“Holy Ground” – Curriculum for Youth Mission/Service & Learning Trip



Mission and service trips mean little when participants on the trip do not take time to reflect on the service work they participate in. In August, I took 28 youth (in 6th-12th grade) from the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago on a mission/service and learning trip to Dubuque, IA. Each night, my youth gathered together for worship, large group discussions, and small group discussions where they reflected on their experiences for the day.  (Each small group remained the same throughout the week.)

The following is the curriculum I developed for our trip.



Mission/Service and Learning Trip CURRICULUM
Theme: Holy Ground


DAY 1: 

(Day of travel, group building through low/high ropes course, pizza at local restaurant, prepare to lead Sunday worship service at host church the next morning.)


Explain: Each night on our trip we are going to have a faith discussion and reflect on and talk about what we’ve done so far, learned so far, or how we have experienced being in God’s presence. We will also spend time in worship. Each night during discussions, we will break into small discussion groups. Your group will be the same group each night, so you will have an opportunity to get to know the others in your group pretty well. Tonight, we will just have a short time to break into discussion groups and get to know one another better. (Break into groups)

– Everyone: say name, grade going into, school, and something interesting about yourself
– Everyone: share what you enjoyed so far today and/or what you are looking forward to on this trip

PRACTICE/PREP for Sunday worship


DAY 2:

(Led Sunday morning worship at host church, potluck with host church, Sunday Funday: fun activities around Dubuque.)

Materials Needed: copies of Ann Voskamp quote and closing prayer, Bibles, small group discussion questions, marker and paper or board to draw/write on

Team Building Activities: (Break into groups of 4-5 and ask the groups to discuss a few of the following questions.  After a few questions, switch groups and have them answer a few more of the questions.)  (5-7 min)

1. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
2. What are two of your favorite things to do?
3. What are three things that make you laugh?
4. Name four things you do after you finish school.
5. What is your favorite tv show and why?
6. What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
7. Describe an embarrassing situation that occurred to you.
8. If you could be a famous character from a movie, book, play, who would you be?
9. Who is your favorite music artist?
10. If you could move anywhere in the world for a year, where would you move?
11. Tell about your family (parent/guardians, siblings, etc.)
12. Tell where you grew up
13. Tell about one memory from your childhood that sticks out to you
14. If you have moved, talk about how it felt to move and why

Intro to Theme:

LARGE GROUP: (5-7 min)

Explain: Our theme this week is Holy Ground and all week we are going to explore what this means and looks like both here in the Dubuque and when we live our every day lives back at home.

Ask: What do you think I mean when I say Holy Ground? (holy= sacred, connected with God, revered/honored) What did it mean in biblical times? (In Ancient Near East, there were particular locations and places that were considered “holy” or “holy ground” – places where God dwelled – such as the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was veiled away in the Temple and only accessible to the High Priest. Such places required people to pay special reverence or deep respect for the space.)

Read: quote by Ann Voskamp (who wrote about her experience spending a weekend with monks in a monastery on a silent retreat)

“We no longer have the Holy of holies veiled away in the Temple, no longer the Ark of Covenant that couldn’t be touched or you’d be struck dead. Yes, we are the people who wonder, “What is holiness? Where is holiness?”…
I feel the heat whisper of God, “Lo, I am with you always…. here in a monastery and there in your kitchen and I am Holy and I am everywhere and what is below your sole is always sacred and see, Child, see.” Life is the holy experience and any given hour is hallowed ground and see, Child, see, and it’s a week now since a weekend with monks. I stand in this domestic cloister that shakes with noise, stand over a kitchen sink full, on a cork floor dirty, and there is no other way to see His face, hear His voice, feel His heat, but to pray right here in this sacred everyday.
 Because any old monastery will do.” – Ann Voskamp

Ask: What does this quote say about Holy Ground today? Where is Holy Ground in our lives?  How/when have we experienced Holy Ground in our lives? (Share examples of how God is present in our lives.) Is this place where we are currently at this week Holy Ground? How so? (Any specific examples?)


SMALL GROUPS: (10 min.)

ASK: How have you experienced being on Holy Ground – or in God’s presence – so far on this trip?

READ: Exodus 3:1-6 (have volunteers read and everyone follow along)
– ASK: In your own words, what happens in this text?
– When Moses searches to find answers about the burning bush, what happens? (His searching leads him into a conversation with God – a holy conversation.)
– What does God ask him to do next? (Take off his sandals.)
– Have any of you ever been asked or expected to take off your shoes or sandals when you walked into a place? When or where? – (homes? Apartments? Etc.)
– If so, why do you think you are supposed to take off your shoes in these places? (You don’t want to get dirt from outside on the ground and dirty someone’s house. Ultimately, this is an act of respecting the person and the person’s home.)
– EXPLAIN: In many cultures, homes, or religions, removing shoes when entering a place or a home is a way to show reverence (or great respect) for the person hosting and his/her place/belongings.
– So why do you think God asked Moses to remove his sandals?
– EXPLAIN: Removing sandals was a form of respect/reverence in Moses’ day, kind of like today, when we take off our shoes in some people’s homes. In Moses’ day, this was a gesture people did when they entered a holy place of divine presence (or a place that was considered holy ground and in God’s presence.) In this scripture passage, removing sandals is a gesture that honors the holiness of this ground, this mountain, and this God. Removing shoes is a practice that is still used in Islam and some other religions. (If you enter a Mosque – a place of worship in Islam religion – you take off your shoes.)

LARGE GROUP: (20 min)

– RECAP: So let’s recap: What is holy Ground? What was it for Moses? What is it for us today? What does it mean for Moses to take off shoes his shoes?

– EXPLAIN: As I mentioned already, we don’t consider just certain places (like the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies, or a church) to be holy ground. Our churches are places that are holy ground, but so is every other place we stand in God’s presence. And since God is always present with us, holy ground is everywhere, in and amidst all of God’s creation (which means holy ground is both when we are on God’s earth, the land, outdoors, but also among God’s people).  This means God is with us everywhere – all the time – and we can experience God’s presence everywhere, but that then also means we must – like in our Bible passage – “remove our sandals” when we are on Holy Ground. In other words: Since Moses was on holy ground, he was asked to respect that holy ground by taking off his sandals.

– ASK: Since today we are always on holy ground, we are expected to also “take off our shoes.” What do you think that means for us? Do I mean that we literally need to walk around barefoot all the time? Or does this mean something else?  (We don’t have to remove our sandals all the time. Rather, we need to show reverence – or deep respect – for God’s creation.)  So what does this look like?

– EXPLAIN: We will specifically think about this in 2 ways this week: 1. Respect and revere God’s earth. 2. Respect and revere God’s other creatures – animals, human beings.

– ASK: What does this look like? (This week? And when we return home?)

– EXPLAIN: (And write on the board) In the Church, we often use a word called STEWARDSHIP or being good Stewards. Does anyone know what that means? (dictionary definition: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care)

– EXPLAIN: God has put God’s earth and all of God’s creatures in our care. So we are called to be good stewards of God’s earth and creatures. This means we are to take care of God’s earth, animals, plants, etc. AND take care of God’s people and treat them with respect. This is how we “take off our sandals” in holy ground.  Besides showing reverence, removing our sandals or shoes when we are standing on holy ground enables us to have a closer connection with that ground. How might this be? (It draws us closer to the ground because we are actually touching it with our bare skin. When we are barefoot, we can feel every texture of the ground – every stone, every piece of dirt, every smooth puddle of mud, every sliver of grass.)  In the same way, as we respect/revere God’s creation – as we recognize and honor the holy ground we are on, we have a better understanding of God and have a closer connection with God.

This week, we will be intentionally aware of being on holy ground (being in God’s presence). We will have opportunities to be aware of this as we do service work, work in gardens (on God’s earth), learn about organizations that help God’s people live healthy lives, etc.

– ASK: But we will also be aware of being in Holy Ground and “take off our shoes” – or show reverence and respect – for the people we encounter and the places we visit or stay.  How so?  (How do we respect the people and places we are staying, visiting, etc.: picking up after ourselves, throwing trash away, saying please/thank you, getting to know people we are working with, etc.) And while we are doing these activities and talking to and meeting new people, and learning about others’ differences and similarities, we will experience a closer connection with God.

– EXPLAIN: Although we will be standing on holy ground here in Dubuque, when we return to our every day lives back in Chicago, we will also be in Holy Ground, so we need to remember that what we are called to do here is also what we are called to do when we return home.

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together as large group):

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I love what is holy.
Strengthen me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
to defend all that is holy.
Guard and Protect me, then, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I always may be holy. Amen. – Augustine of Hippo


DAY 3:

(Worked in community garden at Manasseh House: Affordable Housing for Single Women)

Materials Needed: marker and board/paper to write on; Bibles, construction paper, markers, closing prayer)


– ASK: What is our theme for this week? (holy ground) And what does that mean? (where do we experience holy ground and how?) What did Moses do when he was standing on holy ground? Why? How do we – like Moses – “take off our shoes” while we stand on holy ground?
– EXPLAIN: Today we had the opportunity to “take off our shoes” – to be good stewards of God’s earth and God’s people – while working in the community garden. We are going to now talk more specifically about both of these things.

– EXPLAIN: We are first going to talk more about being stewards of God’s earth…

– ASK: How many of you had difficulty packing all of your stuff into one bag for this week? Why? What stuff did you want to pack that you couldn’t? Any of you feel you packed too much stuff? Is there anything you packed that you now don’t think you need? What stuff weighs us down while we travel? (compare to life journey: stuff can get in the way of what’s important)  Do any of you think about the excess that we live in compared to the vast majority of people around the world? (Discuss) What are your thoughts/feelings about this?

– EXPLAIN: When Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, He told them to drop everything and follow Him. This would probably be really hard for each of us to do if He asked us to do this today. And, yet, think of how much easier it would be to travel if we traveled MUCH lighter!

While we may not be called to give up everything, Jesus does call us to follow Him and to give up things that are excessive that weigh us down and keep us from being able to journey on the path in His footsteps. (Stuff that gets in the way of experiencing God in our lives and from focusing on what and who is important in our lives.)

– ASK: What are some things in our lives that are excessive and distract us and weigh us down – keeping us from being able to follow in Jesus’s footsteps of loving/caring for others and distracts us from what is important in life?

– EXPLAIN: The U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population and yet uses up about 25% of the world’s resources. (DRAW DIAGRAM TO SHOW THIS.) When you think of other overdeveloped countries and how much they use, what does that leave the rest of the world? How does this make you feel?

In addition to using so much of the world’s resources, North Americans make a very large collective “carbon footprint” – Total set of greenhouse gases emitted. (The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group.) How does this collective carbon footprint affect the rest of the world? (specific ways?)

Being good stewards of God’s earth is connected to being good stewards of God’s creatures (people) because when we hurt the earth, many of God’s people are affected. How? (When we use so much stuff and so many resources that we don’t need, others around world don’t have access to it… such as water, etc.  Many people who don’t have much money live close to landfills, which can be toxic in air or water, etc.)

– ASK: What are other ways that we – who have excess – might (even unintentionally) leave unhealthy footprints while here in Dubuque this week? What are specific ways we can make sure we tread lightly on this trip, are careful to treat this land and community as Holy Ground and not leave huge footprints wherever we walk this week? When we get home? (recycling, taking care of what we have, not wasting, throwing trash away, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: We can be good stewards of God’s creatures (and people) by caring for the earth. What other ways can we be good stewards of God’s people? (Sharing with those who don’t have as much, being intentional about learning how others live and trying to live our lives better so others can live better, helping at places like community garden, food pantry, shelter; being kind to others.)

We can also be good stewards of God’s people by treating others with kindness and in another way that we hear about in the passage we read and I preached on at Sunday’s worship.

Read: Galatians 3:23-29 (Have volunteers read and everyone else follow along.)
– ASK: What does it mean for there to no longer be Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female? (Explain background of inequality within society and the early church during time Galatians was written.)
– So what does this say about how to be good stewards of God’s people? (By treating others equally and – like Jesus – saying to the world that all are equal. Standing up for others who are not treated equally.)

– EXPLAIN: The footprints Jesus left show us how he continuously treated others as equals: he taught, loved, cared for and healed, was always standing on common ground with everyone else. Jesus stood on the same ground, sat in the same boat, walked on the same water. He approached others at eye level (not above them looking down as one higher than they were.) He humbled himself. Looked at others as equals. He didn’t stand over them, but stood with them and walked alongside them during their joys and sorrows and as they traveled on their journey of life.

This can be very difficult: to see others and treat them as equals when we often see and focus on the things about others that seem different or that we don’t really understand. So right now, I want us to do a few little activities.

Bond activity (5 min)

Tell youth to find someone who: (try to find a different person for each question)
– likes the same sports as you
– likes the same kind of music that you like
– watches at least one tv show that you watch
– was born in the same city that you were born
– likes the same subject in school that you like
– likes to read the same kind of book or magazine that you like

– Explain: (5 min) How many of you found someone in this room for each of the questions? All but one? All but two? We often like to hang out with the same people who look, act, and think like us or who are familiar to us. (People we know well.) And so we get nervous when new people are around. So it’s really difficult to reach out to new people or people who might seem like they are different than we are. Yet, this activity we just did showed that even though we don’t know many people in this room very well yet, we still have many similarities with others.

– ASK: But how did we get to know what other people liked and that we have some things in common? (Asking and talking to one another. Hearing their stories.) This is important. We don’t know about others’ stories unless we ask and unless we make the effort to find out and to listen to each others’ stories. As we read about in our Bible, Jesus does a really good job of building relationships with people and getting to know them.


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays. (Take a few minutes.)

SMALL GROUPS: (15 min)

– Take few minutes to check in with each other about today: What were your thoughts and feelings about working in the community garden today? (Did you learn anything? Why was this work important for us? For the people we worked with today? For the community?)
– How did you experience holy ground today? (How was God present today?)
– What were some of the highs and lows for today?

READ QUOTE: “We serve others most not by giving them things or by doing things for them, but by accompanying them on their way.” – Don Richter

– ASK: What does this mean? What does this mean for our group as we continue to be good stewards of God’s creation by practicing service?

– READ: Scripture from Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

– EXPLAIN: Paul wrote this – quoting from the book of Isaiah (from Old Testament) – recognizing that the most faithful way to bring good news to others and share Christ’s love to others is by standing by them, walking alongside of them, sharing common ground with them – working with them.

– How might our footprints continue to show respect on this Holy Ground this week?
– How might our feet bring good news to the people we encounter on this trip? (The people from our host church, the people we encounter on our service projects, one another in this group?) (Examples: Help someone who needs help, make sure everyone is included, say encouraging words to others, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: Our feet are not the only feet that bring good news while we practice service on this trip. Often, when we practice service and bring good news to others, we receive good news from others, too (from those we are working alongside to serve, by those we encounter during our service work, by our friends (through love, generosity, kindness, etc.)

– ASK: How have we received good news this week so far from others? (Try to help the youth think about specific people and experiences like: people at community garden, people from our host church who helped us pack lunches, brought potluck, people who donated our food, woman who paid for our pizza night on Sat. Also try to help them think about each other or other leaders in this group: friendships, discussions we have, ways we’ve helped or included one another, etc.)


LARGE GROUP: (5 min)

As we listen to music (Be Thou My Vision) let this be our prayer. Silently trace your foot on construction paper, on one side write: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:15) On other side write one or two ways your footprints on this earth will bring good news (recycling, sharing love, treating others equally, etc.)

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together)

Set our feet moving, O God,
Guide our feet as we walk with neighbors near and far,
Share common, holy ground that bids us shed our shoes,
Tiptoe through green pastures and stroll beside still waters,
Trudge up mountainsides with swollen, sweaty feet,
To preach peace and shout salvation, stampede for justice, stomp and clap when right prevails,
Run the good race even when it doesn’t stand with others in the need of prayer,
At daybreak and dusk traversing every threshold by dance or limp.
Set our feet moving, O God.
Teach us to follow in your footsteps as we behold those beautiful, bruised feet that bear our burdens.
Bless our stumblings and bring us safely to shore.
We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. – Don Richter



DAY 4: 

(Worked at Dubuque Rescue Mission in the morning: worked in community garden, served a meal to Mission residents, helped organize clothes/shoes in the Mission Thrift Store.  Participated in activities with Circles Initiative/Bridges Out of Poverty program in the evening.)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, One Day lyrics, markers, closing prayer


– We have been talking all week about standing on what? (Holy Ground) And we have been saying that taking off our sandals like Moses means what? (being good stewards) We say we are called to be good stewards of both what? (Yesterday we talked about and experienced being stewards of God’s earth. Today we really experienced being good stewards of God’s creatures: taking care of and loving God’s people.) How many experienced Holy Ground today and tonight?


– What did you do at the Dubuque Rescue Mission this morning and what were your thoughts and feelings about your experiences there? (Both from your participation in activities and in what you learned about the mission.)
– How did you experience holy ground this morning at the Dubuque Rescue Mission?

– What were your feelings and thoughts about the Circles program tonight?
– What were your reactions to and feelings about the group activity at Circles?
– What happened in the activity?
– How did that activity make you feel?
– How might that activity inform us in our interactions with people in our every day lives? (at church, school, in our neighborhoods, etc)
– How and when did we experience Holy Ground at Circles? (during dinner, when we interacted with each other or members of Circles, when we did the activities, when we heard other peoples’ stories?)


– Share what small groups discussed


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays, etc. (Take a few minutes.)

SONG REFLECTION: One Day (hand out lyrics and marker)

– Listen and think about today’s work and learning projects, experiencing holy ground, etc. (highlight words/phrases that stick out)
– Discuss


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek; 
To be consoled as to console,
 To be understood as to understand,
 To be loved as to love;
 For it is in giving that we receive;
 It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi


DAY 5: 

(Did conservation and restoration projects at Swiss Valley Park and Nature Center; Toured Nature Center; Hiked at the park; went to family farm in the evening for bbq and hayrides)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, notecards, pens, paper bags, closing prayer


– Check in: How is everyone? How’s the week been?
– Explain what we will do (small group check ins, affirmations in small groups)


– How were our experiences today at Swiss Valley Park?
– What did we learn about today?
– What did we think of the two different projects? Why were these projects important and how did they connect with our theme of holy ground and being good stewards of God’s creation?
– How have we experienced holy ground today? (at Swiss Valley, at the YMCA, at the farm?)
– What are our highs and lows of this week?


– Ask one person to sit in the middle of the circle. Have everyone around the circle say an affirmation (one sentence about what they appreciate about the person in the circle from this week) (Example: Emily, I really appreciate how well you listen to others.)

– Each person should have a turn to be in the circle and everyone should hear an affirmation from everyone in the group

CLOSING PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi




*** CLICK HERE to see the closing worship service we did on our last day right before we left to go back home. ***

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