From “Projects” to “Partnerships”

When serving and learning become mutual

Mission trips are not a new experience for the youth of Korean Presbyterian Church of Minnesota. For 17 years, the church has commissioned teams to travel from Brooklyn Center, Minn., to western South Dakota, where they’ve served on Native American reservations. But by 2012, KPC elders such as Peter Hwang had started looking for something different.

Peter first heard of the EFCA youth mission experience BUMP (Bridging Urban Mission Partnerships) that same year. He learned that a typical BUMP week would involve sending a youth team to an urban Evangelical Free Church. There, they would prepare and lead a Vacation Bible School and engage in neighborhood service projects, and they might also lead a sports camp or an English as a Second Language camp. And every BUMP team receives training on how to develop a biblical perspective on compassion, justice and poverty.

The more Peter learned, the more interested he became—eventually bringing up the idea to fellow elders. After a year of prayerful deliberation, the KPC elders approved the switch and registered a team of 21 high-school youth and leaders for their first BUMP trip in summer 2013. Their intended community: Jubilee Community Church (EFCA) in St. Louis, Mo.

After condensing BUMP’s six weeks of training into only two weeks (not recommended, but a necessity this time), the KPC team traveled south. Here they were: Korean young people joining a predominantly African American congregation.

Part of the BUMP experience included prayer walking the St. Louis streets and inviting neighbors to activities.

Weary from their hectic training pace, overwhelmed by the 90-plus-degree heat and faced with cultural differences in everything from food to language to interpersonal communication, the KPC youth found themselves pushed to rely on God and prayer for their daily energy.

Their BUMP week in St. Louis involved leading all aspects of a typical VBS in partnership with the church, then using their muscle to clean up and paint buildings that were being revitalized by another local ministry—in an effort to restore affordable housing.

Living out a philosophy of partnership

Jubilee has been a BUMP partner since 2006 and values BUMP’s philosophy: to come alongside with no agenda other than serving the needs of the church. This model allows the church to deepen existing community relationships as well as broaden its reach via the additional hands and feet of the students.

In turn, incoming teams see how God has been at work transforming a neighborhood. They broaden their view of poverty as they see God’s heart toward the poor, and they witness an environment where healthy intercultural relationships are valued, modeled and cultivated.

In 2013, the “P” in BUMP changed from “Project” to “Partnerships,” to better emphasize this reciprocity of relationship between the urban church and the incoming teams.

While the KPC youth who traveled to St. Louis expected to serve others, they unexpectedly found their own faith challenged. Some of that challenge was triggered through late-night chats with the BUMP intern, Caleb Pipes (in photo above, in beard and glasses). “I had a chance to sit down and talk about some issues they find difficult in the Christian faith,” Caleb says. “Things they had always been worried about but had not been able to ask. It was a great time of challenging questions and challenging answers that lasted until the wee hours of the night.”

Peter Hwang dubbed that conversation, “a little revival meeting with Caleb.” As one of his students said, “Before I came on this trip, I was having doubts of God’s existence. But through our BUMP leaders, Caleb and the prayer he led, I am less doubtful.”

Jubilee church members also shared personal stories about their own journeys of faith, which hit their mark. “Their testimonies taught me that they had the power to change their old ways and completely surrender to the Lord,” said KPC student Cathy Song.

By the time the week came to an end, 50-plus children from the Jubilee neighborhood had attended a fun “block party” and returned to check out the VBS; several housing projects were closer to completion; and KPC’s youth group had bonded more deeply. In addition, Peter has seen several of his youth now taking on leadership roles back home, and he knows that the BUMP experience is what made the difference.

It was an easy decision for Peter and the other KPC elders to decide that their youth would return to St. Louis in summer 2014 to continue this partnership in ministry. BUMP had indeed lived up to its mission: "Serve an urban church for a week. Gain ministry skills that last a lifetime. Return home. Change your world."

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