Each summer Chip Travis, youth pastor of Creola First Baptist Church, witnesses a recurring scene.
Travis, who also is a teacher and coach at Saraland Middle School, leads student groups to southern Louisiana to help churches with Vacation Bible School.
On every trip, Louisiana children eventually ask youth volunteers, “Can I go home with you?”
Having an impact
The question speaks to the kids’ situations and their struggling communities, Travis reflected, but it also shows the impact youth missions trips can have on the children they serve.
The story began after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, when many residents of storm-ravaged New Orleans relocated to surrounding communities.
Small churches like some in the Evangeline Baptist Association, located in Lafayette, Louisiana, suddenly found themselves struggling to serve a huge population of transplanted people and to provide programs like VBS.
As then-interim youth pastor at Laffite Baptist Church in Saraland, Travis started taking student groups to the greater Lafayette area in 2006, helping churches like Vatican Baptist Church in Carencro host VBS.
Travis later moved to Creola FBC and continued the effort there.
Except for 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic limited travel and gatherings, Travis has led student groups of as many as 35 from Creola FBC — and sometimes surrounding churches — every year to help with VBS.
“We always have our Bible school [at Creola FBC] before we go on the trip,” Travis said. “So I tell the kids, ‘This is your training.’ All the kids work at Bible school, and then we go on the trip.”
The Creola FBC congregation supports the effort in a variety of ways, helping supply VBS materials, crafts and volunteers.
“This is one of the most life-changing ministries we have,” declared Pastor Al Brown.
“This year [Travis] took … 25 people, 21 students and four adults. None of his students were above the 10th grade!”
Through the years, the trips have evolved to help meet needs where they are greatest — serving as VBS workers, leading worship or canvassing communities to invite children to attend VBS.
In recent years, Creola FBC students have conducted a VBS in New Iberia, Louisiana, at Loreauville Baptist Church and helped host VBS at First Baptist Church New Iberia.
The trips are economical, Travis noted. Students hold fundraisers to pay for gas and food, and host churches often help provide materials, space for volunteers to stay and meals.
At FBC New Iberia, Creola FBC groups began helping with VBS around 2015. Jenny Shores, an Alabama native and now youth and VBS director at FBC New Iberia, said having the help of Creola FBC students during the church’s “rebuilding phase” has made all the difference.
“We have our people here currently working, but they double our numbers when they come,” she explained. “It’s a blessing for our church family. You need people who will come in and be willing to sit down and talk with children and smile and carry on conversations … to share the love of Jesus with them.
“The spirit that they bring with them, it’s just this spirit of cooperation,” Shores continued.
‘Heart for missions’
“They help us be more useful by coming and serving in any capacity,” she noted. “[Creola FBC leaders] are creating [in them] a heart for missions, a heart for serving and working for God.”
Brown noted the ministry serves to grow and challenge the youth who participate.
And the students embrace the opportunity to make VBS their own and see what missions is all about, Travis added.
“[Travis] has always said to them, ‘You are at your best when you are serving others.’ It’s a joy to watch them take that to heart as they focus on others and serve them,” Brown reflected.
Cason Martin, worship leader at Downtown Church in Mobile, began to realize a call to music ministry while participating in VBS missions trips. He went on six with Creola FBC, the first when he was 13.
“The trips to Louisiana had a tremendous impact on my life, and God used this missions opportunity to help shape who I am today,” Martin acknowledged.
“Scripture tells us Jesus did not come to be served, but He came to serve. Our team left Louisiana every year with a deeper understanding of the importance of loving and serving people.
“I can still remember many of the names and faces of children we met in Louisiana over the years. I can still remember their smiles … the sound of their sweet voices singing praise to Jesus. We still talk about these trips to Louisiana and the impact it made on all of us.”
‘Love and passion’
“Many of my friends who participated in these trips are now serving in ministry or chose a career of service to the community,” Martin said. “My love and passion for leading God’s people in worship started in Louisiana.”