temporary attractions of this world and molds an eternal reality in the heart of the student.

IMchange Missions

IMchange Missions Trips (stateside and international) at www.imchange.org/mcw. Nearly every student ministry facilitates a "camp or retreat" type trip for their students. These are powerful, meaningful, and often life altering events.  However, IMchange Mission Camps enhance that experience by providing a missions element to that camp event.

What is an IMchange Mission Camp Week? 

You can bill it as a mission trip, a new look summer camp, or call it what you like. IMchange Mission Camp weeks are Sunday-Friday. Your group will arrive on Sunday afternoon around 3pm. After you’ve moved into the lodging facilities for the week, you’ll eat dinner and have your first evening gathering. The evening gatherings are customized for your group. It may include a time of worship, teaching, small groups, etc. We can provide the worship team, speakers, and gathering time direction or you can bring your own (most groups bring their own). Monday-Thursday during the day (8-4pm) your group will serve a community through home repair projects or community service programs. Typically, your group is divided into teams of 10-15 people and sent out to make a huge impact on people’s lives. Teams are assigned one project for the week that may include building a wheelchair ramp, painting a home for an elderly person, building a fence, gutting a home, assisting in disaster relief efforts, etc. Each team will have the opportunity to personally interact with a resident and show the love of God through word and deed. Each evening, when your group returns to the lodging facility, there is some free time, dinner, and the evening gathering. Some groups opt for a fun party on Thursday night after the last day of work. Friday morning is departure time and a ride home with many memories and God-filled stories.



1.  Go to www.imchange.org/mcw right now and watch the short video.

2.  Fill out the inquiry form on the webpage to initiate the process of a life changing mission trip experience for your student ministry.

3.  Receive a timely and friendly response from the IMchange staff.

4.  Plan your mission trip with the IMchange team.

5.  GO

6.  Do it again!

Love God-Love people,

Nate McHenry

Founder, IMchange LLC


is your gospel too small?

One of our favorite hobbies as youth workers is bashing on the church. For those of us who have grown up in it, and now do ministry with in it, we have a lot to bash. I find myself wresting with the institutional church and its relevancy for me and our culture. I have decades of examples of hypocrisy and hurt. I see little difference in the lives of people in church, including myself, and those outside the church. I have a faith that is trying to break free from the systems and programs that have shaped me up until now. But these issues and growing places are my issues and my growing places. As someone who works with students, it is essential that I am aware of my faith and the places where Jesus is meeting me, transforming me, and challenging me. And thankfully I can identify and am enjoying these places. But even more importantly, I must be aware of the faith development of the students I work with and the issues they are wrestling with. As someone who shares the gospel with people in a completely different season of life and in a different culture, I must enlarge my view of the gospel. This means I must discern the parts of the gospel story that help students come to know the real Jesus who loves and cares for them where they are at. Part of this process is separating my own walk with Jesus as he loves and cares for me in the place that I am at.

The apostle Paul was brilliant at this. Paul encountered Jesus in a very real and wild way on the road to Damascus. This is by far the most unique conversion story ever! Paul writes in his epistles about his struggles in faith and in ministry. He writes about wrestling with sin and doing the things he doesn’t want to do. He writes about the thorn in his side that overwhelms him. He writes about people in his ministry that have personally wrecked him and broken his heart. Paul had a dynamic and growing faith that was real and intimate.

And while all this is going on in his walk with Jesus, Paul was able to separate out his own issues with Jesus and discern what the people in a particular context needed to hear so they could connect with Jesus and begin to experience their own walk.

In Acts 13, Paul finds himself in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. In this Jewish community Paul easily retells the story of God’s faithfulness to his people; God rescuing the people of Israel from Egypt, giving them the law of Moses, conquering Canaan, and establishing a king, King David. And although David died, Jesus, his decedent, rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, and offers the forgiveness and justification the law of Moses was unable to do.

In Acts 17, Paul finds himself in a completely different context. Now he is in the middle of a Gentile city, surrounded by pagan idols. The story of the people of Israel have no touch points in this context. Paul’s personal testimony of persecuting the Jews, or the heartbreak of his ministry doesn’t matter to the people of Athens. And instead of Paul relying on his own history, his own experiences, or his own expression of faith, Paul taps into a larger gospel story, one that will be received in this unique context.

During his time in Athens, Paul notices the religiosity of the people and uses their idol worship as a thin place to share Jesus. He capitalizes on one of the temples and uses a known poet as a hook and then shares how this mysterious and unknown God has been made known by Jesus his son whom he rose from the dead. And although a revival didn’t break out in this city, Paul did manage to capture their attention and opened the door for further conversation.

In this season of my life, I am wrestling with growing deeper in my love of, and for Jesus. And this wrestling has been bringing up more issues then it is settling. And while I love the wrestling match, I need to get myself and my story out of the center of the ministry God has called me to. My walk with Jesus is my walk. I am called to be a cross-cultural missionary to this adolescent culture. And I need the Holy Spirit to illuminate my heart and mind as I attempt to find the thin places in their culture where their brokenness can meet Jesus’ healing. I can not make my thin places theirs. And thankfully the gospel of Jesus Christ is big enough to meet the brokenness and needs of every person in every culture in every time in every part of the world.

Jesus, show me where these thin places are in my students’ lives.