The true gift of Christian connection
An interview with Jessica Cavinee
by Christie R. House*
Jessica Cavinee serves as the pastor of youth and discipleship for Linworth United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. Linworth UMC participates with the In Mission Together program to support Methodist communities in Laos. Cavinee has traveled with two mission trips to Laos and plans a third youth trip for 2019. In 2017, she led a mission trip of older youth to visit. She recounts the trip here.
Christie House (CH): I’d like to focus our conversation on the youth mission trip you took to Laos and your preparations for the trip. What gave you the idea of taking youth to visit the country of Laos?
Jessica Cavinee (JC): My first trip to Laos in 2014 was a learning experience. Rev. Rae Lynn Schlief, our lead pastor when I started work with Linworth United Methodist Church, knocked on my door with a big smile and asked: “Guess who is going to Laos?” For that first trip, I was centered on learning. Pastor Rae Lynn led the group, and one youth and his mom joined the team.
My first time taking the lead for a team visit to Laos was in 2017. That was intimidating. I took an adult volunteer and five young-adult teens (all 17 and older) for two weeks in July. One young woman was a freshman in college—age 19. Three were finishing their senior year in high school, and one was finishing his junior year.
The young women on the Linworth UMC trip to Laos pause for a break during a hike. PHOTO: DENNIS P. DEVINE
The planning, which started a year in advance, was extensive; I have a gigantic binder to prove it. A trip to Laos is expensive—we asked for $3500 from each youth to ensure that we could cover the cost and share generously with our hosts while we were there. We advertised the trip, gave a registration date, and offered additional financial assistance if that was needed. Linworth is such a generous place. Our youth were able to support their trip 100% other than their initial deposits. Roughly—through giving, the church gave about $10,200 to support the trip.
CH: How did you prepare the participants for such a trip?
JC: We conduct a series of orientation meetings. We pray together and offer cultural education. Some things you wouldn’t know, such as, it is impolite to touch someone’s
head. Some things, we explain, will be uncomfortable for us—not what we are used to. We name the fact that there is no way to be 100% prepared to be immersed in a different culture without knowing the language of that culture. As the students encounter situations outside familiar territory, God is with them, and they can take comfort in that. We encourage them to be present in the moment.
We discuss spiritual, cultural, and physical difficulties as well—the vaccinations and shots needed, passports, medicines to bring. One student was concerned about hiking. Another had dietary needs. We acknowledge the trust from their families and we do the best we can, so students feel confident that no matter what we face, they will be cared for. And we had a good adult partner along who, in case I got sick or for any reason, could take over.
CH: Did the local church leaders in Laos help with the planning and hosting?
JC: For my part, I communicated with Global Ministries’ B. Barte ahead of time about the logistics of the trip—where to go, how to support the ministries. We believe in that fabulous 50/50 partnership. We discussed how to ensure a 50/50 exchange when both youth groups met. How could we recognize the gifts and talents of youth on both sides? I asked if their youth could lead my youth in worship. B. asked if we could teach one another games and have fun together. We looked for ways to engage them with an interpreter present—but also, ways to engage one another without the interpreter—what universal things we can do to share with one another in faith?
New friends in Laos greet the visitors from Ohio. PHOTO: COURTESY LINWORTH UMC
CH: What was the outcome?
JC: The trip had a beautiful outcome. We witnessed youth from Linworth taking charge at different times—but also, we witnessed the Lao youth doing the same thing for our youth. They connected in many ways. With the interpreter, we explored what they had in common. Our youth were in a place where they were different. One of our members had bright red hair. The Laotians were fascinated by that. Another from our group was
African American, and the Laotians were sure she had to be from Africa. These physical differences, of course, we could see.
But then we considered how we are alike. They discovered they all let their cell phones get in the way of living. Another commonality was how easy it is to have unhealthy expectations because of social media—obsessing about “likes,” and getting into trouble with what you post. They talked about how to balance life with Christian and non-Christian friends—how do you live out your faith and remain strong when others are doing something you know is not right? They were good conversations. They talked about how God is at work in the midst of all of it. We could dig deeply into the complexities and focus on faith—and then played ridiculous games. Many connected via social media and are still in touch today.
At the end of the trip we stopped in Cambodia to debrief before we traveled home. After spending one and a half days in Cambodia, one of which was spent hiking in Angkor Wat, the youth spent an evening discussing their experience of the trip. The team members realized that in Laos, we had the privilege of being immersed in the Laotian world because of our faith connection. We were not treated like tourists. We went to remote villages and learned what is relevant in the villagers’ lives; they embraced us so completely. In Cambodia, we were full-on tourists. We went to see a fascinating floating village—but being tourists made the youth uncomfortable—we were not coming alongside to hear about these villagers’ lives; we were just tourists who went and stared. That was a turning point for them. They realized the gift—that people in Laos received and embraced us—they became friends, brothers and sisters in faith.
After their mission trip, the Linworth youth relaxed and unwound—with elephants—in Cambodia. PHOTO: ELEPHANT CONSERVATIONISTS
Going to another place allowed them to view the Laos experience through the lens of authenticity. I’m glad they could have that experience and realize the true gift of our partnership in Laos.
“Even as a little girl, I had always wanted to do international mission work—I thought it was a pipedream. I have been able to share in this experience with these teens. I feel humbled. It is such an honor and privilege to take this journey with the students—to see them grow, learn, and change in just two weeks.”
*Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.