Texas-Bound For EasterBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, April 13, 2006
North Adams - "There are always moments on these trips that you will never forget."
So are the words of 15-year-old Drury High School sophomore Heidi Shartrand, who will accompany about 18 First Baptist Church youth group members and five adults during a trip to Houston, Texas.
The entourage plans to leave the city on April 14 from the Main Street church at about 11:45 a.m., and arrive in Houston via airplane at about 7 p.m., said Kathy Church, youth group coordinator.
The group members range from sixth grade to twelfth grade students. Youth group members are expected to stay at a large, over 100-year-old ranch that is undergoing a transformation into a youth camp.
Hands Will Get Dirty
Group members will prepare planting beds, install and repair fencing and work on a entry way gate, paint, and tackle some building tasks, Church said during an April 12 telephone interview.
"We'll have about four days of work," she said. "Our group has done a lot in four days. This is the first time we've been able to stay at the work site, and we are excited about that."
April "mission trips" have been part of the church youth group activity roster for a number of years, Church said. She has been involved with the trips for about 12 years. Past mission trip destinations include Omaha, Nebraska, Denver, Colorado, and Palasky, Virginia, as well as a trip to Mexico.
Making A Difference
Shartrand was among the youth who traveled to Colorado. Much of the work involved a large community service center equipped with a massive food pantry, a clothing section, and an area that offered toiletries to those in need.
"A lot of the time we were in warehouses, unpacking all the food," she said. "You couldn't really see how much you were doing until you were done. You'd be wondering 'am I really doing very much to help anyone,' and then when it was done you'd see that we really did a lot. It's fulfilling, and you get the spirituality."
While in Omaha, youth group members were housed at an inner-city youth center.
"It was surreal," said Shartrand. "The house across the street on the corner was a crackhouse. We did stuff with groups of kids, we took one group to the Omaha Zoo one day. We did street ministry, and we came up with our own little mini-messages to say."
Shartrand said she believes that at least one person may have heard the messages; a woman who may have been a prostitute asked to pray with the group, she said.
Group members joined missionary workers who visited villages during the Mexico trip, and other trips have involved Habitat for Humanity projects and working with Salvation Army church members, Church said.
"When we went to Palasky, we built a house," Church said. "When the group arrived there, it was just a rough foundation."
The trips are "amazing opportunities," Shartrand said.
"We can go places within the United States and outside of the country that we might not see otherwise," she said. "We tend to have a good mixture of physical work and being with people in the community."
Beaches, Banquets, Ballgames And Science
There are social and recreational opportunities as well, Church said.
The Houston trip includes plans to visit the Houston Space Center on April 15. The group is expected to watch a Houston Astros baseball game on April 19. On Easter Sunday, the group plans to attend worship services with people who live at the ranch, then spend the afternoon on a Galveston beach.
"We'll have Easter dinner on Sunday evening," Church said.
A banquet is traditionally held before the group returns home. Church said that group members expect to arrive back in the city at about 6 p.m. Friday April 21.
"Once we get our photos developed, we'll have a presentation and people can come and see what we did," Church said.
Plans for a 2007 mission trip are already underway, and Church said that the destination may be Honduras.
Raising Trip Revenues
Youth group members raise money for the trips throughout the year. Bottle drives and suppers are among the fundraising strategies.
"We try to keep the cost of the trip [to group member families] as minimal as possible," Church said.
The Houston trip cost each group member about $625, in part because plane tickets cost $400 per person, Church said. Additional expenses include van rentals. Trips within the United States usually cost less than trips outside the country's borders, and when the group visited Virginia, costs were further reduced because the adult leaders opted to drive to the site.
The youth group is non-denominational, and youth who attend other churches or live in neighboring communities are welcome to participate, Church said. Young people who are grade six through grade 12 students are eligible for youth group membership.
Weekly meetings are held at the 131 Main St. church beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Further information may be acquired by calling 413-663-3780. Church stressed that any messages left will be answered.
Once involved, many youth remain with the group and participate with the mission trips year after year, Church said.
"Every place we go, everything we do is God-centered and applied to every day life," she said. "The work we do is so rewarding."
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-823-9367.