Over 129 Easter youth and adults went on a mission trip during the summer of 2013. They had the opportunity to travel, explore new places, and develop new and lasting friendships in a way that cannot be experienced anywhere else.

An Easter Lutheran youth, Ryan Knipping, is confident he will never miss one of these unforgettable experiences. He plans to go on a mission trip every summer through his senior year of high school. But, that wasn’t always the case.

Ryan Knipping

Ryan Knipping

Last year, Ryan was on the fence about going on the Milwaukee mission trip. It was a trip specifically designed for middle school youth. Ryan would be a lone seventh grader, which was a little unsettling to him. He says, “My mom kind of forced me to go on it and said, ‘You’re going to have fun. Just keep an open mind.’”

While in Milwaukee, Ryan served at a camp for mentally disabled people. He got to know a girl named Jill. Due to severe ADHD, her peers rejected her. Ryan says, “It was really nice to get to know someone that might have different challenges than you.” In addition to working at the camp, he helped out in a previously rundown neighborhood cleaning up yards and scraping paint off houses. Ryan kept an open mind and says, “It was amazing to see how much fun you could have in a week.”

When Easter offered a middle school mission trip to Duluth this summer, Ryan knew it was exactly what he wanted to do. The altruistic group of 11 youth and adults spent the first two days at a retirement home. Ryan says, “We would go talk to them in their rooms and we’d play games with them all the time.” He met a 102-year-old woman named Margaret. “She could pass for an 80-year-old, except she could barely hear.” But, the most impactful encounter came from a widow named Julie. At 89-years-old, Julie’s children and grandchildren never came to see her. For those few days, Ryan became her grandson. He says, “She remembered where her grandchildren went to college and she was saying that I went there. You just had to go along with it.” In that moment, he “realized that there are some really great people, even though they might be older or a little quirkier. They’re still great people.”

During the group’s final days in Duluth, they helped elderly residents with yard work. The group could feel the gratitude from the people they helped. One woman, Deb, offered them pop, cookies, and lunch. He says, “It was amazing that after just two hours of meeting someone, they’re already inviting you back saying, ‘Next time you’re in Duluth, you have to come visit me.’ It was really neat to make that connection.”

Ryan’s experiences have had a pretty big impact on him. He grew in faith and got to meet a lot of great people. He could see the gratitude expressed in a “smile on their faces, ear to ear.” Beyond the gratitude and opportunity to meet people, it’s most important to Ryan that he got to help serve the community. And his suggestion for anyone on the fence about mission trips: “Just go.”