Local youth group reaches out

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A group of 46 teenagers from La Croix United Methodist Church is raising money for trips they'll take to Cincinnati and Chicago in mid-June.

Junior high students will go to Cincinnati under the direction of the group YouthWorks, and the senior high students will spend a week in Chicago with Center for Student Missions.

While the students are in the cities, they'll be working with children, helping nursing home residents, tutoring students, assisting in homeless shelters, cleaning indoors and out and willingly doing anything they're asked to do.

"We take pretty seriously Jesus' commandment to help out those who are less fortunate than we are," said La Croix youth pastor Mike Fitzpatrick.

It costs roughly $20,000 to send the students and some adult leaders on these one-week mission trips, Fitzpatrick said. Junior high students are asked to come up with $250 each; senior high students $350. Some of the cost of the trip is borne by the Mission Council, and everything else will come from a dinner and auction to be held at "The Porch," a multipurpose room where young people at La Croix gather. Buffalo Wild Wings will provide the food, the room will be decorated with a sports motif, and participants will pay to come in and bid on donated items. Among the items to be auctioned are Cardinals baseball tickets, gift baskets, artwork, vacations, massages and other prizes that are still being collected. New this year is a year's use of a coveted parking spot near the entrance of La Croix.

This will be the third year students have gone on mission trips. Last year, both junior and senior high students went to Birmingham, Ala. Each year, Fitzpatrick said, the group of participating teenagers grows larger.

Last year in Birmingham, Nate Nall, 16, tutored a third-grade student in math in the mornings and worked in a nursing home in the afternoons. His twin brother, Drew, was assigned to yard work, cutting overgrown weeds and vines to make the neighborhood he was working in look nicer and the residents there feel safer.

"I always feel closer to God whenever I'm doing that kind of stuff," Drew said.

For Nate, working at these mission trips is his way of "showing God's love through actions, not just words."

Participating in out-of-town missions has taught Nate and Drew, as well as their friends who also participate, that the need isn't just in other parts of the country or in third-world countries. They can help at home, and do. Both are involved with a program La Croix has with New Bethel Baptist Church in south Cape Girardeau. Both boys are looking forward to working with a new tutoring program for young people in the south city area, and Drew said he has done gardening and yard work there through the program the two churches have called "The Bridge."

Those in need aren't the only ones who benefit. The students who participate get something out of these trips as well.

"I think the biggest thing it does for them is it expands their world view," Fitzpatrick said. "Anything we can do to show them that the world is a whole lot bigger than their backyard, I think, is a good thing. Any situation I can put them in forces them to focus on God instead of themselves."

"I've seen God do different things in each one of their lives," said Gretchen Taylor, assistant youth pastor. "In each place, God does something different. It's neat to see them come out of their comfort zone and watch God change their lives. It's not a bad way to spend a week."

Drew and Nate, sons of La Croix's worship leader Christopher Nall, agree they can see how fortunate they are after seeing how some people are forced to live.

"We're helping people we might not have helped otherwise," Nate said. "Jesus calls us to help the least of these."

That's the lesson Fitzpatrick and Taylor want young people to learn.

"God calls us to care for the poor, needy, orphan and widow, those that society might reject," Fitzpatrick said. "Jesus holds those people pretty highly. It's part of our calling to work hand in hand with Jesus in reaching out to them, showing them his love."


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