Top 5 Rural Towns for Missions

This week I am doing a series of posts this week entitled, Top Fives.  Yesterday we looked at my Top 5 TV shows, we take a hard turn to the right today and move toward a ministry subject:  The Top Five Rural Mission Towns I have been able to serve in/with.

Once again, this is a hard one for me to even begin.  I needed to come up with some criteria because I have had so many different places and first need to decide if I am going to consider just the towns I have actually been in for the week or if I can count towns I have scouted and sent teams to.  If I were to do the first I would have a list of about 15-20 places to choose from, if I were to do the latter I would have a list of nearly 100.

What to do?

To make it easier on myself, I think I’m going to go with the places I have served, at a later date I am going to do a different list which will include any/all the places we have served as a church or through Youthmark.

In considering how to rank the top 5 places I have served with teams I am factoring in not just the community and the people in that community, but I will also factor in a few other things that helped me feel the way I did about that trip. Items such as weather, landscape, overall experience, ministry, etc. obviously played a factor in how I ended up feeling about the town.

Without further ado, here we go…

IMG_0976Honorable Mention: Anahola, HI, this really is a tough one to keep off the list, and also a really hard on to put on the list.  I learned way too much on this trip two weeks ago (July 23-Aug 2, 2009).  I posted about those learnings here.  However, the beauty, the friendships, the ministry, the potential dreams for future trips and yes, even the learning, make it impossible to keep this place off the list.  In fact, the dream to go back (and do things differently) propel me to put this place on the list.  83 for a high and 75 for a low plays a role in the decision too!

images-3Five: Skagway, AK, my first rural mission trip certainly ranks among the top five. I remember my first scout trip, flying in (via Alaska Air) to Juneau, spending time with my friend, JR at his church (Auke Bay Bible Church) and then heading out in JR’s Cessna 172 aircraft (4-seater).  The scout trip itself may have put this trip in the top 5.  We literally landed in Skagway with zero contacts.  We parked the aircraft, walked to town and picked up the phone book (this was before the internet was what it is today).

This June 1998 mission trip set the foundation for what Youthmark is today.  Because I believed that missions should be far more than just an experience we give students in the summer I wanted to make a splash with my first mission at First EPC of Renton.  So I created a “check-book” which became the discipleship guide for the students to do to qualify for the mission.  And because I believed we needed to do ministry in a small enough setting for each student/staff to feel part of the body (and needed to use his/her gift) we set a maximum number of 15 people for each team (so we served 5 Alaska communities that summer with 5 teams).

I learned so much that spring and summer and from that point further I used this strategy to disciple students and eventually other youth pastors.  Fun to look back on this week.  On top of all this, the ministry in Skagway was awesome, it was primarily to the LDS church, where we learned the power of testimony and sharing the “why” we have chosen the way of Christ.

images-4Tie for Four: (A) Rockaway Beach, OR, this trip in the year 2000 was the one I feel I really learned to let go and let others.  In each of the other towns to this point my wife and I were the leaders (and only leaders) on our specific team.  In Rockaway Beach we had a young intern, Wescott, with us. It was here in Rockaway that I really discovered a passion for mentorship and seeing others succeed in leadership.  The ministry setting in Rockaway and partnership with leaders such as Guy, Mike and Molly are things that I will always remember.

(B) Unity, OR, the trip to Unity in 1999 is the mission that stands out to me as the one that I felt my students really “got it” for the first time. By the end of the week it was the students who were pushing each other to share with their mouth, and not just their lives (behavior).  I felt the passion in the students to reach out to to their peers.  For a town of about 100-200 people, this place should have been one of the more impossible places to do ministry, instead it was the place my students really learned to do ministry.

images-1Three: Julian, CA, I will never forget my scout trip and meeting Pastor Rick Hill.  In the early winter in December of 2005, we sat at the Julian Pie Co. and I shared my hope and vision for what could happen in his very town in the summer of 2006.  He looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “this is a great vision, Brian, and I’m thankful that you will do a VBS, that’s a great avenue, just know that the Youth Outreach probably won’t work… we have never had more than six people at any youth event”  This simply excited me, whereas for Rick he just concentrated on our team coming as his VBS team.  On the first night at the football field we had about 10-12 (he was floored), by the end of the week we couldn’t keep Rick from smiling as he witnessed first-hand nearly 40 students on the field and another 25 coming back to his church to sing songs of praise!  Oh, the Pie alone may have given Julian at least the fifth spot!

imagesTwo: Mineral, WA, for about 27 years First EPC of Renton, traveled to Mineral, WA to put on a VBS for the church in this Mt. Rainier foothill.  For my six summers as the Youth Pastor (years 21-26) I was part of the tradition.  We used Mineral as our second mission (and really pushed this as a great entry level mission).  Eventually we needed to add Morton, WA as a town (because the Mineral team became too large).  The following year we added Onalaska, WA as a third town on the “Mt. Rainier Mission”  I loved serving in these towns, we added “youth outreach” to each of them while continuing to serve through a VBS in the morning.

images-2One:  Pine Valley, CA, when I scouted PV in January of 2006 I KNEW this was a place we needed to bring a team.  The only problem, the Pastor was not in town and though I tried calling several times I never got a reply. So, we scouted and found other places.  Well, our sign-ups grew and we needed another town to service the Cuyamaca Mt. Mission of 2007.  In April when I scouted again, I drove through Pine Valley again, and again, the Pastor was out of town, no answer, no returned call and we moved on to other communities, even landing one.  But for whatever reason I KNEW we were supposed to be in PV.  About one month before our Cuyamaca Mt. Mission trip the Pastor, Joe, returned my calls and we hit it off immediately.  Because there had been poor communication with the last town I had gotten we decided to pull the plug on that one and go to PV.  I was supposed to be taking my team on a return trip to Julian, but for whatever reason I KNEW I was supposed to go to Pine Valley.

In PV I grew so close to people in town (specifically the pastor and his family).  We introduced a discipleship program for the Christian teens while some of our team did a VBS in a neighboring Spanish speaking community.  Our evening outreach at the park was a huge success, seeing students come to Christ and others encouraged in their walk.  We had about 30 for the first few nights, by the end of the week 6@6 (what we called our outreach, 6 nights at 6 o’clock at the park) had about 60 students in attendance.

My friendship with this family continues and though I’d love to send a team back to PV it would be pointless; in 2008 I approached them to do this, and the Pastor (and his kids) said, “why, we are doing it on our own, we have a heart for our community.”  And they did, they ran an “at home” mission each of the last two summers!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!  There are towns that are coming to mind right now that if I don’t stop I will be adding more ties… so, that’s it for now.

Any Rural communities (under 3000) that you feel Youthmark needs to serve in the future?

Perhaps you have been on one of these missions and you’d like to make an case for why that town is #1 on your list?  Give it to me!



7 thoughts on “Top 5 Rural Towns for Missions

  1. Again, can’t play the top five because I have only gone on a few mission trips. But, I will never forget the first one I went on or the experiences I had while there. It was somewhere in Oregon and I was with Tom Horton. I will in paticular
    never forget the ride home or the prayer conversation the Lord and I had together.
    Me in tears for about five of the hours while Tom was driving us home. I remember
    crying out to Him, weeping. Most of the people in the van were sleeping in exhaustion. I believe He heard my prayers, because your ministry is a big part of the answer to them in many many ways.

  2. And although I did not attend the mission trip (except only through prayer), where my son Justin who did attend was baptized would also be a top five!!!

    1. Mark, yep and a couple of them have it now. One of the fantastic byproducts of these trips has been the launch of a permanent youth ministry. PV has/had one, Julian we launched one (they even have a full-time Youth position now), Rockaway has a great volunteer guy, etc. I would guess that about 1/3 to half of the towns have full time youth ministry happening. That means there is a lot of work to do as we move forward!
      Got some ideas?

  3. this is a sweet post Brian, I’m blessed to be associated with a bunch of these towns. Rockaway beach was very memorable indeed…my feet wet in youth ministry experience. If you remember, I actually wasn’t an intern yet. That was next summer. I was just college staff for this one.

  4. I agree- also very blessed to have been part of the adventures in a few of these towns. So exciting to read about all the other young people having the opportunity to serve and grow- those experiences had such an impact on my life that I even see so many years later.

  5. The mission that came to Pine Valley has left an indelible print in how we do discipleship, outreach and ministry in our church. We now have young people that are going out to college and other places, standing and growing strong in the Lord, and coming back to invest and serve in our community in the summer. In addition to what we do at home, we are hoping to go on mission to another community in 2010! Thank you Brian and praise the Lord!

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