Think Globally, Act Locally: Exploring Missions with SIFAT Learn & Serve

SIFAT Village1It’s well known that youth often return from short-term mission trips with changed hearts and perspectives on the world.  And the effect isn’t only on youth: interacting with people in different cultures and societies can help anyone open their eyes to the beauty—and needs—of the people of the world.

But what happens when your youth group isn’t able to travel half-way around the world to experience a short-term mission opportunity? Or maybe you are ready for that next step with your students, but you haven’t found the perfect opportunity.

Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT) is a multi-faceted non-profit organization that can help you and your youth group grow in your faith and learn about other cultures, people, and service.

Located in rural, central Alabama, SIFAT is a thriving organization with several ministries.  Founded in 1979, SIFAT is primarily a training organization.  Community leaders from developing countries attend trainings on SIFAT’s campus to learn appropriate technology.  Appropriate technologies help leaders better meet their needs of food, water, and shelter using simple things they have access to in their communities.  SIFAT was founded by Ken and Sarah Corson, who served as pastors in rural areas of Bolivia.  The Corsons saw first-hand the physical needs of their congregations, and upon their return to the States set out to establish a program to help teach people sustainable ways to survive.

Since 1979, SIFAT has had students from over 85 different countries attend training sessions.  These leaders then return to their communities to establish community-based projects to improve their lives.  SIFAT continues to support students through partnering with them financially and through sending short-term teams to assist.

SIFAT currently sends teams to Ecuador, Bolivia, Uganda, and Zambia.  Youth and adults traveling with SIFAT will be partnering with community-based projects to help alleviate specific issues that our students have identified.  From construction to leading Vacation Bible School to medical teams, there is a variety of work to be done on international trips!

But what if your group isn’t ready to embark on an international mission trip?

SIFAT also offers programs to help students learn about the world and experience life in other areas through Learn & Serve retreats.  The Learn & Serve program takes place on SIFAT’s campus and allows groups time to experience, learn, and reflect on life in developing countries and what they are called to do about it as followers of Christ.

Through experiential-learning programs in a simulated Global Village, Refugee Camp, and Urban Slum, youth have the opportunity to step into the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world without ever leaving the States.  It’s not enough to just experience it though—students are also encouraged to examine their own lifestyles to identify whether they are living in a way that loves those around them and the people of the world.

SIFAT Slum1

Adelaide Dunn, a high-school senior from Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama attended one of Learn & Serve’s weeklong summer experiences.

“… It is almost impossible to productively help another until you can understand their situation. SIFAT [Learn & Serve] gave me the opportunity to glimpse at understanding by taking me through the steps of living in an impoverished house and cooking on a traditional stove, to living in a refugee camp and being relocated to a ‘slum’ neighborhood…  Previously, I believed serving someone involved providing them with a tangible service or the technology to provide that service for themselves.  It took me most of the day and a conversation with my team to come to the conclusion that serving others… is simply giving up yourself for the betterment of another.  Essentially, giving a smile is the same as giving food or shelter.”

It isn’t only youth that can benefit from participating in Learn & Serve programs.  Youth leaders and adults are led through experiences just like youth, which allows them to not only learn about the people of the world, but to share difficult experiences with youth to help bring them together.

Sara Thetford, a youth worker from Canterbury UMC shared through her blog that experiencing Learn & Serve’s programming with her students helped her better understand the idea of walking with her students as opposed to being the “leader.”

“The experiences are difficult, and evoked feelings from our students as well as myself that made us acknowledge our own discomfort. We were hungry, tired, wet from the rain and clueless about what would happen next. Students would ask me for answers about what was going on, but I did not have any to give them. I was just as clueless and uncomfortable as they were. But that’s where the beauty comes in. We were all on the same hike – I could easily meet the students where they were and understand their concerns. I couldn’t tell them what was going to happen next, but I could let them know that we were hiking together and as long as we had each other everything was going to be all right.”

SIFAT offers a wide range of life-enriching experiences for youth, whether it is through a week at Learn & Serve’s summer experience or a short-term mission trip to Ecuador.  Their programs help students experience the world, and encourage them to engage with it as a part of our Christian walk.  One of their founding goals is one that we can all share in the process of youth ministry: “To share God’s love in practical ways.”

For more information on SIFAT, visit their website (www.sifat.org), or contact them.

For Learn & Serve programs contact learnandserve@sifat.org.

For International Teams contact walkerp@sifat.org

About Becca Griffin

2 comments

  1. Becca, you did a great job of explaining what SIFAT is! Excellent! Thank you!