In 2001, Blackhawk Church’s middle school pastor at the time, Jon Anderson, had a dream to take middle schoolers on a life-changing mission trip, not to another city, but right here in Madison. He wanted to give students the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their own city, serving and loving their neighbor as themselves. Madison Missions began that summer with eight students and three leaders serving at one nearby school.
Over next few years, the missions trip experience gained momentum. In 2005, dozens of students were part of Madison Missions. One student, Brianna Paull, had just finished eighth grade and was participating in her first Madison Missions. She had no idea that this camp was about to alter the trajectory of her life.
Brianna is currently the Associate Director of Middle School Ministry at Blackhawk, and she’ll be the Director of Madison Missions this summer. But in 2005, she was a middle school student who had just finished eighth grade and was participating in her first Madison Missions.
“My experience as a student in Madison Missions is an integral part of my heart for missions.”
When Brianna looks back on that first summer of Madison Missions as a student, she doesn’t just think of the time they were painting an elderly man’s garage door and spilled paint everywhere on his driveway (he was very thankful and forgave them for the mess), but she thinks about how foundational it was to her faith and passion for Jesus. When I asked her about the impact of that trip she said, “My experience as a student in Madison Missions is an integral part of my heart for missions.”
As a staff member, Brianna is now leading other middle school students through this service experience, and that gives her a different perspective.When she reflects on some of the most encouraging stories to come out of Madison Missions, she immediately thinks of the testimonies of students who have made the decision to be baptized at Blackhawk–most of them mention Madison Missions as a significant influence in their choice to follow Jesus.
Another encouraging part of leading the Madison Missions team for Brianna has been seeing so many students return as leaders and interns years down the road. “It’s fun to see students that I led years ago come back and become leaders for others.”
But perhaps the coolest thing that happens over the course of the week is seeing people’s expectations of middle schoolers explode. Initially, many of the people we serve underestimate middle school students. When we tell people we work with middle schoolers, we usually hear a “Bless your soul” that ranges from sincere to concern for our sanity. But every summer, the organizations and families the students serve have incredibly nice things to say about how kind, helpful, thoughtful, and loving they are.
Brianna says it’s difficult to recall some of her favorite moments because there are so many. From the smell of the Underground in the lower level of Blackhawk Brader Way, to singing worship around a bonfire pit at the end of Picnic Point, to students opening up and learning how to know and share their stories, Madison Missions is full of profound moments that students, leaders, and parents will remember for a lifetime.
This summer, hundreds of middle schoolers will encounter Jesus by experiencing the power of serving people in their city. Though the trip has grown in numbers over the years, the basic philosophy has never changed: Madison Missions exists to teach middle school students what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world.