Tom was worried about taking his family on a short mission trip to a South Dakota Indian reservation. He told me, “We’re really interested in this trip. We think it would be good for us and for our kids. But we’re a bit scared that our stressed family dynamics will be exposed in that setting. Our last family vacation was one drama after the other.”
Another parent, Linda, was similarly afraid. “My kids were at Disneyland with their grandparents and got pretty spoiled. I’m not sure they’ll be able to take the discomfort of a trip like this. They can melt down pretty fast when they get antsy or uncomfortable.”
With teens and school-aged kids whose drama was often excessive and daily squabbles the norm, Tom and Linda’s fears were very real. I assured him them that as the leader of the trip I would take care of any public squabbles and they could focus on the fun part of parenting for a few days. Never would Tom or Linda have imagined how unwarranted were their fears.
You see, when families go on regular vacations there is a bit of an underlying theme that the goal is for each person to have as much fun as they can. For some, this is not just a value for vacations, but a subtle way of life. When the largely self-focused goals of a vacation don’t pan out, there’s bound to be squabbles and complaining.
However, when families orient themselves toward the goal of serving others above self, an interesting thing happens. In our pre-trip orientation with 10 families we focused on some verses in the Bible about the joy of serving and set the kids up for some well-controlled but rewarding ways of serving each other and non-parent adults. Tom and Linda’s fears were tempered when they saw their kids in action. After the session Tom remarked, “I guess it helps when they are focused on others in a community of other parents and kids. It’s like they want to please more or something.”
Not only that, but when we’re on a mission to serve others a new self emerges — the self made in God’s image. Tapping into that Image and giving it expression through good works is what each person is created for. There is no greater joy than discovering and doing what you were created for, and the context of family is perhaps the greatest setting in which to discover it.
Several weeks later the ten families hit the road together to head for South Dakota. The week began and ended with great anticipation of “God sightings”. The week was punctuated along the way by meaningful daily work projects, energized nightly team meetings, and “Yay God” reports. On the last day of the trip Linda came to me in tears saying, “My kids told me this morning they don’t want to go home. They agreed that this is WAY the best vacation they’ve ever had. They’ve been to Europe, fancy resorts, and most recently Disney World. I just want to thank you. We are forever changed.” Tom later told me a similar story.
Indeed, when families take on a mission together, they change. This trip helped many families change — not just for the week, but for life. The change didn’t happen just because of the trip, but because the families agreed together that being on a mission isn’t really about going away to a strange place and helping unknown people, it’s about everyday life. When families take on this value, things change.
So whether you take such a trip or not, consider how yours could be a family together on a mission to be a blessing to the world. Gather your kids around the dinner table and invite their answers to the question, “If God was to make us into just the family he wants us to be, what would we be doing?” And prepare for the trip of a lifetime (or perhaps I should say prepare for a lifetime trip!).
Note: Over the course of three years from 2003 – 2005 Connected Families led three mission trips for families. Of the kids who attended those trips we don’t know of one that has dropped out of the church in the 10-12 years since. This is not just about the trip, but it reinforces the notion that when families have values that allow them to get out of their cultural comfort zones and be on a mission, their kids have a natural pathway for growing into their parents’ faith.
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