One of the emerging trends I am seeing in short-term mission from both the sending and receiving side of the equation is a desire for families to involve their children in missions.
To that I offer a hearty amen!
|All of the pictures here show kids serving on mission with AIL and their families|
Before I start, let me clarify where I stand regarding children in mission. I am a strong proponent of kids going on mission, provided they do so with their parents. I don’t believe parents should pass that responsibility on to another parent, even if that parent is a close friend. The family experience of serving together is central to a child understanding that this is a big deal for his or her parents, and the kingdom. It becomes about modeling the value of mission and self sacrifice together.
As a host receiver, I have had a front row seat to some of the perils and pitfalls of family mission experiences. Generally in my role, I have tended to always say yes to parents and families wanting to be part of our work, provided I can reasonably accommodate them within the ministry we are doing.
This means there are going to be limits. If your host receiver primarily works in high danger areas, or in specialized ministries like rescuing women from the sex trade, those would not be appropriate places for kids and families.
With the above as a backdrop, here are a few thoughts
Parents are more the issue than their kids.
US parents are significantly more over-protective of their kids than many other cultures. This is not to say one parent loves their child any more than another. I simply want to suggest that if you are a “helicopter parent”, missions might be a struggle for you and your family.
Effective mission takes place when we enter into a culture, as opposed to standing outside of it as a pseudo-observer. One of the first points of contact, and struggle for kids and families on mission, is at meal time. When you are in another country and the food comes out looking different, smelling different and tasting different, what are you, as a parent going to expect from your son or daughter.
My son started coming with me on mission at a young age. From those very first days, he understood the biblical model of eating and drinking what is put in front of you that we learn from Jesus in Luke 10. To this day I still hear him respond to friends when asked how he could eat something so different at someones house with two simple words... “Missionary meal.”
Before you head out on the field with your bundle of joy, are you prepared to force the issue when it comes to food, or are your going to travel with a secret stash of goodies to give to your son or daughter when they tell you they don’t like what is being served?
Missions is about sacrifice.
One of the reasons many parents want to bring their kids on missions is for them to learn about sacrifice. Don’t short circuit that lesson out of a perceived need to cater to your child. Once they learn that you expect them to eat what they are served, and that there are no other options, believe me, they’ll eat, and quickly learn the importance of the term “missionary meal.”
US kids have significantly less stamina than many children around the world.
Generally when I think of appropriate mission opportunities for kids, I like to see them involved in kid friendly activities. This usually means ministry to children. If you want to bore a kid to death, take them on mission with you where all the work is focused on adults. If you want them to thrive, make sure they have time and opportunities to interact with the kids their own age who they are going to serve and get to know.
This however can pose a serious challenge because of the stamina issue. Let me give you an example. Each year my ministry facilitates a series of children’s camps in Oaxaca, Mexico. The kids we serve are from very poor rural backgrounds and are often expected to help work the family land along with school and any other “chores” around the house.
They get up before dawn to work the field and leave for school around 8:00am. There is no bus, or car, so they walk. When they get home in the afternoon, they return to the field until dinner is served, around 8:00pm. After dinner they finally get a chance to do their homework, getting to bed between 11:00 and 12:00 each night. The next morning before dawn, it starts all over again. Every day, every week of their young life.
When these kids come to camp, they are loaded with enough energy and stamina to go full bore, all day. Unfortunately, their peers from the US are not able to keep up. Before bringing your child on mission with you, think about this. We want people set up for success, not failure and if your child lacks the stamina to keep up, perhaps it would be better to wait a year and work on his or her physical endurance.
Recently I had a group serving with me and they were adamant that their kids were in good shape and well prepared for the ministry awaiting them. As would happen on any camp ministry in the states, we divided all the locals up into teams and then placed the Americans kids on teams with them.
We gave points and awards for everything from attitude to participation in the various activities at the camp. Across the board, the teams with more participants from the states scored the lowest amount of points. One of the primary reasons for this was because those kids from the US were simply not physically able to keep up with a full days’ activities.
Incarnational Mission is not a museum.
One thing we do not need more of on the field is observers. We need people willing to role up their sleeves, get into the hard work of sharing the Gospel and helping the local church build bridges into the communities where they are working. We need people willing to actively seek out ways to live the Gospel for whatever length of time they are here.
This means that people on a mission site, whether they are 5, or 75 years old, will be expected to get involved. One way to gauge this is to see what your kid is doing as opposed to what the local kids are doing.
If the locals are playing a game of kickball, and your child is sitting quietly reading a book, or has decided it is time for a nap, what message does that send to his new international friends?
Trust me on this... the only way to ultimately get what you want for your child on mission is to arrive prepared to make sure he or she gets involved, whether they like it or not. It is that involvement, that living outside of a comfort zone that will stretch your child. It is that incarnational witness and decision to be directly connected to the life of another that leads to effective transformational mission.
Asher Sarjent of 16:15 Church Mission Coaching has a few rules for anyone going on mission that he always shares when he trains a team. Two of those are especially relevant here.
"Do everything you are asked, or told and no complaining."
As an adult, it is fairly easy for us to live this. For kids though, unless they are well prepared ahead of time, and constantly reminded, this does not come naturally. This is where the rubber meets the road because given the option, most kids prefer a mission that is a museum.
Let me introduce to you Jim [not his real name]. Jim was 12 when he and his parents served on mission with us in Oaxaca. One of the activities we had for the kids at our camp was a chance to go to the theater and see the latest animated movie that was showing. For most of the kids at our camps, this was the first, and maybe the only time they would ever see the inside of a movie theater.
Like a lot of theaters in the US, this one was connected to one of the local shopping malls, so when we announced to the group of Americans where we were going, they were all excited.
What was interesting about this group of kids serving with their parents was that their excitement had nothing to do with mission or building kingdom relationships. They were excited because they were going to a mall. You could sense their disappointment when we told them we were not going shopping but to a movie and that they could only go if they were willing to spend time with their new Mexican friends and see the movie.
Every single young person in the group decided not to go except for Jim. As we were driving over to the theater, I asked Jim, all of 12 years old, why he decided to go. He said to me “Dave, I may never get a chance again in my life to a movie I Spanish, in Mexico, with a group of my friends.”
It should not surprise you that Jim was the star of that camp. The attitude he showed that day, being willing to stretch himself and live incarnationally among the people he was trying to serve should be an example to all of us.
If you are going to bring your children on mission with you, and I strongly recommend and support this, neither you or your children should treat mission like a museum. Mission that is effective, or that makes a Kingdom difference, is not to be observed, either by adults or by your kids. It is to be lived, all day long in relationship with the people you are trying to serve.
Final thoughts for parents.
Don’t bring your child before he or she regularly does not need a daily nap. We all know how kids are when they do not get the nap. Cranky, tired, whiny and everything no one wants to see on the mission field. Set your children up for success by waiting until they have passed this important developmental step.
Wait until your kids are potty trained. No one likes cleaning up a messy diaper. Trust me on this, you are gonna like it even less on some far away mission field location. You, your kids and your host receiver will all appreciate it if before you pack your future missionary off on mission, he or she knows how, and when to use a restroom.
Your kids are your responsibility. Period. No team you are serving with is there to baby sit your kids and neither is the missionary. Understand that if you have a relationship with a missionary host receiver who is willing to let you bring your child, that is going to be the exception. Honor that and take to heart the above points.
Final thoughts for missionary host receivers.
Be open to the idea of children on site with you. In todays world, kids are going to travel. Do we want a generation of children growing up feeling like God’s servants around the globe don’t want them around? Of course not. Who knows, one of those kids might just grow up and be the person who continues your ministry into the next generation.
I am not saying allow kids on every site where you are involved. What I am saying is take a look at your calendar, see where it might be appropriate for young children to be involved and when a parent asks about bringing their child, give it a try.
The idea of bringing children on short-term mission is enough to sometimes send even the most laid back host receiver over the edge. For parents, the thought of trying to keep a growing boy or girl under control in another country, where they speak another language, may be just too much.
But let me offer this encouragement to both sides of what I am sure we will seeing more of in the coming years. The Kingdom, the mission field, your family, and our ability to attract new leaders to the global Great Commission will be strengthened by having children on mission with us.
That alone should cause us to explore ways to make this happen.