Many Christian Reformed churches participate yearly in SERVE trips, the annual summer ministry of Youth Unlimited (YU). These trips bring Christian teens into communities to care for and restore their world and to encounter the concepts of justice and missional living. While trips geared for high school students are more plentiful, YU has now been offering students in middle school the same opportunities for 20 summers. Youth Unlimited is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian ministry organization focused on assisting local congregations in their youth ministry.
Two middle school SERVE sites were available this summer hosted by Friendship Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Mich., (their 13th year of hosting), and by Ann Arbor (Mich.) Christian Reformed Church. Ross Weener, coordinator of youth ministries for the Ann Arbor church, said they have regularly sent both high school and middle school students to SERVE and decided to be a host church after completing a renovation. Weener said the congregation committed to three years of hosting SERVE teams; 2018 is the second year.
Weener appreciates the clear focus on integrating faith and service. He believes SERVE experiences can be a key piece in faith formation for all middle school and high school students. Although much like SERVE for high school teens, the middle school SERVE program is one day shorter. It provides service experiences for participants completing 6th through 8th grades and includes a modified curriculum promoting faith formation. The 2018 theme, “Love God, Love the World,” is emphasized through small group and team-building activities; during approximately seven-hour days on various work sites; and in evening sessions of praise and worship featuring a special speaker.
The Ann Arbor site this July hosted students from CRC churches in Michigan and Ontario and from a United Methodist church in Ohio.
Cindy Schreutelkamp is a youth director at ClearView CRC in Oakville, Ont., who sent a 2018 Middle School team. "My youth would say the week was life-changing,” she said. They made new friends and were challenged about breaking bread with others, serving strangers, and stepping out of their comfort boxes.
1999 was the first year Youth Unlimited opened its then 10-year-old SERVE programs to younger students, with a site in Grand Rapids, Mich. One or two sites for middle school students have run each year since at sites in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. In 2018, in addition to its two middle school SERVE sites, Youth Unlimited offered 21 high school sites and 2 sites designed for servants with intellectual and physical disabilities.