For those of us who grew up in the church, a hometown mission might seem like an oxymoron. Mission trips are designed to take us away from familiar settings and a familiar routine to focus on serving others for a concentrated time. Those ingredients generally help a person – especially a young person - not get caught up in everyday distractions so they can see the needs that exist around them.
Our efforts through Students Living a Mission (SLAM) over almost two decades have been to connect students with services they can offer. At the same time our facilitators are doing their best to help participants understand God’s desire to assist those who are most vulnerable among us. From cleaning and doing maintenance on the homes of elderly widows to hosting camps for children of mostly refugee families, we have been able to provide an array of wonderful opportunities for youth groups who come to Nashville eager to serve.
Another component of a SLAM week that we have always tried to emphasize with participants is the ability they have to implement opportunities to serve in their own hometown. Many people go on mission trips and return with hopes of meeting needs in their own community, but often don’t know where to start.
So a few years ago we started offering what we call Hometown SLAM. This program allows us to partner with students and leaders in their own hometown to find ways they can begin reaching out and assisting those in need.
Jesus recognized this possibility of a person being able to make an impact on their hometown: “Mark 5:19 Jesus said to the man, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
This past week, our SLAM representatives traveled to Hilliard, Ohio to facilitate a Hometown SLAM program alongside a local youth group. Participants worked in an organic community garden that provides nutritious foods to Latino, Somali and Iraqi refugee families. They also facilitated kid’s camps at 3 different sites with 100 kids at each site. The children served through these camps were predominantly from the same groups. Collectively, the group provided 500 hours worth of service – all in their own hometown!
The young people (also joined by a team from Tullahoma, TN) who participated in this hometown mission effort were “blown away” by the opportunities that exist right in their own community to serve the marginalized. Taking from 2 Timothy 2:4-7, the students learned the need to put their work in if they want to see change take place in their community.
SLAM facilitator Mitch Buchanan reflected on the weekend: "In Ohio, Hometown SLAM gave an opportunity for a youth group to come together to serve. Cornerstone Fellowship welcomed a handful of students that had never participated with them before, and wouldn't have been able to had the mission effort been out of town. The kid's camps and Word of God planted a seed of service in their hearts. But instead of just leaving with a 'Mountain High' experience, they were challenged to continue serving at camps throughout the summer."
It's our hope through Hometown SLAM that the idea can become less of an oxymoron and more part of everyday life, just like it is for youth in Hilliard, Ohio.