Last week we took 15 youth and 5 adults into Philadelphia with Center for Student Missions. Being our first trip I didn’t have much to go on other than what I had read and what a few friends had told me about their experience taking their youth groups on a CSM trip. But I thought I would just offer up some reflections, some pros, and some cons of our experience and CSM as an organization.
Overall our group had an amazing time with CSM. There was some uncertainty that came with going to Philadelphia since our church is only about 30 minutes outside of the city. But that never lessened the experience for any adult or youth in our group. Our CSM leaders did a fantastic job taking us around the city, introducing us to places we had never been, and really opening up our eyes to the realities of life in Philadelphia. What stood out most was their willingness to be flexible and their help in keeping our group flexible. In the beginning they mentioned that schedules can change from day to day so we would have to stay flexible. They reminded us with the phrase “Participate, don’t Anticipate,” which, although, some youth were probably tired of hearing at the end of the week, it was a helpful phrase to keep everyone flexible and aware of every moment and place we found ourselves in.
Their theme this year was straight from the Lord’s Prayer – Collide: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And it was so appropriate as we were learning from, serving, and getting to know the marginalized and forgotten people of the city – again, a place most of us lived near but never fully knew. Our experiences reminded everyone that 1) you don’t need to go far to do “missions” because it begins in our own backyard and 2) the kingdom of God includes, if not begins with, the poor, marginalized, and forgotten. (more detailed thoughts on these in part 2!)
So I’ll end this post with some pros and cons of Center for Student Missions
Cost: reasonable price per person ($325 for 5 nights). Included lodging, all meals, staff members, and $7 per person for a night off with your youth group. Essentially it is $65 per night, per person.
Prayer Tour: When you arrive they begin your week with a prayer tour of whatever city you are serving in. For a few hours or more (depending on your city) you drive around with a CSM staff member to learn about the city and pray for it’s people, schools, government, and for ourselves, that we might better understand and empathize with the people who live there. It’s a transforming way to kickoff the week by hearing about the realities of city life, the truths and struggles of that specific city (Philly), and people who are working toward bettering their communities within the city. It’s was a very centering experience for our youth and adults.
Food: each night your group is taken to a different ethnic restaurant in the city. We had Indian, Puerto Rican, Lebanese, and Vietnamese. Another cool way to experience the city and its diversity: taste! And though not all the food was popular with our youth, we challenged them to try at least one thing in each restaurant.
Facilities: the house we stayed in was originally a corner store that was transformed into the CSM house. Bottom floor was a common room and the top two were bedrooms with bathrooms. Not a very big space to fit 40 people, but it was actually nice for our youth to be in closer proximity than to be spread out over a church or school campus like we’ve done in the past. I think our youth hanging out as a big group was more beneficial than everyone splitting into their own hangout groups throughout the week. Everyone was included.
Variety: there were a variety of places we served. It wasn’t like we were building a porch all week. If someone didn’t really click with packing meals, the next day they were interacting with residents at a nursing home. There was something for everyone.
Quiet hours were a little bit strange here. I don’t know if they are the same at every site. Quiet hours began at 10:00pm and lights out was at 11:00pm. Some days we wouldn’t get back to the house until 9:30-9:45. So when kids wanted to hang out, play games, talk about their day, and get to know kids from the other youth group, quiet hours made that really tough. Naturally things are going to get a bit loud when teenagers are hanging out together. And it was a little bit of a detractor to the community that was forming in that hang out time.
After my first experience, Center for Student Missions is an organization that I would definitely recommend for anyone looking to take their youth to serve and learn in an urban setting. Their very organized, very flexible, and provide a transforming experience for both youth and adults.
Look out for Part 2: God in Dave & Busters…God in the city life.