1. Pray: It seems ludicrously easy, but a step that is often overlooked. Make it a habit to pray for things that are happening in the world. Pray for issues dealing with social justice, pray for new opportunities to be involved. Encourage youth to pray specifically for certain issues that their hearts may be opened. Spend time in Scripture studying what God says about social justice.
2. Be informed: It is easy for youth workers (myself included) to allow the busyness of youth work to take up much of the time that we spend during the week. Part of the calling that we have, however, is to help educate ourselves about what is going on outside of our church walls. The better informed we are, the better we can help keep our youth and our congregations informed.
3. Help start the conversation: Most of us surround ourselves with people that are like us and are from similar backgrounds. We become aware when we take the time to meet and build relationships with those that are not like us. Invite someone who has been homeless or is a refugee in this country to come and talk to the youth group. Providing a way for your youth to connect with someone who has vastly different experiences can help open their eyes. Watch videos like Slumdog Millionaire or Invisible Children to start a conversation about world poverty and human trafficking.
4. Use contacts you already have: Chances are that someone, somewhere in your church has worked with an organization that needs help. If your church helps serve at a food bank, you might find out that they have a shortage of canned goods. Your youth could help organize and collect food for that organization. Perhaps your church helped clean up trash for a local park. By contacting parks and recreation, you may find out that there are plants that need to be planted or a swing-set that needs to be built. Contacting people with which the church already has a relationship opens doors to furthering that partnership.
5. Think outside the box! Look outside of Christian Organizations: There are many great Christian organizations that help serve the needs of those around us, but there are also many non-Christians and non-Christian organizations that are helping with local and global issues – the One campaign or project (red), for example. Don’t be afraid to work with those that share different beliefs. They provide a different viewpoint and can help challenge youth (and youth workers!) to be more aware of what is happening in ALL aspects of society, not just the places that Christians are present.
6. Design experiences to inform your youth: The best way to create awareness about issues that aren’t as easily accessible is by helping youth experience them firsthand. Plan activities that start a conversation about what is going on in the world. Play “Romans and Christians” and talk about the state of the church in a country like China. Plan a “homeless lock-in” where youth have to make their own shelter, find their own food and spend the night outdoors. Host a “world cafe,” and serve foods typical of those living in poverty across the world. Plan a 30 hour famine or create an activity where youth experience life as a refugee.
7. Pair vision with action: Youth can be fairly aware of what is going on in their community and in the world and most feel called to help “fix” what’s broken, but they don’t always have the tools to accomplish the task. Listen to your youth’s visions and determine ways that you can help make that vision become a reality.
8. Get connected locally: No matter what size community you live in, there are people that come from different backgrounds, different income levels, and different life experiences. Talk to a church in your community that has a congregation with a different socioeconomic makeup. Find out their needs and find ways that your youth can work side by side with them.
9. Build Relationships: It is easy to get caught up in the “project” of becoming more socially aware and to distance ourselves from the long-lasting relationships that can be built through this process. Adopt a missionary family and write to them instead of just sending money. Partner up with a family/person from another walk of life and work on building a relationship with them. Share meals; spend time together; attend their children’s ball games. In a culture where time is the most valued currency, giving yours to building a relationship will speak volumes over any other gift.
10. Dream Big, start small: There is so much need in our communities and in our world, and finding a way to help fill those needs can be overwhelming. The best way to get started? Start small. Talk to your youth and find out one area where they want to serve. Find one group to work with and find one specific way that you can help them. As your youth meet that goal, help them find a way that they can expand what they are doing. Maybe it’s something that starts as handing out fliers for a free medical clinic that grows into a week long medical mission trip to a developing country.