Youth ministry, student ministry, youth group, youth pastor, mission trip

Primed to Make a Difference: My LeaderTreks Experience

By Jeremy Hetzel August 14, 2014

Mission trips and the summer go hand-in-hand, like peanut butter and jelly or Duck Dynasty and beards. Anyone who’s involved in youth ministry knows it’s what you do. You take students out to serve and hope they come back changed. My church is no different. This past summer, we sent out two teams: one to Chicago and the other to Dayton, Ohio with LeaderTreks. If I could do it over, I’d send both teams on a LeaderTreks trip.

Never before have I witnessed such powerful leadership and discipleship development on a mission trip. Every moment was carefully crafted for intentional growth opportunities, from cleaning the kitchen after meals to sharing encouragement during Team Time. There was no “downtime,” per se. Every moment of the week was geared toward equipping our students to be disciples of Jesus, to put him first in their lives.

Our students were given an incredible tool: a trip book. Our students started off each day digging into Scripture and spending time in prayer. It was not a one-week devotional that helped our students connect with Jesus. It was a journal that taught students how to study the Bible and pray. Instead of spoon-feeding them simple lessons, it blessed them with the tools necessary to study and pray at home.

The rest of each day was filled with leadership opportunities, encouragement, and evaluation. Our students led two meaningful projects: They built a brick path in a community garden so a wheelchair-bound woman from the neighborhood could enjoy the produce, and they built a wooden fence for the community fellowship area. In most mission trips, adults would tell the students how these jobs were going to be accomplished. But on this trip, our students were equipped to lead. They assigned tasks, navigated obstacles, and cared for their fellow students. 

Most impressively, the LeaderTreks staff modeled life-on-life discipleship for my students (and also the other adult mentors). They cared for our students by listening to them, challenging them, and pushing them to develop action steps for their spiritual goals. Never before have I seen such a well-trained team. They not only focused on and cared for our students, but they inspired them to follow Jesus more passionately and intentionally.

Over the course of our week in Dayton, I saw students who were formerly unsure of themselves stepping up and leading in powerful ways. Sean, using a chisel and a brick, took charge of one VBS Bible study and taught the 10-to-12-year-olds a lesson he had just learned: how God transforms us into his likeness. Ellen stepped up and used her love of drama to bless us with an engaging skit during Team Time one night. It was so good, I thought it was part of the LeaderTreks curriculum, but I came to find out later that it was Ellen who proposed the idea to the LeaderTreks staff.

This summer, my students came back transformed. They came back prepared to live life differently. They came back primed to make a difference here at home. Don’t leave your mission trip outcomes up to pure chance. Go with LeaderTreks, the team that knows how to equip your students to walk with Jesus, as disciples and as leaders.


About the Author

Jeremy Hetzel

Jeremy Hetzel is the Director of Student Ministries at Family of Christ in Colorado Springs, CO. He loves reading, spending quantity and quality time with his family, and following his favorite sports teams (Boston Red Sox, San Antonio Spurs, and whichever fantasy team he’s managing at the time).