“Imagine all your possessions boxed up, is there any chance they will all fit in a box or bag? Of course not! However, for most of the homeless in Costa Mesa, that’s all they have,” said high school junior Connor Dean after his mission experience with Grace Fellowship Church. “I helped organize their bins and realized I had all their belongings in my hands.”
Connor was one of nine high schoolers who recently spent a weekend serving as part of Grace Fellowship Church’s Serve OC program.
Serve OC is an annual three-day local mission trip where teens work alongside local mission organizations, praying and partnering with another church to help in their outreach programs.
“The goal is for students to serve in the city they live in, to see it differently, to see it as a place with needs where they can serve,” explained Chad Merrihew, High School Pastor at Grace. “High schoolers need service hours for school, and they can do future serve projects in their own community. The trip became a launching pad; it wasn’t just a one-time experience.”
“It was life-giving, energizing and fun,” Chad continued. “It was exactly what we hoped and dreamed it would be. We do three mission trips a year and our local one has always been in L.A. Jessica McDonald, our High School Associate, and I started talking about the needs closer to home, and Bailey Smith, our summer intern who was an alum of our program, helped put it all together. We have all the same needs that exist anywhere else: brokenness, homelessness, and addiction. We partnered with Trellis and Mika, two ministries our church is already involved with.”
Trellis is a partnership of churches in Costa Mesa along with Vanguard University and Costa Mesa City Hall. The goal of Trellis is to strategically unite the outreach efforts in the city. The students helped at the check-in center that Trellis provides at The Crossing Church where locals experiencing homelessness can check in their belongings each morning and check them out at night.
Mika is a non-profit organization that works with youth and adults in five low-income neighborhoods in Costa Mesa to address unemployment, lack of positive role models, and lack of community cohesion.
“Working with Trellis taught me what humility looks like while serving,” said high school senior Abby Wyspol. “Ian, head of Trellis, referred to the homeless as our friends who are homeless, or as people who are homeless. This stood out to me because they are more than their living situation. Their living situation is only a small part of their story.”
“By saying hello and smiling, our group made them feel like the human beings that they are, rather than social outcasts to be ignored,” said Eve Carpenter, a high school sophomore.
The serve experience began on a Friday night with a two-hour prayer tour around Santa Ana, Irvine, Costa Mesa and Newport. Other serving experiences included playing games, doing crafts and visiting with seniors at Newport Plaza Senior Living home, and joining others in Mika to pick up trash.
The group was housed at the Launch Pad, an apartment complex that provides long-term residential support to young adults aged 18-24 who are “aging out” of foster care.
“At the end of our experience, I understood what it was to serve with a grateful heart,” Eve added. “I was thankful for the opportunity to change someone’s day, to build relationships with these people, and most importantly, realize how in the midst of having nothing, homeless people have an amazing capacity to love. Serving is not a chore. Serving is a way to faithfully obey God.”
For further information, see gracefellowshipchurch.org.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]