I was apprehensive about how our kids would react to being in a foreign country, surrounded by a culture very different from ours. The minute they piled out of our van, they hit the ground running to form new friendships and to share God’s love. You can read a summary of my trip here or read more details here or here.
As I watched mamas and daddies serve alongside their children, I saw them share experiences that they will never forget. I saw them stretch their faith together and fall in love with a people together. It was amazing and made me a total advocate of providing these challenging spiritual experiences for families.
Here are five steps for planning your own family mission trip.
1. Determine where you want to go. Find a partnership and a location that fits your church and your ministry. Keep in mind that traveling with kids adds some limitations. You need to keep in mind the length of travel that they can handle as well as the conditions they will be working in. Belize was a great fit for us because it was a 3 hour plane ride from ATL, the people speak English, and David and Karen plan trips from the perspective of children’s ministers.
2. Get the kids excited. Most of our families who went, committed to the trip because their children were so excited. We brought David in about a year before and he shared about Belize and the needs there. Kids were fired up about the possibility of going to serve.
3. Create a timeline for deadlines before the trip. We learned an awful lot about how to do this better. Here is a rough timeline for our 2012 trip:
- 10 months out: Initial interest meeting – share plans, cost information, and answer questions
- 6 months out: Non-refundable deposits due, with payments due each month.
- 4 months out: Purchase plane tickets.
- 3 months out: First of monthly team meetings to plan specifics of ministry; make sure everyone has immunizations
- 2 months out: team meetings/begin to collect supplies
- 1 month out: every other week meetings; finalize packing list; provide family devotional for the next 30 days.
- 2 weeks out: organize and pack supplies; finalize travel plans and details; organize 24 hour prayer “wall”
4. Help families prepare physically and spiritually. When you plan a trip that includes kids, you have to think through physical concerns even more. Gather and inform families about needed immunizations or medications. Talk to children about keeping their hands out of their mouths, not eating or drinking “unauthorized” food, and not to pet stray animals. More importantly, provide resources for your families to grow and pray together as they prepare. We did a simple devotional that prompted families to ask each other key questions and pray together for specific parts of the trip.
5. Teach and practice flexibility. We began emphasizing the word “flexibility” at our very first team meeting. Any mission trip requires an understanding that the Lord’s plans are not ours and that there will always be unexpected bumps and surprises. When you throw kids into the mix, you increase the level of flexibility needed. Everyone needs to understand that this won’t be an intensive trip for adults. You will have to take more breaks and you will have to move at a slower pace. There are little legs trying to keep up! You will have to incorporate fun. You will have to understand when a kid melts down or falls asleep through the evening wrap up. You also have to be well aware that what may be an “interruption” to us is God’s unique and perfect plan that will end up being much better than our plan anyway!