There was a time when I thought spending money on a missions trip, for me or anyone was a waste of money. My thinking was that rather than waste it on travel, why not just give it to the missionaries who actually need it?
I was wrong!
Think about all the money most of us spend or will spend for our children’s college education, paying good money for courses they’ll probably never use, or have little interest in.
On the other hand, money spent on a mission trip, if planned wisely could be one of the most valuable stewardship investments you’ll ever make to help you become a passionate and informed donor. Six months after my first missions trip in 1983, I put my business up for sale! It transformed how I thought of the kingdom of God and my place in it.
In this blog, I’ll be discussing a family missions trip, but many of the thought processes and planning also apply to a personal missions trip.
Planning a Family Mission Trip
As you begin thinking and praying about a family mission trip, take a long view of what you want to accomplish. Beyond the trip itself, how can you help your family think differently about ministry and missions to maximize the long term impact of this trip?
Your first step is begin praying and writing down your goals for the trip. What do you really want to accomplish? I’d suggest the following possible activities and learning experiences. From them, select those most appropriate for your family, however, don’t be afraid to stretch your children. They will catch more than you think.
1. Help them understand that missions has many facets;
Services for the Poor (feeding, water wells, agriculture, etc.)
Equipping and Training of Nationals
Literacy and Education
The Care of Orphans, Widows, Handicapped
2. Before they go, review with them The History and Strategy of Missions. To read Clare’s paper, click “here”.
3. Ask your in-country host if they would be willing to set up a few short side trips with several different types of ministries to expose your children to a broader mission than simply the one primary ministry you’re there to see. Most missions organizing your trip will naturally want you to spend the majority of your time with them. However, your goal should be to give your children a picture of the broader scope of missions and ministry. (1-2 hours for each of these “side visits” is more than adequate to give your kids a mental picture of how various ministries work in real life.) If time permits you could even take in a second country to visit these other ministries.
4. Obtain a map of the country you’re going to visit. Study the map with your children so they can identify major cities and surrounding countries.
5. Have your children prepare a two page report on the country you’re visiting. (History, customs, population, religions, etc.)
6. Learn a few simple words in the language of the country. (Water, please, thank you, bathroom, etc.)
7. Begin praying by name for the people you will be meeting with. It would be great if you could obtain a photo of each person. This will help familiarize them with names and faces.
8. Have some good discussions about the ministry(ies) you’re going to meet with. Take turns reading their newsletters or blogs together after meals or before bed and begin praying for the ministry.
9. Before you go, read to them stories of missionaries. Create in your children the idea of missionaries as heroes. I’d suggest, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker.
10. With your children, prepare a list of questions you’d like them to ask the missionaries, such as:
When did you first feel called to missions?
What was your greatest fear about becoming a missionary?
How has missions changed in the last 25 years?
What’s your greatest challenge?
What’s the toughest thing about being a missionary?
What gets you most excited about your work?
Have you ever wanted to quit?
How can we pray for you?
You may even want to consider writing out these and other questions for your children to take with them and encourage them to be super-curious.
11. If your kids are anxious about the trip, you may want to allay their fears by explaining how you plan to protect them. I’d suggest that you consider:
If you’re in a crowded area, always arrange to meet at a place which is highly visible should you ever get separated from your group.
When you arrive in the country, ask your host to print the location of the place you are staying on a card, in the language of the country, along with their cell phone number. Give each child a card and enough local cash to take a taxi back, should they ever get seriously separated.
Teach them how to take a few simple precautions regarding food and water (see the list at the end of this paper).
Reassure them that God is our ultimate protector. Nothing happens to believers that God doesn’t cause or allow. We need to live by faith and not fear.
12. You may want to have the family memorize the “great commission” found in Matthew 28:18-20.
13. Depending on the age of your children, plan some fun activities such as a trip to a beach, a safari, the zoo or a cultural activity. Make sure your days are not too long and that they and you get enough sleep. Children may need to sleep in, so plan on starting later than you or your host might prefer. Break up the trip, so it isn’t 12 hour days, in and out of vans.
14. Give each of your kids a small journal and ask them to write in it every day you’re gone. You might want to plan on doing this at breakfast each day as they will likely be tired at night, but establish this routine. Ask them to write a brief report on the plane ride home about “What I learned about what God is doing in name of the country.”
15. Prepare some very simple devotions to begin each day, hopefully something that has to do with some of the ministry you’re seeing.
16. Appoint someone to be the photo journalist for the trip ahead of time. Ask them to prepare a video, a photo scrapbook, or post photos to Facebook when they return.
17. Email your host missionaries and ask them if there are any supplies, books, or foods you can bring them. (Hint: Watch your weight as airlines baggage charges may limit what you take with you.) Consider purchasing a cheap suitcase from a thrift shop, or bag for these items that you can leave with your hosts.
Other travel tips:
I have a rule – no iPods or handheld games when we are all together. Even if they aren’t talking they can learn a lot by listening in on your conversations.
Encourage them to ask lots of questions, but never embarrass them into asking questions.
Even if they’re not hungry, urge them to go to meals with you just to be part of the conversation.
Pray together every day you’re in-country for the Holy Spirit to teach you what he wants you to learn.
Wear simple, comfortable clothes (no designer anything). Void sending out “rich westerner” signals.
Urge your children to try some local foods if they’re safe, even if you simply order an entre’ for the whole table to try. There’s no point coming to a foreign country and eating hamburgers or pizza every night.
Give your kids a map of the city you’re staying in. It will help them orient themselves to where you’re going each day.
Make sure you carry with you, healthy snacks you bring with you from home. Purchase bottled water upon arrival and keep plenty in your van.
Missions Trips that Matter, by Don Richter
Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrong Around Them, by Clark and Powell
Serving with Eyes Wide open: Doing Short – Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore
Travel Tips for Second and Third World Countries
1. Photocopy the first page of your passport with your picture, passport number and information on it, and pack it in a piece of luggage separate from where you are keeping your passport. This will make reissuing a lost passport easier.
2. If you are bringing a credit card, please obtain any information you will need to report it, if it’s lost or stolen. Personally, I make a habit of removing everything from my wallet that I don’t think I’m going to need on these kinds of trips.
3. As a precaution, I always take extra medication, personal toiletries and an extra change of clothes in my carry on, in the event my bags are delayed.
Food and water Tips
1. Drink no drinks with ice cubes.
2. Do not drink any bottled water which you have not opened. In restaurants, insist politely that bottled water be brought to the table unopened.
4. Put a towel over the sink faucet to remind you not to drink or even rinse out your toothbrush in tap water.
5. Purse your lips when showering. Do not let water get in your mouth.
6. Do not eat salads or any vegetable or fruit which has not been peeled. Don’t even eat washed fruit.
7. Watch out for each other and remind each other about these rules.
By the grace of God and careful attention to these rules, in traveling to many third world countries, I’ve never gotten sick.
Clare De Graaf
Questions: Did I miss anything? What other suggestions do you have?
Following Jesus in Real Life
To read Clare’s complete paper, click here.