How to Make High Schoolers Cry

You know God is at work when high school students cry over lost people. It was the final night of our most recent Utah mission trip with more than 50 high school students and teachers from Upland Christian Academy (UCA), and the group was reflecting. The week had been filled with ministry to the Mormon people. We spent a day touring Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City and talking to the sister missionaries. We traveled to Brigham Young University and engaged dozens of Mormon college students in deep Gospel conversations over lunch in the cafeteria. We even took UCA students door-to-door in the rural town of Ephraim, sharing the Gospel from house to house.

Along the way, faithful Christians doing full-time ministry in Utah continued equipping our students with the truth. Former Mormon Sandra Tanner, who runs Utah Lighthouse Ministry, taught our students about the role of the temple in Mormonism and the temple work carried out by faithful Mormons, like baptism for the dead. Rob and Tara Sivulka of Courageous Christians United spent an evening with the students, as Tara shared her testimony of coming out of the LDS church and committing her life to Christ, and Rob taught students how to answer difficult Mormon objections. Finally, Chip and Jamie Thompson of Tri-Grace Ministries shared the incredible story of the growth of their ministry in the small rural town of Ephraim, where 95% of the population are Mormon, and how God has miraculously provided through the years.

It was a week packed full of ministry, evangelism, and training. Indeed, the Berkeley and Utah mission trips are rigorous. Each itinerary is carefully crafted and every hour thoughtfully planned so that the students are fully immersed in ministry. Because the trips move at a break-neck pace, we always set aside the last evening to pause, look back, and identify the Holy Spirit’s work throughout the trip. And that’s when students began to break down. 

For most students who attend a Utah or Berkeley mission trip, it ends up being the first time they seriously share the Gospel with unbelievers, and that held true for these UCA students. However, it becomes a tremendous privilege to walk with them in these first evangelistic steps and watch God work. As students began to share during the reflection time, they spoke about specific interactions and conversations from the week. They mentioned some of the Mormons they encountered by name, and as they did, students began to shed tears as God’s Spirit moved them to compassion for lost people. 

You see, these trips don’t just equip students with knowledge. They don’t merely grow in their understanding of the Bible, theology, and apologetics. Certainly those things happen, but just as significant, students grow in their passion for the cause of the Gospel and in their love for the lost. Often, students will admit that their Utah or Berkeley experience looks more like the book of Acts than their weekly involvement in the local church. And they come home fired up about Christ’s Great Commission.

We need to create more high school students like these. Let’s raise up a new generation of tough-minded and tender-hearted ambassadors for Christ. 

Brett Kunkle (@brettkunkle) is the founder and president of MAVEN, a movement to equip the next generation to know truth, pursue goodness, and create beauty. He has more than 25 years of experience working with youth and parents. Brett has a master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology and co-authored the book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.

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Brett Kunkle