- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - The annual mission trip is a big deal for the youth at Pendleton’s First Assembly of God. The destination remains a mystery until the unveiling, which their leader does with flair during a youth group meeting. By the end of his verbal intro, the name of the country is projected onto a screen.

This year, the students got a shock. When the moment came, the words “Sacrifice Trip” glowed bright.

Dead silence. The teens worked out what the words meant.

Pastor Kyle Chalko explained that the trip was actually a non-trip. The kids would raise money to support an existing missionary in Jordan by buying her a car and other tools she needs in her ministry. The youth had met the missionary, a woman who works with Syrian refugees, and liked her. But, still, they couldn’t help but feel momentarily let down.

“I was disappointed at first,” said Joyce Chen, 15, who had traveled to Haiti and Nicaragua on past trips. “I love missions. When I found out we weren’t going anywhere this year, it was hard for me.”

Her friends Tiffany Armstrong and Paisley Schulze echoed her sentiments. But these are kids who often approach life by getting on their knees and praying for guidance. They said they quickly came to embrace the idea of giving instead of going. Daniel Van Cleave, 18, donates money he gets from mowing lawns and simply not buying things. Armstrong, 15, gave the money she had saved for a car. Everyone figured out some way to contribute. They will continue to earn, resist buying stuff and give.

“It’s a really good opportunity for all the kids at this youth group to have a big impact in a very visible way in the country of Jordan,” Van Cleave said. “Supplying someone with a car, it’s a tangible thing. Our missionary will be able to drive where she needs to go.”

Chalko said he didn’t make his decision lightly.

“I’m a huge believer in missions,” Chalko said. “They can see with their own eyes a tent city in Haiti or the slums in Nicaragua. It opens their eyes.”

Chalko himself had gone to Peru at age 15. The poverty he saw there stunned him and sparked a lifelong desire to do mission work. Though he loves missions, something weighed heavy on him - the cost. He wondered if the orphanages and other places they help could do more with cash than a temporary teenage workforce.

“We spend a lot of money on missions,” he wondered. “Is it worth it?”

Two years previous, it had cost $44,000 to transport 22 students to Haiti to help with a post-earthquake feeding program. Last year, he took 32 students to Nicaragua at a cost of $70,000.

Chalko had asked the hosting pastor if he would rather have 32 kids or the money. He pondered the question.

That’s tough, he admitted. While he knew the transformation being done in the teens’ hearts and minds, the $70,000 would allow completion of an orphanage. The pastor’s comment echoed those of others who Chalko had questioned in previous years.

He pulled the trigger on the sacrifice trip for just this one year. Next year, the group will likely travel again.

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