The blessings of HIS Work Camp reach beyond the recipients of the week of service.

By Bob Cleveringa

When we go on a mission trip, we always hope that it helps the people we are directly serving—that is, after all, the goal. But the benefits don’t end there. Often, it’s the people beyond the normal scope of the trip who receive the greatest benefit.

Maximizing the number of people who are blessed by a mission trip is one of the aims of Hands In Service (HIS) Work Camp. HIS Work Camp is organized by the Synod of the Heartland Office of Youth Ministries, and offers the opportunity for high school students and adult leaders from churches in the region to come together and experience a week of service, worship, and relationships. This one week has the potential to affect their lives for eternity. The organizing team works with the Chilhowee Baptist Association and Habitat for Humanity in Maryville, Tennessee, to organize the projects.

Some of the people who are blessed by the camp are the recipients of the service during the week. Beginning a year in advance, our team works with Habitat for Humanity and a local volunteer to identify people in the Maryville area who are in need of help with home repair. We select 12 to 15 homeowners who are willing to open their homes and become involved with the participants of HIS Work Camp. It is not a small commitment to allow your home and privacy to be invaded by a dozen strangers armed with power tools and Midwest work ethic. In fact, it can be downright intimidating.

So we refer to the homes as host homes, acknowledging that the homeowners are allowing us to live with them for five days, and to see their home and their life from the inside out.

Another less visible recipient of the benefits of this experience is the church that HIS Work Camp overwhelms for seven days. Congregations in the Chilhowee Baptist Association have a huge passion to respond to disasters and human hardships around the world. One of these congregations is East Maryville Baptist Church, which hosted our group last summer. The church aids disaster sites by building mobile kitchens, mobile showers, and tool trailers that can serve residents and volunteers. They help address the victims’ immediate needs by providing food, showers, hygiene products, and lodging.  So, how does HIS Work Camp benefit the church in this endeavor of theirs? The answer is this: East Maryville Baptist Church wanted to experiment with its ability to respond to a disaster. And we gave them a chance to practice!  With 200 students and adult leaders suddenly overwhelming their building, the church essentially became a simulation site for disaster response as they figured out how to meet the lodging, food, and hygiene needs of HIS Work Camp participants.

Finally, the work camp participants themselves benefit from the experience and are blessed by God through it. These participants come from various RCA congregations across the Synod of the Heartland. Churches represented are generally from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. The participants give of their time, their abilities, and their finances as they experience eight days of traveling, working, and worshiping. They also build relationships with their own youth group, people from other churches, and the host homeowners.

These relationships, formed over intense days of working together, have an impact beyond the week itself. New friends continue to communicate and develop their relationships for months and even years after the initial work camp. Participants’ relationships with God are also deepened. Each evening culminates with a time of worship. A worship band and a speaker help participants focus on the week’s theme and offer biblical teaching to tie the entire work camp experience into God’s plan for their lives.

It is amazing to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence as the work camp unfolds throughout the week. Young lives, as well as adult lives, are touched and changed as the week progresses. Mission trips impact so many more lives than just those who receive help.  And God is continuing to bless HIS Work Camp with harvests of fruit, year after year.

Bob Cleveringa is director of youth ministries for the Synod of the Heartland.