by Chris Shay
Six short weeks. It’s hard to imagine how much a life can change or how much ministry can be accomplished in that time, but working with Summer Mission Teams (SMT) I’ve seen it again and again. God is at work, transforming lives, changing the world.
Each year through SMT, a young adult discipleship and service program, five teams of four to eight members are sent out to learn and grow while serving people through vacation Bible school (VBS) and other children’s ministries, outreach and evangelism, feeding programs, adult programming, worship, camps, work projects and more.
As they work together, young adults experience the joys and difficulties of ministry, as well as the challenge of working as a team. While many of them already are involved in ministry in their corps, SMT provides a broader range of experiences that enhances their ministry when they return home. And as they take on the challenge of being a team, going to new locations, being immersed in unfamiliar cultures and having new experiences, God is working in and through them, and they are able to do more than they ever thought possible for His Kingdom.
After more than 20 years of leading and coordinating young adult mission teams, first at my own corps and then for the territory, I’ve come to realize it’s not only the service given every summer but the lessons learned that are the true value of SMT.
This may be the biggest lesson of all. As SMT members see how officers and soldiers minister throughout the world, often in difficult settings with few resources yet with joy, the results are profound. Young adult Salvationists’ perspectives on the world, fairness and justice begin to change.
A member of the Southern Africa Team this year recounted he’d grown numb to God’s blessings in his life and was suffering from a lack of thankfulness, but witnessing God at work in the lives of corps members and their communities in South Africa and Namibia reignited his gratitude.
With a change in perspective, SMT members come to understand they are not at a location to show what they know or can do but rather to encourage and serve alongside those who have been doing Kingdom work there for a long time. The young adults have the treasured opportunity to see many faithful Salvationists loving their communities for the sake of the gospel. The concept of “others” becomes more real.
One CAST team member this summer recounted her experience at a camp in the Heartland Division. She was moved by how every member of the camp staff was willing to work extra hard and take on additional responsibilities without complaining. Their servanthood left a lasting impression on her and other CAST members.
“God so loved the world that He gave….” And we must become people who give. Smiles, hard work, time spent with children who hunger for attention, kindness and fun—all of these contribute to developing the trust needed for people to be receptive to the gospel. Giving financially becomes more important as well. We all have so much more we can give than we realize. The SMT experience brings this truth to light.
This summer the team to Denmark was impressed by how intentional Salvationists there are in building relationships. They recounted how Danish Salvationists were so generous with their time with the team members and people in their communities, purposefully and generously investing in others for the sake of God’s Kingdom. SMT members were personally challenged by experiencing this type of generosity.
As SMTs minister they have the chance to see how change takes time and endurance. God asks for our faithfulness in ministry, as noted in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. Local soldiers and officers plant the seeds of the gospel in their communities, and SMT members have the privilege of watering the plants. Teams may, or may not, see the fruit of their ministry while they are on location, but they learn they can trust God, who is faithful, to bring it about in His timing. That is true for their ministry back home as well.
The Spain and Portugal team witnessed Salvationists in both countries planting seeds in difficult soil. They participated in social and evangelistic outreach, and they partnered with soldiers and officers in sharing the gospel through VBS, open-airs and homeless ministries. A highlight was getting to know a teen who had followed the group back to the building out of curiosity which gave them an opportunity to plant the seed of the gospel message.
Christians worldwide are our brothers and sisters because of Jesus. This wonderful truth is brought home again and again as the teams make new friends during their ministry. Though people may be from different cultures or ethnicities, we share a bond of fellowship and unity in Christ. For many young adults, it’s a surprising bonus—and a joyful one! Within their teams as well, deep friendships often are formed that last for a lifetime.
The Central SMT was made up of Salvationists from three countries this year! Building community within the team was a rewarding cultural experience. In addition, they often spoke of the strong relationships they built with the host officers and cadets they encountered throughout the summer. They even added five team members when they headed to the Bahamas for a week of ministry. Nurturing community was a constant challenge and blessing.
SMT has been the turning point for the lives of many young adult Salvationists. The experience has helped them consider fulltime ministry as officers or employees in The Salvation Army. For others, their SMT experience has strengthened their commitment to serve in their corps as local officers as they shine for Christ in secular employment. The SMT experience serves as a jumpstart in maturity for those willing to step into the challenge.
Courtney Smith, a former SMT leader, shared, “When you asked me to be a Summer Mission Team leader, it changed the whole trajectory of my life.” She is not alone in this sentiment. Whether it impacts career plans, develops spiritual growth or highlights previously unknown skills and gifts, young adult Salvationists often express they find renewed purpose in their lives after serving on a Summer Mission Team.
If you’re a Salvationist, age 18-28, prayerfully consider applying to be on a Summer Mission Team in the future. God is waiting to do amazing things in and through your life. For more information visit centralmissions.org