It’s mission trip season around here and while these are amazing experiences and ways for our youth to experience God in new and exciting ways, there is a toxic plague creeping into mission trip life: cell phones.
For over seven-years we have not allowed cell phones on overnight youth trips, including mission trips. The original policy sprung from a group of high schoolers that decided it was more important to spend time with the people around them rather than with whatever was going on back home. Granted, at the time, cell phones were a lot different than they are now. However, as the technology has advanced the policy hasn’t changed. Last week, while on a mission trip with our sixth grade team, I was reminded just how wonderful this policy is.
This particular trip was at the TEAMeffort mission camp in north Florida (it’s wonderful, in case you were looking for trip opportunities for next summer) and I was sitting in the lodge talking with one of our adult volunteers. We were one of four churches present last week and, by my estimation, about half of the teenagers present had cell phones. Our youth and the others without phones were mingled together playing four-square, Mafia, bouncing volleyballs, or just conversing — they were being teenagers. The ones with cell phones were staring at the screen. Some were sitting together being “alone together” while others were off by themselves with the screen glowing on their face. Granted, there were a few youth staring at their screens while waiting in the four-square line, but my point still holds.
As technology advances and cell phones continue to do far more than just connect phone calls and texts, youth have a never-ending distraction machine in their pockets all day, every day. I know in my own life it’s hard to resist the temptation to know what’s going on and our youth are no different. Mission trips, retreats, and other youth ministry events should be time set apart from the normalcy of the world. This set apart nature is why mission trips provide such amazing spiritual experiences for youth: they’re actually focusing on what a relationship with Christ is all about all day long. Let’s not allow them an easy distraction that will break that focus.
Since our policy has been in place for so long, most of our parents are all right because it’s become part of our trip culture. However as parents are increasingly more accustomed to being able to reach their teenagers 24/7, I envision a slight amount of parental push back developing in the future. But our policy will continue to hold strong because the benefits far outweigh the cons. After all, our mission trips are about providing youth with a way to serve their Lord and focus on living a life of relationship with Christ and cell phones aren’t required for that relationship to exist.
Justin Cox has worked in youth ministry at First United Methodist Church of Orlando since 2005. He has been designing and coding websites since the late 90’s and can be found on just about every social media platform @JustinCox. His youth ministry communications plans are constantly evolving. He lives in Orlando with his wife, Carla, and their dog, Mac.