Meeting the 'invisible' people who help put food on their tables helped Westminster Presbyterian middle schoolers see how Scripture, life, and worship connect.
Westminster Presbyterian Church middle schoolers didn’t go far for their four-day mission trip. Driving from their church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to the mission site in South Haven, Michigan, takes only 90 minutes. But what they learned about being members of one body made a difference in how they reflect, pray, and worship together.
The idea for the mission trip came out of conversations with church members of various ages.
“We were talking about what we have in our community, like fresh blueberries for breakfast. We decided to follow the trail back to all the people and processes that impact how we get blueberries on our tables. I’m a geography major and am really interested in how our communities and cities interact,” says Christy Roosien, Westminster’s middle school director. Her husband, Nate Roosien, is Westminster’s minister to youth and young adults.
The South Haven area leads the nation in blueberry production, so the Roosiens had no trouble lining up farms to visit and places to meet farm workers’ children. Their group camped out at a large cottage near Lake Michigan and made day trips to local blueberry farms, summer school programs, and nursing homes. The trip included 25 youth, ten leaders, and five parents who helped out for parts of the trip.
They visited a large commercial operation and a family farm to learn how blueberries are grown, picked, and processed. They drove past farm worker housing, mainly small one-room units, “to educate ourselves but not gawk,” Christy notes.
“We went to South Haven High School, where they hold a summer school program for farm workers’ children, and did art projects and recreation with them. One afternoon we got to go swimming with the summer school kids. That was the highlight for our middle schoolers—jumping in the pool, laughing, giving mini swim lessons, thinking, ‘hey, these are just kids like us.’
“One night we hung out with kids at a farm. Most of the kids speak English and translate for their families. It was good for our middle school kids to talk with farm workers’ kids who’d gone through the summer school program and finished high school. Some were heading on to university,” she says.
Looking at all the different parts that make up South Haven made 1 Corinthians 12 come alive for Westminster youth and adults. Everyone noted the extremes between South Haven’s resort area and farm worker housing. “Five minutes away, it’s another culture. Our kids brought up social justice aspects and leaders pointed out other things. It was a learning experience for all of us,” Christy says.
By law, farms don’t have to provide housing, yet housing helps farms attract and retain workers. The group wondered about where to draw the line with housing conditions, number of people in units, and ages that kids can work in fields and orchards.
“We came away with an awareness of language we use to talk about migrant kids or migrant camps. ‘Seasonal farm worker’ may be a better term, because a lot of these workers are born in the U.S. and travel seasonally to farms in other states,” she says.
After looking at the parts that make South Haven work, the Westminster group reflected on their own church, schools, and neighborhoods. They asked, “How is this all related? How are we a part of it? Where do we see God at work and what are we called to do? How are we called to act in order to be one body together?”
The mission trip opened up awareness of the real people and families behind what youth consume. A few months later, a South Haven blueberry farm (not one Westminster visited) was closed down because of underage labor.
“In Sunday school, it blew kids away that they had a connection to that news story. They pray differently when they’ve seen the faces that are part of a community,” Nate says. Westminster youth and adults now remind each other to look beyond labels, assumptions, and stereotypes, because there’s probably more to a story than they’re hearing.
The mission trip built on and nurtured a “members of one body” perspective that Westminster youth already experience in worship and church life.
Everyone from third grade on up stays in Sunday worship together. Youth sing in Kirk Singers and sometimes accompany music or lead liturgical parts. They talk about the sermon in youth group so they can remember and apply it. “Involving youth in worship is a work in progress. If there’s something we want to connect youth with, we talk with pastors. It’s easier to focus on big Sundays you can plan ahead for, like World Communion Sunday,” Nate says.
Westminster is in the downtown Heartside neighborhood and has an open door policy for people who want to get coffee, use the phone, or warm up. Youth groups serve Heartside neighbors at a local coffeehouse ministry and thrift store.
A few months after the South Haven trip, Westminster hosted 137 presbytery youth and adults for a two-night Urban Plunge. The Roosiens and youth brainstormed about community needs. Nate phoned the city’s parks and rec department to ask about large group volunteer opportunities, which led to the Urban Plunge group spending an afternoon raking a city cemetery. “The guy who answered the phone was super excited. With their budget cuts, they didn’t have the means to make it happen,” Christy says.
Nate and Christy Roosien recommend these youth ministry books:
Michigan farmers depend on seasonal and migrant help to get in the harvest. Find resources on services for farmworkers, studies on immigrants and crime, and National Farmworker Ministry’s summary of farm worker conditions.
Download a free copy of Getting Ready to Come Back: an Advocacy Guide for Mission Teams. Bread for the World produced the guide in partnership with a dozen denominations.
Use insights from 30 book groups (250+) readers across Canada and the U.S. to read and discuss The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together by Howard Vanderwell.
Gather an intergenerational group to:
Read Reformed Worship stories on litanies for mission trips.
Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your youth ministry, education, or worship meeting. These questions will get you talking about how to connect the “members of one body” concept to real life: