In the first week of summer vacation, most youngsters are sleep in, relaxing in front of a TV, hanging out with their friends or chatting on their cell phones.
But for a group of 24 youths from two local Lutheran churches, the week of June 2-8 meant a variety of opportunities to help out, in Bozeman and Billings and on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.
Adding some extra fun to the week, the youth from American Lutheran and King of Glory Lutheran churches didn’t know where they’d be from day to day. The venture was called YOLO: Mystery Mission Trip 2013.
“YOLO” stands for You Only Live Once: Live for Christ. It was the brainchild of the Rev. Jen Quanbeck, associate pastor at King of Glory.
She tried out the idea eight years ago in Minnesota, where she was youth director at a small church. Lacking resources, she couldn’t take a group on a mission trip to Mexico or Central America, so she got creative.
“So I came up with the idea to build a mission trip from scratch and to find local organizations we could partner with,” Quanbeck said.
The idea, she said, was to teach kids they could bless people in their own communities. When she came to King of Glory, she decided to organize a similar trip.
She partnered with the Rev. Elizabeth Sillerud, a pastor at American Lutheran Church. They and three other adults shepherded the two-dozen middle school and high school students on the trip.
Not telling the kids where they will be every day heightened the experience, Quanbeck said.
“They mystery element is really just a fun way to keep things exciting and upbeat so it builds motivation throughout the week,” she said.
In Bozeman, the group volunteered with ROC (Reach Out and Care) Wheels, which builds pediatric wheelchairs for Third World Countries. The nonprofit builds $4,000 wheelchairs for less than $400.
The two churches each bought one wheelchair and Thrivent Financial, a Lutheran organization matched that, buying two more. Then the kids and adults put them together.
“We spent five hours in a garage in Bozeman and followed detailed instructions, where this bolt or washer goes,” Quanbeck said. “The kids went from a pile of pieces to four pediatric wheelchairs.”
She especially enjoyed watching kids who might not like gardening or working with kids light up at the prospect of doing something mechanical.
“My favorite part so far is seeing each day a different young person connect with a project or with an organization and their mission,” she said.
On Tuesday, the group worked at the HUB, learning about the PATH program (Projects for Assistance in Treatment from Homeless), and helped do a little organizing. They transformed a pile of donations into neat stacks of blankets, winter coats and other items clients might need.
They spent Wednesday morning at the Center for Children and Families in downtown Billings cleaning inside and out, and the afternoon at Family Service Inc., cleaning the thrift store.
Then they traveled to Havre and the Rocky Boy’s Reservation on Thursday and spent Friday there, returning on Saturday. They worked with the Rev. Linda Webster, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, helping in the reservation community.
They were scheduled to eat a meal with one of the drum circles, as well as learn about Native American beading, lending a cross-cultural element to the week.
Timothy Shawhan, 15, a sophomore at Senior High and member of King of Glory, said if he hadn’t gone on the mission trip, he’s probably be sitting at home and doing nothing.
“And I like helping,” he said.
By mid-week, Timothy’s favorite project had been helping resurface a section of the Story Mill Spur Trail, a popular biking and hiking trail in Bozeman. Elsie Rehberg, 15, and Paige Petersen, 14, both liked building the wheelchairs.
“It was good to know we could help people so far away,” Elsie said.
And Paige enjoyed helping to organize the donations in the PATH basement.
“It just felt good because (the clients) have nothing and we got to kind of give them something,” she said.
Elsie, a sophomore at West High, goes to American Lutheran. Paige, a freshman at West, goes to King of Glory.
Paige said the week’s activities encouraged her to revisit some sites, like PATH, to help out as a mentor. Timothy said he’d like to work with PATH and return to ZooMontana, where the group helped with cleaning up the grounds last Monday.
The three had different reactions to a week without electronics, one of the requirements of the trip. Paige said she rarely uses her cell phone so it wasn’t a big deal to her.
“It’s kind of nice to have a real conversation with people and you get to learn a lot more about somebody,” she said.
Elsie said it was a little difficult because she couldn’t call her friends, but she was OK with it. Timothy admitted the first couple of days were tough.
“I can’t just Google something,” he said, laughing. “I actually have to ask around.”
Asked why she’d be willing to give up a week of vacation, Paige had a simple answer.
“I just wanted to help people and I wanted to live by God’s word and meet new people, and this is all that in one,” she said.