Stephen Buxton
ASU Student Journalist

Scottsdale Christian Academy mission trips: the impact it has on both communities and spring sports

May 3, 2023 by Stephen Buxton, Arizona State University

Members of the Costa Rica trip in front of the house they built. (Lacey Fricker)

Stephen Buxton is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Scottsdale Christian for

At Scottsdale Christian Academy, it’s about more than going to class and getting a diploma in four years. The school emphasizes humility, relationships, charity, and perspective. There is nothing which is a more pronounced display of those values than the yearly mission trips.

The mission trips perfectly reinforce the school’s mission statement as stated on their website; “The mission of Scottsdale Christian Academy is to maximize the God-given potential of each student, preparing them to live lives of distinction, by impacting the world for Jesus Christ.”

Every year since 1993, in the first week of March, Scottsdale Christian has sent students around the world to serve communities in need. From here in Phoenix all the way to Belize, students at Scottsdale Christian make real changes in communities.

“it is an extremely blessing and humbling experience for us to do this,” Nick Barker, the spiritual life director at SCA said. “It’s also the launching pad into the rest of the year which sets the tone and culture for all of the other things we do on campus.”

One byproduct from the timing of the mission trips is a very broken up first month of the season for spring sports. While the school intentionally schedules the trips to be after all winter championship games, the spring teams are put in a hard spot. Teams get out of winter sports for a week before leaving for the mission trips and only come back for a week before going off to spring break.

Coaches must plan around this but often the teams can use the trip to grow closer together. Some spring teams have parts of if not all their team goes on the same trip.

For those students or teams that might be concerned about the missed practice time at the beginning of the season, they more often go on the mission in Phoenix to stay home and still have the time and ability to train.

It started in 1993 with just seniors and has expanded all the way to where it is now. The entire high school shuts down for the week to go serve. By attending SCA every student is committed to a mission trip every year. This year the school sent students to nine locations: Molokai, Belize, Costa Rica, south Phoenix, Utah, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, south Florida and New Mexico.

Scottsdale Christian’s Athletic Director Eric Dall has had to work around the trips every year. He said that because it is the same time every year, it has become fairly simple on his end.

“It’s the same week every year, I know when it’s happening. It takes a week out of our spring season which condenses everything a little bit so I guess in that sense it makes spring season a little bit more challenging, but the benefits far, far outweigh any costs that come with that,” Dall said.

The scheduling implications are the main ones that people would look at. In the weeks after their mission and spring break, the baseball team played seven games in 10 days, the track team only competed in seven meets this year and golf has several weeks with three matches.

Whether or not it has any tangible effect on the performance of teams or the season outlook for spring sports, it does not matter to those at the school. To Scottsdale Christian, it’s about so much more than just the athlete or team, it’s about the lessons they can learn and the people they can become from what they learn on the field, in the classroom and through the missions.

“This is unequivocally across the board, not just this week exclusively, but what this week represents is what we are all about … We want to be a school that exists for the sake of others,” said Barker.

While it has been streamlined over the years, planning the missions is a herculean task. Many of the trips are recurring every year but travel arrangements have to be made. Planning starts with the organizations the school works with. Trips to and from the different locations are made by both parties and so much more goes into it.

“This is a year-round process for us,” said Barker. “The week after we came back from our trips this year, I was already solidifying the trips for next school year.”

In September of each school year, the application process begins and each student submits their top three location preferences. That application closes in the beginning of November and after a few weeks of filling out rosters, the school releases the groups and destinations for the students to see in late November.

Joe Rogers works with Adventures in Missions, a company who helps lead the trips to New Mexico, New Orleans, and Kentucky. Rogers has worked very closely with Barker in the past and detailed the meticulous preparation on his end before they send everyone to their locations.

“We do a walk through before the team goes out. We actually walk through the charted schedule for the week, the daily schedule. So they can see exactly what they’re gonna be doing almost any time during the day or evening. There’s some flexibility, things change of course. They leave pretty much knowing what they’re going to do and how it’s gonna work,” Rogers said.

Barker is proud that in his eight years at Scottsdale Christian, no student has ever missed out on a mission trip due to financial reasons. The school provides $400 per student to cover costs and after that, many students will fundraise themselves or pick up part-time jobs. Many times, alumni, families and community members have also stepped in to make sure it can happen for everyone.

“They are exposed to different levels of brokenness that they aren’t exposed to at home,” said Barker.

Barker said that the whole week represents what the school is all about and that one of the main priorities is that ability for the students to grow with each other while being introduced to other perspectives cultures.

The longest standing trip that the school has taken is in Salt Lake City. Russ East, the ministry director and missions trip leader for Utah Partnerships for Christ has been working with Scottsdale Christian for over a decade and described the trip as a week of, “trying to compare and contrast a different religious mindset than what they are taught at Scottsdale Christian Academy.”

That contrast is seen in the work the students do on the trip. Barker said that every trip involves some kind of tangible manual work. Whether it is painting a church, working at a food bank, serving meals or building a house, the organizations that Scottsdale Christian works with focus on putting the students right in the center of whatever community they are serving.

Just about the most remote community they serve is in Molokai, a Hawaiian island with a population of around 7,400 people.  Dana Kaahanui, a member and secretary of the Molokai Baptist Church spoke in a statement about how the students bring an energy to the community and that while it is nice to live in a sheltered, remote, place, it is nice to have them bring their different cultures from the outside world to the island for a week.

“Living on an island where you are safe from some of the outside influences can be a great thing.  But it is so refreshing for our youth to have interactions with other teenagers who have many things in common, but also have cultural differences,” Kaahanui said.

Molokai is not the only community that feels this kind of boost in energy from the mission. The remote nature of the community though makes that feeling more apparent.

“The energy that teams bring to our kupuna (elderly) when they do work projects is a joy for the families that are blessed by these teams.  These projects have included cutting grass and sometimes just listening to them and spending time with them.  One elderly farmer who grows Kakau (chocolate) and Ulu (breadfruit) spends countless hours cutting his grass around his plants; the team really blessed him by helping him out, “Kaahanui said.

This experience means something different for everyone but the one constant is the impact that seeing a different part of the world or even just those in need provides the students.

“Every year, on every trip. We just hear stories of our kids coming back with a different perspective on the world,” said Dall. “Different relationships with their classmates and with the lord. You see a lot of change in our kids coming back from that trip.”