Thirteen local high school students from St. Matthew’s Anglican Church recently retuned from a week on a Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana.
“This was my second trip, and it most definitely will NOT by my last,” explained 16-year-old Brianna Beers. “This missions trip made my relationship with God much stronger because I saw His hand in everything that we were doing. The new people we got to meet were just such a blessing, but the main thing that really brought me closer to God was being silent. For a person who lives in Southern California, it’s hard to find silence and time in the chaos and busyness of our daily lives.”
“There were so many great memories that our youth group made,” she continued, “but the one highlight I will never forget is when there was no electricity or water for a day and a half due to huge fires surrounding the school we were staying at. A little scary…but even through that, we seemed to never stop having fun with our friends and it never stopped us from worshiping our loving Father.”
According to youth leader Chris Becher, this is the 10th year that St. Matthew’s students have served through Group Workcamps – week-long, home-repair Christian mission camps for youth. The mission trips provide experiences to encourage teens to grow in their faith while helping repair homes for people in need. Trained staff works with hundreds of students from youth groups across the country to repair and transform homes, while strengthening and transforming their own faith.
Past groups from St. Matthew’s have been to Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, West Virginia, and Louisiana.
“The students choose from 40 locations offered through Group Workcamps, and they really enjoy the Native American reservations. We were in such a small community, there were no signs anywhere telling you where anything is,” Chris explained. “We painted houses, and re-built porches and wheelchair ramps for the elderly. We also built fences, fixed roofs, cleaned up flood damage and fixed siding.”
“It’s good for the students to work with people they don’t know,” Chris continued. “They enjoy the trans-denominational group, and it helps them appreciate how dynamic, vast, broad and differentiated the body of Christ is. It also makes them appreciate what they have. You can see the effect over time by the choices they make, how they talk to strangers, how they pray for people around them in need, and where they spend money.”
Chris said the trip also expanded the students’ views of poverty.
“They came back with a very tangible vision of poverty that they didn’t have before,” Chris said. “They worked in a small house for a week with no air conditioning and with cockroaches running all over. We were with people who may not have had enough food or much materially, but they had a deep sense of family and connection, pride of their people and love of community. They don’t even notice what they don’t have. We had great conversations about different kinds of poverty. Poverty we see around us here in suburban life is very different, and isn’t so visible. Some described ours as a weird kind of isolation and loneliness; we have plenty of food, but not such a sense of family and community.”
Father Scarlett, who has been the rector at St. Matthew’s for 25 years, echoed the powerful impact of the short-term mission experiences.
“These trips are a significant part of our youth ministry,” Father Scarlett said. “Students may spend only an hour or two together at church each week, but over a week together at work camp they travel, eat, work and hang out together for extended periods of time. This helps them get to know each other and develop as a community. They also see impoverished areas and how others live outside the ‘bubble’ of Orange County. The trip provides space for students to experience God in a way that is not always possible at home. Students who go once usually go again.”
St. Matthew’s was founded in 1981 and originally met upstairs at the Community Church in Corona del Mar.
“We are a traditional Anglican church. We are committed to the timeless and historical faith,” Father Scarlett added. “Many people are tired of the ever-changing highly subjective culture. When you constantly update everything to meet consumer tastes, you get further away from the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’. Faith comes to reflect, rather than influence, the culture. We’re a witness to a faith as it has always been.”