As a young man of 23, missionary Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, "For youth there is special wretchedness; for then the powers within conflict most bluntly with the powers without. Restraint is most galling, release most desired. To compensate for these, youth has special powers."

The so-called special "wretchedness" and "powers" of today's youth have been the subject of much of the cultural conversation recently. The string of school shootings over the past few years and other alarming trends (like anorexia and self-mutilation) have aroused national soul-searching and highlight the extremes, positive and negative, of the generation known as the Millennials.

Despite the troubling signals, there is still plenty of good news. "The unsung story of today's teenagers may be how religious they are," wrote John Leland in Newsweek (May 8, 2000). Indeed, in an earlier Newsweek poll, 78 percent of teenagers said religion is important, and many gladly identified themselves as "spiritual," though few wanted to be labeled "religious." Christian pollster George Barna notes that two out of three teens strongly desire a personal relationship with God. The downside, according to Barna, is that fewer than half are excited about church, which has left many church leaders wondering how to reach this complicated and disparate cohort.

Trends and demographics are open to interpretation. But two characteristics are emerging as defining features of many Millennials: They are activists, and they long for God. One place where they and the church are coming together in a happy collaboration is the mission trip. This experience is becoming so prevalent in youth ministry that many high ...

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