By Stacey Egger
From teaching children in inner-city Detroit about Jesus, to chopping firewood to keep elderly members of a small New Mexico community warm during the winter, Lutheran youth will participate in acts of service across the country this summer as part of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Servant Event program.
Registration is now open for nearly 70 Servant Events to be hosted from May through August by various LCMS congregations, camps and service organizations.
These events, primarily designed for high schoolers but often open to middle schoolers and other ages, are for groups of all sizes and offer a variety of opportunities to serve: construction, human care, environmental care, outreach, multicultural ministry and crisis response.
Servant Event leaders gathered at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis for fellowship and training Nov. 14–16. The training included presentations from the leaders themselves as well as from the director of LCMS Youth Ministry, the Rev. Mark Kiessling, and the director of LCMS Servant Events, DCE Jim Lohman.
Linda Gage of Silver Creek, N.Y., who has been involved with Servant Events for over 30 years, said the training helps veteran leaders like her get “re-energized” and “gain … encouragement from each other. … There’s always something to learn, no matter how long you’ve done it.”
Witnessing through service
Leaders at the training session noted that the benefits of Servant Events go beyond the physical work done by the participants.
“When these youth from states away … come and give up a week of their time for these people, that’s a huge sacrifice, and it’s an opportunity to share the testimony of the sacrifice of Jesus,” said Mary Bates, the project coordinator for an event that facilitates home repairs in and around rural Caldwell, Ohio.
Shelly Carlson, coordinator of the “Heart of a Servant” event at Lord of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Forest Lake, Minn., said that after a group painted the deck of a woman suffering from cancer, Carlson expressed the wish that the group could have done more for her home, which was in disrepair. The woman’s response surprised her:
“She said, ‘You guys don’t know what you did. … You reminded me that God still cares about me,’” recounted Carlson.
Carlson continued: “And that’s what Servant Events are — God working in the community and in our [lives].”
Many of the communities served by the events have come to expect and welcome the youth who visit each year.
At the “Fire on the Mountain” Servant Event at Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church in Angel Fire, N.M., participants work at a food bank, help maintain local hiking trails and process firewood for elderly and handicapped residents. The firewood, used for both heating and cooking, is essential to anyone who lives in the small community of around 1,300 people.
“Because they [the youth] have been doing it for so long, our community just … opens up to them,” said Philip Brooks, the community life leader for the event. “We tell the youth when they come up: Your actions probably won’t be seen during the time you’re here. But believe me, what you do for our community lasts [a lot longer].”
Connecting young members
As a program of LCMS Youth Ministry, Servant Events are designed for the benefit of youth participants as well as of the communities they serve.
“Providing young people with service and leadership opportunities helps keep them connected with their church, now and into the future,” said Lohman, noting the findings of a multi-year research project by LCMS Youth Ministry on young adults and church retention.
Many Servant Events have been held continuously for decades and have become a part of the life and traditions of the congregations that host and attend them.
“The younger kids [in our congregation] help when they’re little, whether it’s putting the soda and the water bottles in the refrigerator … to the point where they get a chance as high schoolers to go to the event. Some of them have come back later in college to help. It’s become almost a rite of passage,” said the Rev. Barry Akers, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kokomo, Ind. Our Redeemer has hosted the “Mission Possible” Servant Event since 2000.
Participants in the Angel Fire, N.M., event interact with one another in another form: competition.
“There have been groups that have done so much that they’re actually trying to break and set records,” said Brooks. “We had a group that came in and tried to process 40 cords [about 5,120 cubic feet] of wood. … They’ve set records at the Santa Fe Food Bank by helping process 8,000 pounds of food in one day.”
Many current Servant Event leaders formerly attended Servant Events themselves.
Joe Palinkas attended two Servant Events at Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Ind., while he was in high school. Now he leads the “Noble Servant” event there each summer.
“For me, [serving] was a breaking point of sticking with my faith and the church, or potentially going down a different road. … The relationships are such an important part of it, with peers and with the counselors. And a lot of times those friendships last forever.”
In addition to enabling service, Servant Events include times of Bible study and fellowship for youth participants, plus opportunities to “debrief” and discuss the work they’ve done each day.
“It’s the opportunity to be church,” said Deaconess Deanna Cheadle, project coordinator of the “TODAY in Appalachia” event at Our Savior Lutheran Church, Chillicothe, Ohio. “That is what flows from the Holy Spirit, to care for one another. And maybe for [the youth] at that young age, it’s the first time they’ve felt like they were the church. If they have the chance, they should go.”
Participant age range, event length and registration costs vary based on the event. Visit servantevents.lcms.org for more information and a full list of upcoming Servant Events.
Posted Dec. 17, 2019