Boarding the train in Germany, 25 jetlagged students from Nashville, Tennessee, look around and notice something – they’re quite loud. While their volume level wouldn’t raise an eyebrow back home, on the German train, it’s just one more thing that makes them stand out. Passersby can easily tell they are Americans.
International Mission Board missionaries welcomed the group of 31, including their chaperones, from Grace Community Church for their GO Impact mission trip. This program, designed for high school students, offers one-to-two-week trips for experiencing missions around the world, working alongside IMB missionaries. It wasn’t the missionaries’ first time hosting volunteer teams, and they had a plan.
The sleep-deprived students walked the streets, going from destination to destination on public transportation in what they called “Streetwise.” Josh Hussung, youth pastor at Grace Community, described it as a tactic to keep the weary travelers awake while acquainting them with the city.
After hours of intentional prayer and evangelism training, the students formed small groups and ventured into the streets to share the gospel. Throughout their eight-day GO Impact mission trip, their unmistakable foreignness served as an icebreaker for opening conversations about faith.
“Do you speak English?” they would ask someone sitting on a bench during a pause in their busy metropolitan day. As the teens struck up conversations, the historic city became a bridge to discuss the gospel.
“I see so many old churches around this area. Do people gather there?” Being from America’s Bible Belt, the students found common ground with locals, as they explained that in their hometown, a significant portion of the population attends church. Sharing their beliefs wasn’t a difficult transition.
Students faced a few people rejecting their invitation to chat, but overall, they had good conversations. Hussung joked that even the “not interested” responses taught them that rejection wouldn’t kill them.
When opportunities for follow up presented themselves, the students exchanged social media contact information or took their new friend’s number and passed it on to one of the missionaries they had been working with all week. The IMB missionaries would make contact later.
Through this experience, seeds were sown, and the students learned that evangelism isn’t as daunting as they had previously thought.
Teens continue to lead and evangelize at home
Now, three months after the trip, Hussung sees his youth group maintaining the same energy and enthusiasm.
Presley, a senior, has taken on leadership roles in her church and youth group since the trip. She helped plan and execute a girls’ retreat for middle and high school girls at her church and now leads a discipleship group. For her, after experiencing street evangelism overseas, no other form of service is as intimidating.
“They taught us the value of plowing, planting, sowing, reaping and vintaging,” Presley said, referring to the leadership received from missionaries. She explained that “vintaging” essentially means discipleship.
That’s what resonated with her the most. “Through this trip, I really saw the value of discipling and then being discipled, seeking a mentor that can pour into you so that you can pour into somebody else.”
Nora is a junior. She goes to what she described as a very progressive school. Though other believers attend, it’s a dark place at times. She’s been emboldened to share the gospel with her unbelieving friends as she has the opportunity.
“The first time that I got to share the gospel, something just snapped, and I got really emotional,” Nora shared.
“What am I doing with my life? Why am I not talking about this more? I’m not telling this to people that I love.”
Nora said she’s motivated now to talk about God more openly, share her faith, and to not be afraid.
Scott, who also attends Nora’s school, returned with a strong desire to continue street evangelism in downtown Nashville. He and his friend, Michael, had a conversation about it. “We’ve got to keep this up,” they encouraged each other, reminded by the IMB team in Germany that the U.S. needs the gospel too. “I was reminded that we need to incorporate this in our everyday lives.”
Now, every Saturday, the two boys, sometimes joined by others, can be seen in a local park, striking up conversations with strangers and inquiring about their beliefs.
Clear pipeline for future missionaries
Hussung is no stranger to the work of Southern Baptists. His early years were spent on a Native American reservation with his North American Mission Board missionary parents. He learned that early exposure to missions cultivates young hearts, and he’s witnessing that in his youth group.
He’s grateful for the IMB’s approach to these trips through GO Impact. He recognized that the IMB provides students with a clear pipeline of opportunities if they choose to pursue missions. They could return as interns in a few years, serve as Journeymen or explore other avenues after college, and if God calls them, they could become career missionaries. The IMB offers a well-defined path for these possibilities.
NextGen mobilization prioritized
Mobilizing the next generation for missions is a priority for the IMB.
“At IMB we see the next generation as the ‘now generation,’ not standing on the sidelines waiting their turn to join in God’s mission, but ready to make a difference on the front lines with our missionaries,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said.
Chitwood added, “Half of the world’s population is under the age of 29, and most of them are in unreached people groups. It will take young people to reach young people and GO Impact is one of our responses to this great challenge.”
The IMB offers this avenue for youth groups to serve together overseas with an IMB missionary team. Groups of teenagers aged 15 and up can join the long-term, strategic efforts of IMB missionaries already overseas.
The trip is coordinated by an IMB-approved agent, who works to provide the best airfares and arrangements, monitors country entry requirements, coordinates arrival time with the missionary host, and provides travel assistance to the group.
In addition, the IMB provides training for group leaders and structured planning with the host missionary as well as coaching and follow-up with the church.
George Siler, the IMB’s packaged missions program manager, said these trips are valuable because of the lasting impact participants see.
“So many of our society’s indicators leave us worried that the rising generations will abandon the faith or at least not step up to join God in His mission to share the gospel with every people group. At IMB we are encouraged that God is still raising up workers for the harvest. Like generations before, our young people are responding when they are challenged and offered the opportunity to do something significant with their lives.”
Siler noted research shows that simply knowing a missionary personally makes a young believer more likely to be involved in missions through praying, giving and going.
Siler added, “GO Impact is simply an empowerment strategy for the local church. In a sense, it is training wheels we offer churches and their youth groups to go and serve well on an international mission trip. Our desire is that they own the trip and take the next steps to partner well with our missionaries in the missionary task.”
View a video detailing how a short-term mission trip can impact a teenager: