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New Students, Fewer Participants Marked Summer Service Trips in 2022

SERVE participants from Twin Cities SERVE paint the entryway to a farmhouse at a local organic farm in July 2022.
SERVE participants from Twin Cities SERVE paint the entryway to a farmhouse at a local organic farm in July 2022.
Kristi Vugteveen

After two years of encouraging and equipping congregations to SERVE@Home, ThereforeGo Ministries was back to offering cross-border and inter-city youth mission trips this summer with more first-time participants than ever before. 

Over 600 participants from 53 congregations and more than 250 host team volunteers participated in SERVE across 13 sites.  

ThereforeGo Ministries, formerly known as Youth Unlimited, is a North American mission organization that hosts SERVE trips as part of its ministry. A SERVE trip is an opportunity for students, primarily in high school, to experience and spread the gospel through missional living. Visiting students and leaders are hosted at a base church where they spend a week offering help at various community work sites and also participate in worship, Bible reflection, and small-group sharing on a given theme. In 2020 and 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants were restricted to SERVE@Home—a reduced program offered through students’ home churches.

The 2022 season saw students and volunteers able to return to traveling. The theme for SERVE 2022 was “Gratefull.” 

SERVE 2022 had about half of the pre-pandemic number of participants and host churches. Amanda Roozeboom, SERVE director, said SERVE 2022 was “definitely a relaunch after a very long pandemic pause, and so while we have been doing SERVE sites for 33 years, this almost felt like doing it again for the very first time.” She is optimistic that as COVID protocols continue to relax, more churches and students will participate in SERVE in future seasons.

“The reality is that our participants are mostly high school students, and we had lost three years,” Rozenboom said. “We work with that four-year season of high school, so for a lot of our participants, this was their first SERVE trip, so they didn’t know quite what to expect.”

Annika, 16, is a high school student who attends Williamsburg (Ont.) Christian Reformed Church. She attended SERVE for the first time in London, Ont. “It was one of the best experiences I've ever had,” Annika said. “I feel like the people there were so accepting and welcoming to everyone! The entire week was full, and it was planned so well.”

Annika was asked by someone on the SERVE worship team to draw at the front of the sanctuary during one of the worship sessions. She incorporated different aspects of the week—such as a microphone to represent “the powerful voices we heard throughout the week”and an anchor as a symbol of  “how God’s love anchors us”—into her drawing.

“The great thing about being surrounded by loving, Christian people is that I felt so encouraged and supported,” Annika said. “There were many people who prayed with me beforehand, and once I got up there, I felt the nerves just disappear, and I was ready to use the gifts God had given me.”

When SERVE 2022 registration opened in November 2021 the U.S./Canadian border was still closed to nonessential travel, but travel guidelines changed before June 2022, and several Canadian churches did choose to cross the border to attend SERVE at U.S. host churches. Roozeboom said there were no border-crossing issues “and it was a worthwhile experience for everyone involved.” Roozeboom said SERVE participants reported six cases of COVID throughout the whole summer.

Annika said while she was hesitant at first to try SERVE, she was so glad for the opportunity.“If someone is considering going to SERVE, I'd say, ‘Do it!’” she said.

Sites for SERVE 2023 were announced Sept. 1. The theme will be announced Oct. 1, and registration for churches opens Nov. 1.

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