Connecting to God: Mission Accomplished

Karen Scribano   -  


For any student whose family moves to a new district during the school year, there are challenges involving settling in and finding new friends. For Aidan Kittle, those challenges were amplified when his family moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to the West Des Moines area during the fall of 2020, when most schools in the area were operating online classes as a response to the Covid pandemic. He was in the 8th grade. “Moving was very stressful, and virtual learning in a new place was very difficult. There really was no way to get to know the people at school and make friends,” remembers Aidan.

Thankfully, he had family in the area, and many weekends were spent with his aunt and cousin, who are members at St. Mark. Aidan’s family had attended St. Mark through the years while visiting on weekends and during holidays, and they eventually decided to make it their new church home. But even St. Mark worship and activities had gone “online only” during that winter, and the lack of socialization was taking its toll on Aidan.

“About a year after moving here, I went through a time where I was struggling religiously. My family had really helped instill my faith, and I missed time at church. I just didn’t feel close to God. I knew I had to find a way to get involved,” says Aidan, now 15 and a sophomore at Valley High School. He attended a youth group meeting at St. Mark with his cousin Autumn. “It took a little bit to start talking to everyone, but that was more of a confidence issue. It helped a lot that Autumn took me.” He discovered that the group was in the beginning phases of signing up for the next summer’s mission trip, and Aidan says his family “voluntold” him that he would be going.

He felt a bit anxious at first. “I don’t get homesick, so that didn’t bother me, but I didn’t know people in the community at that point. But after we got going with the fundraising, I started talking to the other guys and it seemed easier.”

And so he went on his first mission trip to Louisville, Kentucky, last summer. During the week, he started bonding with the other St. Mark kids. “We ate meals together, had worship time together, and got divided into groups for activities. I was fortunate enough to be placed in a group that had 9 people from St. Mark–there were other church groups there with us. I was glad because I was still getting to know them. We bonded through our afternoon work activities, but also afterward when we would come back for dinner and then play basketball or cards or go to a city destination. Except for worship, we were pretty much socializing the whole time!”

One of Aidan’s favorite activities of the week was painting the foundation of a woman’s home that was not up to city code. “She was very kind, and it was fulfilling to help her. It was 95 degrees that day, and I wasn’t sure at first that I wanted to be there, but it was a really good day.” Other projects included volunteering at a senior center, and helping a local church sort donations and fold clothes intended for refugees.

Despite the heat and a few sleeping discomforts (no air conditioning, noise from other groups, a few people with deflated air mattresses), Aidan found the trip to be very spiritually fulfilling. “It’s a feeling that remains with you for a couple weeks afterward. You just feel like you’ve actually done some good. And you feel closer to God because of the church services every morning and evening.  It’s a lot different than going to church for one hour a week with my family.”

Aidan has continued going to youth group and will be going on the mission trip this summer to Colorado Springs, Colorado. “I’m already wondering what we will do there. I know the people who are going now, and that makes me look forward to it more. I feel like we’re a community, and I like that. I feel really welcomed.”

After finding such an affirming connection through youth group, Aidan took another step and decided to join the contemporary Praise Team. He has been playing the piano since he was around 5 or 6 years old, and when his mom saw that Chris Clausen was looking for more people to join the band, she encouraged him to participate. “It was definitely harder than I expected, but everyone has been so nice, and I enjoy talking to them. I’m getting to know people that otherwise I wouldn’t have the chance to have a conversation with.” He started playing the keyboard every other week but has cut back as school and swim team practices are taking more of his time. But he plans to continue, and enjoys the challenge and the opportunity to be engaged in worship in this way.

Finding connections for his faith through the mission trip, youth group and the band has helped Aidan feel closer to God. “I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. Once I sign up, I don’t have a choice about doing it or not – I just do it! That extra push helps me and helps other people, and that brings me closer to God. I definitely feel connected to God again.”