As a student pastor, I’ve been on 15-20 mission trips in my career. Only in the last two years have I had the privilege of taking my biological kids along for the ride. Until now, my own fear and the simple logistics of it had prevented me from giving it a shot.
I’m never going back.
I’m not saying that they’ll go on every trip my wife or I take, I’m just saying the reasons I didn’t in the past are, well…lousy reasons.
So, in full repentance, I offer up a few things for you to chew on if you’re thinking about taking your kids on a service experience, mission trip, or other cross-cultural venture. Two are true and two are myths. Myths first:
1. They’re too young.
Last year we took 18-20 people to the Dominican Republic. My son (then 6) and my daughter (then 9) were among the group. I was nervous about how they’d do. We had construction on the agenda. We had visiting a trash dump where families lived in squalor. How would my kids react? Would they be up to the physical and emotional challenge?
They jumped right in and absolutely killed it. We get a lot of stuff wrong as parents, and if you came to my house on some days you’d wonder how my kids are alive and able to complete sentences. But the loving people thing is something I think we’re getting kind of right, and you’re never too young to start loving people.
2. It’s not safe.
This does require wisdom on the part of parents. I wouldn’t take my kids everywhere. There are precautions that must be taken. But, newsflash, nowhere is completely safe for kids. That decision making is not unique to foreign mission fields. Use your brain, but don’t let your mind run amok. Not every foreign country is run by bands of thugs. With some diligence you can ensure your child’s safety — at least to the same degree that you can ensure it anywhere else.
3. They’ll disrupt the group.
This happens, for sure. Kids make mistakes. Sometimes they come off as humorous, innocent, and aren’t a big deal. Sometimes the mistakes cause inconvenience or annoyance. But it doesn’t happen as much as you think and it’s not as big of a deal as you may imagine. My kids sort of become mascots for the group, which serves as a unifying force.
On one of our last nights in the Dominican Republic this last year, a bunch of high school students encouraged my daughter, telling her how mature she was for her age, how hard she worked, and what a cool kid she was.
You think that might stick with her for a while? I dare say so. So is it all clean and tidy, having elementary age kids around? Nope. But it can serve as a transformative experience for all.
4. It’s a distraction for parents.
Again, this is totally true. I’m not sure I would take my kids on a trip if my wife wasn’t coming along. It’s a lot of extra work. And you do have to, you know…parent while you’re there. My kids are fairly independent, but it is extra work making sure my daughter remembers her boarding pass and my son changes his underwear and they don’t drink the water that will give them diarrhea for five days.
But the beauty of it is, I get to parent them in ways I don’t get to parent in the states. They get to overhear stories of kids who don’t live like they do. They see things they’ve never seen. They understand the world in ways most kids their age do not. It broadens their worldview. It redefines the Gospel. It enlarges their perception of God, the Church, and brokenness.
Yes, that takes more work. It is a “distraction.”
But it might just be the most holy, beneficial distraction I’ve ever encountered as a parent.
Look, not every mission trip should have kids on it. Some experiences can be too intense or unsafe, and some groups shouldn’t be mixed. But if you’re a parent who’s been wondering whether or not your kids are ready, use your discernment and seek out an opportunity that might be a good fit for your family.
Two years ago I was worried about giving it a shot.
Two years later and I can’t imagine not taking the risk. My kids are better for it, and so am I as a dad.