NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Each time the luggage belt circled, 16-year-old Kate Krabill felt further from her home in Elkhart, Indiana. She had just landed at the airport in Lima, Peru, as a participant in Mennonite Mission Network's Youth Venture program.
As the belt circled again and again, the other participants plucked up their bags as she remained empty-handed. Her missing bag contributed to a loss of familiarity that could have softened the jolt of being in the Amazon rain forest region thousands of miles away from her home.
"Everyone else had their bags, and I began to internally panic," Krabill said during her video-recorded devotional at the summer camp where the Youth Venture group served. "In tying my experience into the theme of our camp, we are learning that to be radical, you have to put your trust in God in everything you do."
From July 16-31, Krabill and her group of a dozen participants practiced this trust as they embarked upon their Mission Network-sponsored trip to Peru. That's where they engaged with youth ministry opportunities, work projects, and cultural learning experiences in and around Iquitos. The city is only accessed by boat and has an 80 percent indigenous population.
Krabill and her cohorts learned to trust God and others more deeply during their intercultural immersion, said trip leader Marisa Smucker, director of Mission Network's Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) program and a Church Relations representative.
The group joined members of Iglesia Cristiana Menonita, involved in youth ministry at four locations in the city and at a summer camp for adolescents. This exposure helped to stretch their perspectives, Smucker said. She was especially aware of Krabill's growth, since she had been Krabill's youth sponsor at Belmont Mennonite Church (Elkhart) for the past two years.
Even though the airline found and brought Krabill's bag to her days later, "the initial loss of her suitcase definitely pushed her outside her comfort zone," Smucker said. "My sense was that encouraging her to share her testimony about the experience also tested her limits. ...
"I am really proud of Kate—her willingness to step out to risk trying new things on the trip, as well as the risk she took to come on the trip in the first place. She had never traveled outside the United States before, let alone doing it herself—though I, as a trusted youth sponsor, did try to help soften the risk some."
Adult shoulder tappers at home and abroad
Adults such as youth sponsors, parents, and indigenous leaders at the sites visited are important in the risk-taking growth of young participants, ages 15 to 22, Smucker said. Especially key for Kate was the encouragement of her mother and father, Sally Krabill and Tony Krabill.
"Having had a good experience during a short-term mission trip to Costa Rica in high school led me to encourage her to do something similar while still in high school," Sally Krabill said.
"Having some context for going on the trip—both my stories and Marisa's presence—helped her take the risk. … She had the best of both worlds—having some independence in being the only youth from our church who went, but also being with an adult she trusted."
Kate Krabill learned to trust other adults on the trip, too. They included Freddy Satalaya, a local church leader directing ministries with youth, kids, and families. During this Youth Venture trip, he and his wife, Elena Buckwalter, served along with Smucker. The couple also helped to find lodging, provide group translation, secure transportation, and exchange money.
In a recent e-mail to Smucker, Satalaya wrote: "[Camp] is where the Youth Venture helpers could go deeper into the heart of each adolescent … because camp is where [the adolescents] can be themselves, and where God demonstrates his love in the lives of each [one].
"I saw so much growth in the personal relationships of the group participants and the campers, as the Youth Venture members learned to communicate with the young people in their teams."
Satalaya said that the Youth Venture trip was the first time he had helped to lead an international group, and it was a very positive experience. "It was a beautiful experience, and it helped me to learn a lot and to have a lot of confidence for future groups that may come," he wrote.
Returning home changed—and challenged some more
Kate Krabill discovered that her challenges did not end when she returned home. For example, the trip coincided with the first marching band camp at Concord High School, where she is a junior.
"At first, I didn't think missing practices would be that big of a deal," she said. "But when I got home, I realized I did miss out on some important first connections with the incoming freshmen."
"Yet when I weigh things like that against what I gained from Peru, I believe I made the right decision. I had a lot of time on the trip to reflect on my relationship with God and others and the world without all my usual worries and activities," she said. "I grew and stretched in ways I wouldn't have if I had stayed home."