By Woody White
For many adults pondering a mission trip – whether it’s in the United States or abroad – one of the first questions is what to do with their children. For some who have gone forth from The Mill, the answer is a no-brainer: Take the kids along. Experts say that not only does a mission trip with family enrich and broaden a child’s Christian development, but it also enhances the trip for all involved – including those that the trip seeks to reach and serve.
Moreover, it benefits the church, said Jason Williamson, The Mill’s Missions Pastor. “It benefits the future of the church because children are learning discipleship from their parents. As a parent, we need to model being the hands and feet of Christ to our children,” Williamson said. “Not only should our kids hear this from us, but they should also see this in us.” Williamson said that families should consider three things when planning a mission trip that includes their children. “First, they should plan together. Let it be a family decision on where they serve,” he said. “Second, they should prepare together. Let everyone be a part of the fundraising. Third, they should pray together.”
Williamson said that some families may consider local mission service with their kids before take a trip together. “You shouldn’t wait until you’re in another country to serve together. There are plenty of opportunities right here,” he said. Renee Moore said she and her husband Ron led and organized a foreign mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico a decade ago. Included in the group was their son, who was then 5 years old. She said her children are now 15 and 9 and that her daughter was 3 “the first time she delivered bags of food to villagers in Mexico. Our son has a heart for children and our daughter likes to work in construction.
“I’m sure people think what could a child do,” she said. “They are never too young to serve others to glorify God. Our kids beg to go on mission trips. And with children, language is not a barrier. All kids speak ‘kid.’ Showing God’s love comes very easy for kids.
Mill member Jennifer Giesick recently took her 9-year-old son on a mission trip to Nicaragua. She said he was born prematurely and has a sensory processing disorder that ”affects every minute of the day.” Though she felt led by the Lord to take the trip, she still worried how her son would handle such a journey. She recalled: “Once we were there and working, you could tell that God was wrapped around him. He jumped right in and learned some phrases and played with the kids.”
Giesick said one particular episode stands out, when the group went to a prison to watch baptism for inmates.
“After about 9 men were baptized, he leaned over to me with tears in his eyes,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t understand why they lock them back up if God has saved them.’ “I was able to have a conversation with him about consequences for our actions and how God forgives us of our sins, but if we break the laws of the land, we must still pay for those consequences. I explained that they would not be judged for those sins again. This experience still brings up conversations and we have been home for about a month.” Giesick said that “there were so many other situations where I saw God working his little heart. When he asks if we can go back, I know I made the right decision to take him. If you are thinking about taking your child on a mission trip, you totally should.
“Your child will surprise you. They jump in and do more than you could ever imagine. Language isn’t a barrier to them. It is truly something to see.” In a recent publication of the International Missions Board, Amy King wrote: ” As a parent in America, I’m familiar with the many reasons for not doing international mission trips with kids: the cost, immunizations, effort of preparation, risks to health and safety, travel and jet lag, and the distraction our children may pose to the ‘real work’ of missions.” But there are plenty of reasons to include children – even babies – on mission trips, she said. “Children can impact the kingdom by just being present. They open up doors for conversations that can lead to Jesus-breaking-in moments,” King wrote. “Taking a two year old? Bring multiple trucks and encourage them to share with a child at a park. Pulling along a teenager? Don’t say no when they want to join a group of teens skateboarding in an international city.
“It is the universal language of love to join in with other people who are also made in God’s image and a way of sharing Christ using the unique inroads of age. The nations are sometimes more open to a word or a smile from your child than one from you. And those interactions can be the means through which the gospel seed plants in the heart of someone that just moments before was a stranger.” Renee Moore said that mission trips strengthen family bonds, as well. “The neat thing about a trip is that your entire family has the same schedule for a week. And that schedule is all about how you, together, can show God’s love to others,” she said. “You eat together, serve together and sleep in the same room. You love on the same group of people, you pray for their needs and you cry over their hurts. Your relationships grow as each of you grows closer to God. It’s truly amazing. And once you return to everyday life, everyone makes an effort to feed that bond that you created on the trip.”
Her advice to other parents considering a mission trip with their children: “Pray about. If God gives you the peace, prepare and go. In all the ways we spend time together as a family, a mission trip builds the strongest bond. As a parent, there is not one thing that’s more important than watching your kids as they grow in faith with the one true God who will guide them through the rest of their lives.”