Jared and Rachel Pettman had been married only a week when they took five teenagers from a Christian Reformed congregation in St. Thomas, Ont., on a SERVE trip with ThereforeGo Ministries to Douglas, Mass., in August.
The teens from The Junction Church in St. Thomas joined young people from three other churches in a weeklong mission experience that included volunteering at several community work sites around Douglas and nearby Worcester. They also took part in worship, devotions and small group sharing.
A SERVE trip is an opportunity for students, primarily in high school, to share the gospel through service. The River Community Church, a CRC church plant in Douglas, has been a SERVE host site for the last five years.
“Those who are on SERVE, their lives are transformed and changed by participating, and those who host SERVE, our lives are touched as well, and then our community is also ministered to. For the Northeast, that’s really big,” said Ann Roon, who attends The River and also works at Children’s Haven, a ministry for at-risk children and teens that was one of the locations where SERVE participants worked during the week.
“Their basement had flooded, so we took out some couches that got water-damaged and we ripped out the carpet,” Jared Pettman said.
The volunteers also painted snow plow blades for the town of Douglas, worked with the U.S. National Park Service at a couple of historic sites in the town, painted an apartment for an incoming pastor at The River, and volunteered at a family fun festival in Worcester.
When the Pettmans registered The Junction youth group for SERVE last September, they were not yet engaged. The couple was engaged in early February and married July 28. Rachel has been the youth group leader at The Junction for the last five years, and Jared had come to help with the youth group after the couple started dating.
“We didn’t know this was going to be our honeymoon until we got engaged,” Rachel Pettman said.
One night after the end of a work day, hosts from the Douglas SERVE site wheeled out a “10-day wedding anniversary” cake to celebrate the couple.
Rachel Pettman said they had mixed reactions to the fanfare. “Jared stands up and starts fist-pumping and I tried to slink down behind the table,” she said. Then the lights went down and one of the other leaders held a disco ball on a step stool, with a wedding song playing. The couple danced to the music.
“That was so, so fun,” Roon said.
The Pettmans were assigned to lead different workgroups during the day, so the only time they got to spend together was during morning devotions. “The rest of the time we were completely surrounded by teenagers and fun and adventures,” Rachel Pettman said.
One morning during devotions, the Pettmans looked at each other and said, “We couldn’t have chosen a better way to do our honeymoon than this.” They now intend to include leading SERVE trips in their summer plans every year.
The National Park Service recognized the volunteers during the week, presenting a large paper check that represented the dollar value of their volunteer service to parks in that region. The teens contributed over $50,000 of volunteer time.
The SERVE teams hosted in Douglas served right alongside kids from Children’s Haven, 99% of whom Roon said have no church affiliation. That has an impact on the teens Roon works with as well as the visiting teens.
“They have an opportunity to see peers who are spiritually connected to Christ in the way of service and love,” Roon said. “They get to witness that, which is not what their community shows them very often. For those on the trip, they get to see that the church is bigger than their own local church.”
Sixteen locations were SERVE sites this summer, 11 in the United States and five in Canada. That’s three more than in 2022, the organization’s first year returning to in-person service trips after the COVID-19 pandemic.