(Photo: Teen Mania/David Molnar)
Teen Mania Ministries is celebrating 25 years of sending young people on foreign missions trips through its Global Expeditions program, which has taught thousands of teenagers that they don't have to wait until they are adults in order to be used by God.
"The 25th anniversary for Teen Mania, I don't think it's a congratulations to us. It's just another sign that God is insisting that his mission gets accomplished," Ron Luce, founder and president of Teen Mania, told The Christian Post on Thursday.
Luce and his wife, Katie, started the Garden Valley, Texas-based ministry with the understanding that adults aren't the only ones who can be used by God, and teens don't need a high school diploma to make an impact on the world.
"When we first started, very few people were taking teenagers on missions trips. People would look at us and go, 'You want to take kids where? They can't remember to put their socks on, you want them to remember their passport?'" Luce told The Christian Post on Thursday.
Despite their passion, however, the Luce's decision to work with teenage missionaries wasn't easy. They were torn by their convictions to both reach young people in the U.S. and to work in foreign missions, Luce says, so they prayed for clarity and eventually God showed them that they could do both at the same time.
Since that time, around 70,000 teenagers have participated in Global Expeditions trips, Luce says, and nearly 1.5 million people have received Christ as a result of the witness of these young missionaries. Since its founding in 1987, the program has sent missionaries to over 69 different countries, and this year alone it will send 2,000 young people to 33 countries on six different continents.
"Every place we go we're teaching young people to share their faith in Christ, which, ironically, is a distinction that's not all so common on short-term mission trips now. There's a lot of 'let's go and do good things for people but not necessarily share our faith,' and...we want every single young person to lead people to Jesus," said Luce.
And those they serve aren't the only ones who benefit, but the teens themselves also have a lot to gain through the trips. Luce says leading someone to Christ helps teens to realize that they have a greater purpose in life, and helping people in dire need causes them to adopt a different value system.
"What happens is, when they go overseas, they tend to come back to the States and they can see through the lies of the culture," said Luce. He says teens often return caring much less about the latest clothes and forms of entertainment, because they have seen and met people who live in desperate need.
On these trips, the missionaries might serve the locals in any number of ways, like building houses for those who live in cardboard boxes, or by drilling wells for water, or by visiting prisoners and orphans. No matter how they help on a practical level, however, they are sure to share their faith as well.
"History's...shown us that wars are won by young people going to the front lines, and so why not win spiritual wars with young people going out to share their faith and break the chains on people in bondage?" said Luce.
But what motivates teens to take several weeks out of their summer fun to serve others? Luce says the motivation for many teens is the "spark" they feel inside of themselves when they think, "Just maybe God can use me to do something to change the world."
Some parents might be afraid to let their children travel out of the country, but Luce says parents sometimes regret not letting their teenagers have the faith-deepening experience of doing foreign mission work while they are young. Global Expeditions takes a number of safety precautions to make sure young missionaries are kept safe, and all team leaders and project directors must receive a special certification before they can lead a group of young people.
Luce says it is good for teens to show "kindness in the name of the Lord" by serving people in their local communities, but he also believes they should get out of their "comfort zone" and experience sharing the Gospel in a different culture at least once in their lives.