Simply Smiles

Debbie Gline Allen


Youth ministry, like so many of the ministries in the Church today, is undergoing changes due to the cultural shifts we are experiencing in our everyday lives. In the “good old days” there were not as many choices available for leisure time as our teens have today, particularly on Sundays and weeknights. And in a secular culture that embraced Protestant Christianity, it was easy to choose activities and events where “everyone else” was going, such as youth group and other church activities.

So how do we reach out to the teens that we know would benefit from what we have to offer when church is just one more in a smorgasbord of choices they have? In my work with congregations that have been asking this question over the past several years, I am finding that today’s teens are drawn to what is meaningful and authentic. And while pizza and group-building games are fun and help to build foundational relationships, these activities do not have the authenticity to maintain a long-term ministry with teens, and into young adulthood and beyond.

The most authentic and meaningful things we do, and have always done, are to nurture authentic relationships that in turn guide us to ministries of service and care — of Christian discipleship. I recall being drawn to mission trip opportunities in the church where I grew up, but it wasn’t only because I wanted to make a difference where help was needed. It was also because I wanted to continue in the relationships I had already established with others in my congregation, both peers and adults.

Silver Lake Conference Center is sponsoring such a service opportunity and is inviting teens from Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as Connecticut to join them. It is a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico April 13-20, 2019 through the Simply Smiles program. Simply Smiles is a thriving organization that was begun in Connecticut by a former Silver Laker. The relationships it has fostered with orphaned children brings an authenticity to this program that has the potential to change the lives of those who participate. The cost of $2000 includes round trip flights, food during the trip, and program costs.

Click here for more information and to register. For questions, please contact Rev. Ryan Gackenheimer, Executive Director of Silver Lake Conference Center, at 860-364-5526 x15 or e-mail him at

What teens do you know that are looking for the authenticity that this experience will provide?

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