On July 12, 2015, a group of high school and college students from all across Texas arrived in Bedford with little fanfare. Representing NEXT Worldwide, a non-profit that believes in “Living the Mission,1” they came to help 6 Stones do just about everything we do. In the course of four days, they sorted and placed donations for the New Hope Center food pantry, organized the 6 Stones warehouse, tended the Community Garden, helped a Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) team renovate a pair of homes and contributed to ongoing community programs within apartment complexes in two different cities. In under a week, they supported every branch of a non-profit organization that links over forty distinct partners in a coalition directly serving the residents of six cities in North Texas.
But they were here to do more than sort cans, pull weeds and swing hammers.
“If all we are doing is social justice, then we are making man the center of what we are doing,” said Warren Samuels, who serves as both Mission Leader and President for NEXT, “when God becomes the center of what we're doing, it radically changes what we do and how we do it. Yes, it's wonderful to see people's physical needs met, but without helping them to understand how to get into eternity I think we rob them of that one thing that will give them true joy.”
“This week, I think, is about two things: I think it's about what God is going to do through these students, but I think more importantly it's about what God does to these students. Because it begins to change the way these kids see themselves. It changes the way they see the world. It changes the way they see God.”
Samuels believes in service that extends beyond short-term trips or the simple meting of needs, and the students mobilized by his organization seem to agree with him on all counts. With a mix of first-time missionaries and students who serve every summer, he and his team had no qualms about sharing their service or their motives. “We tore down a shed for an elderly woman who couldn't do it herself,” said Drew, one of several dozen high school students on the site of a CPR project during the week, “We found two possums and a snake. And a million spiders, so it was a pretty awesome adventure.”
“I need to know more about God, just as much as the people that I'm trying to teach.”
But the greatest journey, for Drew at least, had nothing to do with adrenaline or arachnids. “For the past three years, I've been doing this trip and every time I feel like God has impacted my life in a different way,” said Drew, “I need to know more about God, just as much as the people that I'm trying to teach. Being a missionary is also about learning more about God, other than just spreading it to others. That's why I'm here.”
It's a concept that many of the students have embraced: that providing a service does not make one better than the person for whom the service was provided. God, they say, is at the front of everything. All people are united by their need for him. Harley, a college-bound athletic trainer, sums it up in three connected thoughts: “We're called to do God's work for God's people, and everyone is God's people, so to go out and help those in need is really important.”
For students like Harley and Hannah, who confessed that her food sorting was interrupted by thoughts of the people that would one day receive it, service is a tangible process with an ethereal motive. For others, the process itself is ethereal, expressed more in interaction than in action. For these students, tending gardens and packing boxes is nothing compared to the thrill of working with children within the Community Ministries sector of 6 Stones.
“God called me to do mission work when I was in the 8th grade,” recalls Kevin, a student who attends Bullard Southern Baptist, one of three churches mobilized by NEXT on this particular trip, “so any mission trip that comes to me, I want to be on it. I just want to use my testimony to get these kids to know that there is a way out. With God, and only with God… I've been in the situations they've been in, and it's pretty hard to go through it without God.”
As intimidating as these spiritual conversations may seem, the students brimmed with enthusiasm for their pursuit. Students like Claudia gush about the process. “I enjoy sharing the gospel because when you have a passion for Jesus, all you want to do is talk about Him and show people what he has to offer,” she said. “When you get something so special, you just want to show everyone.” Beside her, Kenzie chimed in about her experience rallying apartment residents to attend a free cookout and hear that message: “The first door is the one that's really scary. That's the one you get nervous about. The rest of them you feel really confident.”
These students are pursuing their passions, learning skills by doing and serving others throughout the process. They are pursuing the life they've committed to, and they are doing it with a passion that some of us only dream about. What they do, they do for love.
But this trip wasn't only a spiritual one; it lent practical skills and knowledge as well. One of the trip's leaders volunteered to help in the 6 Stones Community Garden to get a better grasp on his own plans to start a similar project at home.
“Seeing what they've [gardeners in the 6 Stones Community Garden] got and hopefully talking with some of the guys afterwards about how they specifically do it… That's actually pretty cool,” he said as he pulled weeds, “They're refugees that really don't have a lot going for them, but this is a place to grow what they need to survive. It's pretty awesome… It'd be great to take whatever we learn here and take it back with us.”
Together, these students and leaders worked to redeem and develop not only a community in need but the people within that community. More importantly, they equipped themselves to continue that development elsewhere. The students learned about the world by experiencing it. Their leaders developed tools that can serve them in their home context. All the while, our community was built on a foundation of love and respect. For NEXT and for 6 Stones, service is more than a program. It is a way of being and doing that leads to well-being and growing.
“Missions is not a way of doing certain things,” said Samuels, “We believe missions is a certain way of doing everything, that missions is not an event; missions is a lifestyle.”
“We believe missions is a certain way of doing everything, that missions is not an event; missions is a lifestyle.”
For one week in July, that lifestyle impacted countless lives. It drew people with needs to people with tools to people with the desire to make a difference, and the result can be measured to an extent in a stocked pantry, a tidy warehouse and a patch of real estate now liberated from the skeleton of a rotting shed that threatened to collapse at any moment. The real impact, however, can't be measured.
According to NEXT, it stretches to eternity.