“What must be done?” -Vincent DePaul

Christian mission has a very mixed history. At its best, it has created faithful, sustainable communities — providing access to education, health care, food, shelter, and other life essentials. Unfortunately the legacy of colonization, forced conversion, genocide, abuse of power and privilege, warfare, and many other deeply regrettable acts taint this noble ministry.

As stated in our core values, Youth & Young Adult Ministries at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto is Christian, community-focused, justice-seeking, discipleship-forming, and grace-filled. These values undergird our model of outreach and service.

Our three-step model expects diversity — diverse beliefs, opinions, experiences, understandings, and social locations — while unwavering in its commitment to the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings as created in God’s image. Each step provides a constructive shell for participants to better process the service experience, reflect on their own lives and spirituality, and integrate the service experience upon their return.


The step of awareness is the beginning of the justice-seeking service model. At this step, one enters into relationship with a marginalized group of people through the sharing of time, talent, and resource. Balanced with this relationship is the act of “doing,” some thematic activity that connects with the underlying purpose of the service trip. Awareness is not limited to the “other;” such activity is merely tokenizing. In the step of awareness, one also begins to examine their own use of time, talent, and resource. Promoting simple living is not just a means to balance a budget or feel deprived, rather it is an opportunity to recognize how one focuses attention and energy and places priority within her/his life.


At the step of dialogue, one enters into a direct, personal relationship with those we work with. Instead of doing activity on behalf of marginalized people, we move into working together with marginalized people. The focus in this step moves toward structural change, promoting sustainable and far-reaching acts of justice. Participants are invited to explore the causes and effects of systemic injustice and begin to understand their role for creating a more just world. Dialogue allows us to more fully enter the lives of marginalized people and is characterized much more by “being,” honoring that the quest for change must not be led by us, and that our help might not be needed in the way we thought.


In the step of solidarity, one experiences God’s justice. Differences between “us” and “them” are no longer drawn. Marginalized people are no longer otherized, but seen as fellow human beings on the same journey as ourselves.

Service without reflection is merely work. Critical reflection is necessary to better grasp the complexity of issues marginalized people face in their daily lives. This reflection becomes a sacred space, a way of honoring the movement of the Holy Spirit in many and mysterious ways. Participants are expected to fully participate in daily group reflections and maintain a personal journal or other means of deepening their appreciation of the experience. Additionally, following the completion of each service opportunity, at least one group integrative reflection session.

(Adapted from the Vincentians In Action service model of DePaul University Ministry)