When I was a little girl, my grandfather said my middle name was “go.” It was a generational thing. He always said the same about my mother, and my grandmother before her. It’s something that’s been true of me, and now I see this “go” gene in the eyes of my two boys. They make plans during afternoon quiet time, finding a backpack in their closet and filling it with a stuffed Dog-Dog and Leopard, trusty blankets, and a storybook Bible—their worldly possessions, neatly zipped up for the moment I tell them it’s time to go.
They’re planning the next trip to grandma’s, a beach run, or a flight to see the Great Wall of China. To them, the where is really irrelevant because the call is imminent, and the need to prepare is necessary. They are all factors that apply not only to the next holiday road trip but to going on mission trips as a family. In Matthew 28, the call to go is not just local but global. And if you have a family, you go together.
Here are three things we’ve learned while planning and preparing for family mission trips.
1. The Lord prepared us in advance.
Our going together started before we were a family of four, or even two. In college during a summer mission trip to Kenya through our local church, Steven (my future husband) and I had fresh eyes for the Great Commission. It was no longer just a mandate or an obscure directive. It became personal with names and stories.
After Steven and I married, God took that seed he had planted just a few years before and scattered us to Thailand, using our backgrounds in journalism. It all starts as a seed. Mustard-sized will do. When God begins his good work in you through salvation, he continues to grow it as you pray, and seek, and begin to go with the good news.
Preparation for missions starts as a slow-growing realization that perhaps you’re ready to do more than love the nations from a distance, give, and pray for missionaries. It’s one thing to say you can go as an individual or a couple. But as a family?
2. God opens unexpected doors that lead to family mission trips.
Our first leap into family mission trips began with a free ticket. We had settled back into life in America, had our first baby, and were trying to feel “normal” again after two years of living cross-culturally. We knew we wanted to answer the call if God asked us to return overseas, and we were preparing our hearts if he did. Then, when all of our flight miles from our time in Asia meant an expiring free international ticket (along with a free lap baby), we took six-month-old Hudson and boarded the plane.
Where to take your family on an international, short-term trip can start like that: with an unexpected open door. Maybe your church is planning an overseas trip suitable for families, with all of the logistics prepared for you. Perhaps you’ve met missionaries speaking at your church whom you could contact about serving alongside for a week or two or more. Even if you don’t have connections with Christians serving overseas, you can easily find them through opportunities offered by many missions organizations.
Business opportunities can even be turned into missional gateways to go on your own. When Steven (now a professor) was offered a one-week summer opportunity to teach in Asia, we bought a Craigslist double stroller, packed enough toy cars for the boys and the new friends we would make, and went together for a month. Our itinerary included everything from sharing the gospel with students over dumplings to taking trains, planes, and taxis to visit other missionary families for encouragement.
3. Spiritual preparation is as important as packing your bags.
Racing to apply for passports, scheduling flights, and debating which “lovey” to pack aren’t the only aspects of preparing and planning to go. Beyond the logistical preparation, it’s important to prepare mentally and spiritually.
Although it may seem like only fun and games, we play-acted our flight experience before we ever got on the plane as practice for our kids. Reading books about other cultures, mapping your travel itinerary, having a dance party to cultural music, and practicing pronouncing greetings in the local language (giggles allowed) are all missions prep.
Prepare your kids for culture shock by exposing them to cultural differences before you go. For example, if you’re heading to Thailand, swing by the nearest Thai restaurant to test out those language greetings, sample the cuisine, and practice cultural norms such speaking softly with a smile.
There are three key ways to prepare your kids spiritually:
- Memorize key Bible verses that talk about the nations.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18–20 is a good place to start. Perhaps use music or videos to enhance memorization, such as Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” or The Rizers’ Scripture music videos.
- Pray with intention.
Pray before you eat ethnic food, as you pass internationals on the street, and before bed. Create a family culture of praying intentionally for the nations as you go through the normal rhythm of your day.
- Teach your kids to share the gospel.
Prepare your kids for evangelism by helping them learn to share the good news with others. Discuss ways to share the gospel in light of the worldview and beliefs of the people you’re going to visit.
Time to Go
When I was a child, my grandfather said I never questioned where we were going because I was too excited to get out the door. Now I’m a big girl with two boys of my own. I’m praying to instill in them a heart to go, with the Great Commission as the reason for the “where.”
Going anywhere overseas with your kids—for a week or six months—is no small task. It takes prayer, planning, and preparation. We’ve prepared two checklists to help you stay organized as you plan and pack for your next family mission trip.