Jimmy Mitchell/Founder/Love Good
I will never forget my first foreign mission trip. In fact, it was my first mission trip of any kind at all. At the time, I belonged to an amazing Life Teen parish in Atlanta that took groups to Honduras every year for intense prayer and service to the poor. As a 15-year-old young man, I was ready to go down to Central America and change the world. And yet I realized something very quickly upon my arrival in a foreign country in July of 2001. The mission trip was going to change me.
I returned to Honduras five years later as a rising junior in college. As part of a service-oriented scholarship program at Vanderbilt University, I was granted a stipend every summer to do service work in any country in the world. I was grateful to return to a Catholic mission that had captured my heart and imagination only a few years prior. This time around, I brought along one of my best friends and spent two months immersed in that same intense rhythm of prayer and service. However, our daily responsibilities also included coordinating the efforts of American youth groups as they came down for 7-to-10 day trips at a time. We labored with them at work sites every morning, loved with them at orphanages every afternoon, and prayed with them in our chapel every night. We witnessed conversion first-hand and saw lives changed forever. We had become the servants of the servants.
As relationships unfolded with teens from across the United States that summer, I realized a deeply rooted calling in my life. While I had previously volunteered as a core member of a youth group for the better part of a year, I had not yet helped (or even necessarily witnessed) young people dedicating their lives to the Gospel with such fervor and fruitfulness as I saw in Honduras that summer. Today, nearly eight years later, nothing brings me more profound joy than watching young people fall in love with Jesus for the first time. There are also few privileges I hold higher than that of journeying with a young person in discipleship over a long period of time. Amazingly, I never lost touch with one of the high school guys I met in the summer of 2006, and he has since gone on to graduate from college, take a teaching job with the Dominican Sisters where I live in Nashville, and become one of my roommates.
It still seems ironic to me that I had to travel to a foreign land to discover this calling. It took another two years (and a growing friendship with Don Bosco) before I could even articulate this love for young people and my zeal for their souls. In fact, only after a subsequent summer spent at Covecrest (Life Teen’s summer camp in the north Georgia mountains), an experience on prayer staff at a Steubenville Youth Conference, a very formative year at seminary, and two years of full-time missionary work did I realize that this calling is at the heart of the mission that God has entrusted to me during my brief time on earth. The evangelization and discipleship of young people is one of only a few things that wakes me up every morning with a fire in my gut and inspires me to reasonably sacrifice anything that gets in the way it.
While I have since gone on to work full-time in the music industry supporting singer/songwriters that I believe in (booking nationwide tours, producing compilation projects, and distributing albums all over the world), nothing has yet approached the joy of evangelizing youth in middle school and high school. In fact, nothing else comes even close.
This same joy of evangelization (to continue borrowing a phrase from Pope Francis) is possible for each and every one of us. Regardless of age, experience, or talent, God has given each of us a unique and unrepeatable mission on earth that will bring Him great glory, us great joy, and abundant life to others. Though it can often require a radical change in one’s state of life, living an authentic missionary lifestyle usually means staying still and faithfully sanctifying daily realities and appropriating a divine perspective on all human relationships. In my experience, the mission of evangelizing and discipling young men in particular has only grown and become more fruitful since stepping into an otherwise completely secular career.