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Ultimate Workout 101

by Steve Case

Insight magazine started the Ultimate Workout (UW) mission trip years ago—before any of the teens eligible to go now were even born. Crazy!
I’ve had the opportunity of leading this mission trip for more than 20 years. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from UW during the time you were being born, growing through childhood, and entering your teen years.

UW is potent!

I’ve led quite a few mission trips, but UW is different from all the others. I’ve wondered if that’s because it’s just for teens. That might be part of it. Is God more present on UW than other mission trips? I don’t think so. Could it be the challenging environment and “roughing it” more than most mission trips? Perhaps, but there’s something more than survival taking place.

Over the years I’ve become convinced UW has a unique element that makes it so potent. Not knowing anyone else and being in a strange and difficult environment make UW potent. Serving others with an expectation that God will be present makes 2 Corinthians 5:17 a reality: “When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” (TLB).* New life springs from UW.

I’ve seen teens take a stand for Christ, and then their old friends or family members say, “I know you’re not really that way. It won’t last. You’ll go back to the person you’ve always been.” On UW the other volunteers don’t know about your past. You indeed get a brand new start. Many take this unique opportunity to begin a new life—a life as a Christian. They take tremendous risks, and because they have to be dependent on others and on God, a new life really does begin. I think that’s what makes UW so potent.

Young people—you are needed NOW!

In North American culture the general expectation is that teens are simply in training for real life that will begin sometime after college, graduate school, or once they turn 30. Even in churches, youth (and young adults too) get placed in separate areas, segregating them from the real church—the adults.

On UW teens are needed to construct churches, and they are needed at this very moment. Today! Now! Ahora! And that’s not cheap talk. The teens construct the churches, create and personalize the children’s outreach, and even make significant contributions alongside medical professionals in clinics. It’s obvious that things happen because the teens are there. They make a difference right now.

Young people can do incredible things

To go on UW you need to get several recommendations from others. Sometimes this alerts us that a particular teen doesn’t have very good work habits, or maybe extreme selfishness, or other undesirable traits.
We do find some of that—with teens as well as with adult staff! But what we find more often is that young people step up to the challenges, dream big, follow through, make an impact with people right where they are, and demonstrate amazing flexibility. Even though I know this (and have seen it happen repeatedly), I continue to be joyously surprised each time I see it again.

I need supernatural help

I’ve led more than 100 mission trips now. You would think that I would know exactly how to do them. But no two have been the same. Oh sure, some things are similar. But each mission trip has been a one-of-a-kind experience. Usually before we complete the first day, I’ve faced five to 10 situations that are completely beyond my control. I need help. Others help me a lot. But I need more than they can provide. I need supernatural help. I’m forced to rely on God in ways I don’t back home. I love sensing this dependence on God!

The “Body of Christ” happens

Paul wrote about the church functioning like a body (see Romans 12:4, 5; 1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:15, 16). If Paul had been on UW, he would have written that the church is like UW—we need each other, and Christ is in charge. Construction leaders rely on some people to mix mortar and grout, others to lay block, some to sift sand, and still others to haul block. Who erects the scaffolding? And some who do well in construction are helpless when it comes to reaching out to children in the neighborhood. And what happens if nobody fixes any food? The kitchen provides the fuel to keep the entire group going, and provides interaction with the nationals. Many times I’ve had to make a major decision for the group because I’m the project coordinator, but I’m dependent on the 14-year-old translator who is giving me the information to make the decision. I don’t want independence. I value interdependence.

Young people can lead. Now!

Just as teens are needed in all areas of UW, they are needed in leadership roles as well. Skilled adult leaders on UW are always training teens to take their place. Those who respond work side by side with the adult leader. Then the teen leads, and the adult assists. We often have experienced teens serving as the leader in various areas.

We don’t just throw young people into a situation and tell them to sink or swim. We train them, support them, and then depend on them. We’ve had some groups in which all the leaders are teens! This isn’t a popularity contest to see who’s the coolest. It’s a matter of who can serve the group.

God provides

Each year we pray, “Dear Lord, please bring the people You want to be part of UW, and keep away the people You don’t want to be part of UW this year.” Sometimes my faith has been tested when staff members I consider to be vital to UW have had to drop out at the last minute. And during UW some people who are a “pain in the neck” make me wonder why God had them be part of UW. If God indeed answers those prayers (and I believe that He does), then there’s a reason specific people aren’t there and certain people are there! That doesn’t relieve all of my stress, but it keeps me trusting God.

Risk-taking is scary, necessary, and rewarding

In general, teens are more likely to take risks than older people, so we ask Maranatha Volunteers International to reserve the most challenging mission trip sites for UW. In some countries Maranatha has said no to some extreme situations for the rest of their groups, but has said yes only to UW. These risks aren’t just for the sake of being risky. We take what we consider to be reasonable risks. Life has loads of risks. Ben Carson’s book Take the Risk explains positive ways to approach this. As Dr. Carson testifies, it’s definitely worth it! The same can be said about UW.

I’m oblivious to much that happens

When we have five different UW groups in different parts of a country at the same time, there’s no way I can know what’s happening everywhere, all the time (refer back to “interdependence”). I don’t even know everything that’s happening on my own site!

Some people freak out if they lose control of even the tiniest detail. I’ve learned that by depending on God to oversee everything, much more happens that creates causes for celebrations. Sometimes it’s a week or month or year after UW that I find out one of the incredible things that God did with a person or group during the previous UW. It seems that by depending on God we have a much deeper and broader base than one person could provide. I’m so glad that God is omnipresent (always there), and omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful—the real Superman!).

I put myself where God is active instead of asking God to come to where I’m active

Some people don’t see much difference between those two approaches. The first one starts with God. The second one starts with me. I’ve found it’s much better to start with God—duh! UW goes to where Maranatha is trying to catch up with God. That puts us squarely in God’s playground, which is a great place to be!

God has given me quite a ride with UW. It’s time for a change—for me and for UW. It’s time for me to move on to other challenges God has for me. I’ll still be leading some Maranatha mission trips, but not UW. I think it’s time for younger blood to take it to a new level. It’s time for a fresh vision. The Maranatha office has responded and already has some younger leaders who started as participants in UW when they were teens. They are now in their 20s and 30s.
You can be part of this new chapter for UW. It’s starting fresh with UW 24. Be sure to be part of it!

* Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.

Steve Case writes from Carmichael, California. He stays busy as Insight’s resident youth pastor columnist for On the Case, and he’s also the president/founder of Involve Youth (

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