BEDFORD — It’s the first true day of spring break, and something is very wrong. A collection of middle school students from New Hope Baptist Church in Austin, Texas have trekked north for their vacation. But they’re doing anything but rest. While other youth groups are having lock-ins and hitting the slopes of distant mountains in Colorado, these students are staining pallets in the 6 Stones Community Garden. Youth Minister Jason Collins and his team of students believe in a different kind of Spring Break trip.
“In my ministry, I’ve got benchmarks. I want our students to have learned certain things by a certain point. That way, whenever they leave my ministry, we can say ‘here’s what they have learned. Here’s what they have accomplished in their time in the student ministry.’ In middle school, being able to share the gospel is one of my benchmarks. So is understanding what it means to serve others,” Collins said in a phone interview after the event.
For the leadership team at New Hope Baptist, there’s nothing so important as developing students who understand their beliefs and the lifestyle that comes with them. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with taking some time for “Fellowship” (read: hanging out, but specifically with other Christians), but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Christian doctrine emphasizes service and sharing as central tenets. Jesus preached about love and relationship alongside selfless living; a lifestyle that most individuals respect even if they find the supernatural elements of his teachings a bit far-fetched.
To some extent, 6 Stones is modeled on that formula. All we do at a functional level is gather men and women who care about their neighbors and point them in the direction of a problem they can solve. One of the things we’re actively working to improve, however, is that relational element: a joining together and staying together long after the job is done. That’s where the real relationships, the real change, the lasting impact, happens. That’s why we have a Community Ministries department. And that’s why the New Hope Baptist team partnered with us.
“We’d been coming up to that area for the past four years for our middle school mission trip,” Collins said, noting that the short distance between Dallas and Austin make the trip ideal for a younger crowd. “It just felt like we were being sent on errands [before]. It never felt like we were developing relationships or connecting with people, per se.”
“In talking with my leadership about what we wanted to do this year, that was the main thing that we wanted to find: a place to plug in where we felt like we were building relationships. Where we were a part of a ministry that was building relationships for the Kingdom.”
Two separate sources recommended that the team partner with 6 Stones, and the trip was set. According to the youth pastor, it wasn’t a difficult choice.
“[6 Stones is] literally being neighborly. You’re going in to fulfill needs, but for the purpose of building relationships. Ongoing relationships. It’s not just going in to fulfill a need and then leave.”
“It was an amazing trip for us.” Collins continued. “The training that we received, the ministry that we were a part of, was an amazing demonstration of how God is using 6 Stones not just to further the Kingdom in this area, but throughout the world as others come and partner with them.”
We couldn’t do what we do without passionate volunteers who want to join us in doing it. What’s exciting about this group — beyond their willingness to spend vacation time raking yards and going door-to-door to promote Easter Egg Hunts — is that they share our passion for continued relationship. While we’re developing volunteer teams to begin and maintain relationships with the neighbors we assist through events like Community Powered Revitalization and Operation Back 2 School, the people at New Hope Baptist are developing their own understanding of that relational process.
In the weeks that followed the middle school trip, we were able to send out 2 follow-up teams to continue 26 neighborly conversations that Collins and his group started in mid-March. They’ve helped us to better understand the needs and desires of our neighbors, and to offer them support beyond a clean yard, some canned goods, or an afternoon of fun at a local park. Those students helped us to better serve our community, and they walked away with knowledge and experience that will come in handy as they return to their own community.
High School students at NHBC work in an apartment ministry similar to the programs we run here. They emphasize interpersonal interaction and respect: learning how to live as a Christian without forcing their beliefs on others. Through their experience here in Dallas, these middle school students are better prepared to have healthy, uplifting conversations with the men and women who live just down the street from them when the time comes for them to do so.
“People are people. Cultures and languages may change, but the need is the same. The people are the same. Sin is the same. Ministry is more about learning who the different cultures are, learning who the different people are, as you go into that area,” Collins said. “What was so great about this trip was that we were just beginning to train students about what it means to be missional and to serve.”
“Getting [the students] to get out of their comfort zone to go and interact with people for the gospel changes people,” he continued. “It changes not just the people that we’re talking with, but it changes us because we are stretched. We get out of our comfortable little world to go and be bold and to step up and be Christ for someone.”
Too often, Christians are accused of policing others rather than caring about them. There’s a growing sentiment that Christianity is about telling people what to do and how to behave to earn God’s love; a sentiment that couldn’t be further from the basis of the faith. Jesus was a servant. He earned the right to speak into people’s lives by understanding who they were and what they needed. 6 Stones' Community Ministries was launched to replicate that process, and we’ve found that men and women who respect and follow Jesus are pretty good at living and loving the way He did. This Spring Break, a group of middle school students proved it.
If you’re interested in being part of that process, we’d love for you to join us!