**This is a guest post by Glenys Nellist from Kids Ministry Matters
Did you think Mission Trips were just for adults or young people? Think again. This summer I was fortunate enough to participate in a Family Mission Trip—in my 30-year involvement in children’s ministry, this would be a brand new experience for me. On a hot day in the middle of June, we gathered in the parking lot of our church to drive the 600 miles to Beverly, Kentucky….15 adults, 15 youth and 3 children—the youngest of whom was just nine years old. For one week, we would work together in teams— grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, teenagers and children, united with one common aim: to help those less fortunate than ourselves. So what are the benefits and challenges of having young children involved in hands-on mission?
Red Bird Mission, a non-profit agency founded in 1921 and located in the Appalachian mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, has always welcomed children to participate in its year-round Work Camp—a ministry that strives to provide home repair for low-income community residents. Red Bird sets no limits on how old a child has to be in order to participate in the work teams, but instead leaves this decision up to the parents. However, Frances Woodworth, executive secretary of Red Bird, knows from personal experience that the earlier a young person knows about mission, the more of an impact it makes on their lives.
“ I knew about Red Bird Mission – forever!” she recalls. “ Saving and sending coins (in a little red stocking) as a child bonded me to Red Bird and I know that my heart began to be tied to this place, long before I ever got to visit here.”
Giving young children the opportunity to take that step from giving some of their coins to giving some of their time and being actively and positively involved in the mission experience is a wonderful way to cement their understanding and appreciation of what real mission work is all about. So in reality, just how much work can a young child do?
“Nine year olds can find lots of positive things to do, and given a real place on the work team, they will want to work,” said Frances.
As long as children are supervised by their parents, and do feel that they are making a real contribution, then their involvement in hands-on-mission can be a wonderful and rewarding experience for them.
At nine years old, Marnie was the youngest member of our work team. Prior to leaving on the Mission Trip, she shared her fears that at her young age, she might not be able to do much. How wrong she was! I watched her as she happily climbed ladders to paint the soffits at the back of the house we were repairing; hammered in the last inch of the nails in the new bedroom floor that we laid; used a circular saw to cut wood for the flooring; and donned a face mask before replacing the dry wall on the ceiling.
But acquiring new skills and learning how to use new tools was not the only way that Marnie contributed. She easily made friends with the nine-year-old girl who lived in this poor Kentucky home and when they weren’t painting alongside each other, they also spent a lot of time helping to take care of the family’s 16-month-old grandson. For Marnie, Mission Trip entailed not merely helping to build this home, but helping to build relationships too, something that children are often better able to do than adults. Nichea Guy, our coordinator, touched on this when she commented:
“Children have a natural ability to be open minded and non-judgmental. As they get older, they learn some negative filters that can prejudice their innocence. Children are always eager to learn and share their gifts. This affirms their natural desire to help others and be compassionate. In the church, we are able to live out what we believe through action—not just in listening or reading the word and in this respect, children are much more Christ-like. They get it!”
And what about Marnie herself? Did she ‘get it?’ What would she have to say about her experience on Mission Trip? When asked what it meant to her, this was her reply:
“ To me, Mission Trip is a bit like going on a Treasure Hunt…you never quite know what you’re going to find. You have to look for clues to know what to do; you might have to dig a little, but in the end, you find treasure.”
“And what was that treasure?” I ask.
“Love.” Marnie replies, “ I really bonded with that family…the treasure that I found was love.”
Red Bird Mission welcomes applications for Work Camp from all denominations. For more information, visit www.rbmission.org.