We were celebrities and oddities in a rolling caravan. And by rolling, I mean with actual wheels—a double stroller and several wheeled suitcases trailing my husband and I as we careened through an Asian airport with our two boys, ages three and one.
In an American airport, perhaps we would have been a passing entertainment, avoided in security lines, and processed with great pains. Yet in this Asian country, as I sweated my way through an immigration line, it was as if we had a golden ticket.
“This way!” the security manager called, waving us to a VIP line with no waiting. The once-stern boss then proceeded to coo and teach our boys how to count to ten in the local language. We had arrived on our first mission trip as a family of four, and I quickly realized my children had broken down barriers from the moment they stepped, or rode, into the country.
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. And why not use that time and energy to focus on local missions? Any one of these notable points can be enough to keep families tethered to home.
As easy as it is to settle into the comforts of life and avoid living out a radical faith, the question comes, “Why take your family on a mission trip overseas?” Here are a few reasons I think it’s imperative.
For the Sake of the Nations
A baby or child is a sure way into the heart of most peoples. Kids reach across the barriers of almost any culture, offering a less-threatening way to engage.
During the thirteen-hour flight on our first family mission trip, as soon as I held our five-month-old up for a burp, another set of “auntie” arms was reaching across the aisle. As I sat watching a movie, I kept one eye on my precious emissary being passed from one adoring family to another.
Children can impact the kingdom by just being present. They open up doors for conversations that can lead to Jesus-breaking-in moments. 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.
For the Sake of Your Friends and Extended Family
When we mention these short-term trips, we are often asked, “Are you taking your kids with you?” It always makes me smile to think I’d leave half of my family unit behind.
Perhaps by choosing to do what seems radical in the opinion of those who know and love us is a testimony that impacts the way they view Christ and the world and our calling to go. Our stories of God’s faithfulness through difficulties, as well as our entertaining tales, hold up Christ to the people at home.
For the Sake of Your Kids
There is a logical benefit to taking your kids along for educational purposes. The connection to culture, language, and history are all worthwhile reasons to get a stamp on your passport. Yet, as a follower of Christ, you can offer your kids more than just the excitement of adventure or knowledge.
As you go, you can teach your kids to see people, cultures, and stories through the lens of the Bible. People from different countries aren’t just interesting people; they are people Jesus died to save. Now your kids can pray for those people by name. Time among the nations gives your children a front-row seat to view God’s great power, love, and compassion. It is also life-changing for your kids to see you out of your comfort zone, vulnerable and trusting God in a way you might not if a Chick-fil-A or AAA is nearby.
For Your Sake
Taking children along, whether they are fifteen months or fifteen years old, forces you to view the world through their eyes. How are they adjusting? How are they interpreting what they see? How are they seeing and sharing Jesus in a way you’ve never considered before?
Every time I explain my faith to my sons in these moments, especially when senses are heightened and our family is weathering this unique experience together, I come away with a renewed sense of who God is and how we each play a role in his story.
The “Why Not?”
When God lays it on your heart to take the good news to the nations, he can use any resource—your education, your finances, your free time, your personality, your skillset—for the kingdom. For me, that resource list now includes my whole family.
Instead of only thinking “why?” ask “why not?” If God opens the gateway for your family to board a plane together, he will supply all your needs and use you (and your children) to and for the uttermost.
This is the first in a four-part series on family mission trips. The second article can be found here and the third here.