If you landed here just for COVID-19 concern, it is addressed right after number 4. ;-)
That’s right, kids, you get to skip this post if you’re a teenager in a youth group . . . you can tell mom or dad to read it. It is for their benefit. Don’t read ahead.
NO! STOP! You’re doing it! You’re reading ahead! (sigh) Why do I even try?
All right, all right. You can read it too. But it may be prudent if you don't read it first. Giving them the initial opportunity to read through this is helpful because it is actually advise for them so that they can encourage the mission trip they might be nervous about.
Then you may proceed . . .
Kidding. Of course. Sort of.
THANK YOU for rising to this challenge and encouraging your child to serve God in another venue, out of their comfort zone. It will make an eternal difference in their lives. You know that, or you wouldn’t have said: “yes” in the first place, even if your “yes” was immediately followed by a brisk walk back to your bedroom to search with sweaty, shaky palms for your Starbucks card. *wink*
This post is here in tandem with our video entitled "Leaving the Quiver," which you may watch further below.
THANK YOU for rising to this challenge and encouraging your child to serve God in another venue, out of their comfort zone. It will make an eternal difference in their lives. You know that, or you wouldn’t have said: “yes” in the first place, even if your “yes” was immediately followed by a brisk walk back to your bedroom to search with sweaty, shaky palms for your Starbucks card. So, here we go.
Common Concerns Parents Have Concerning Missions Trips:
My Child Feels Called to Missions, but I Don't
Should my child feel a “calling” for mission work before he or she goes?
What if my child feels this calling and I do not?
I totally get that. And yes, it is also difficult to explain the word call. This is something that can cause headaches, doubts, and undue stress. Sure, we need to be called! But are we talking about some burning-bush-take-off-your-shoes-this-is-holy-ground kind of call from God?
I don’t think so.
God calls us by using people, events, and words, including the Bible. We are influenced by the people in our lives and by God’s Word—if we’re willing to open it, read it, and be transformed by it.
We will also be “called” or influenced by events in our lives, such as a missionary speaking at our church or youth group and moving our heart. The call doesn’t have to be mysterious; it can simply be a nudge or urging of the Holy Spirit to do something bigger than ourselves.
Why do my children have to go to another country to do mission work?
They don’t have to. Your child can go next door to do mission work—in fact, hopefully, he or she already does just that (see “Give him an inch...” in 2 Ways to Be a Miracle post). But some opportunities present themselves when we least expect it.
You may be surprised to hear that the word missions is never used in the Bible. We translate it that way from the Greek word apostolein (“to send”), which was converted to the Latin mitto (“to send or cause someone to go for some purpose to accomplish some goal”).
Missions is a word that has come to represent the Great Commission given to us by our Savior:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19–20, NASB)
It is a matter of great urgency that we commit ourselves to carrying out the missionary task. Less than 7 percent of those living today are born-again Christians. About 50 percent of the world’s population still does not even know who Jesus Christ is. China, a country with a population of 1.2 billion, has an extremely limited gospel witness.1
But let us not miss the mandate. Jesus commands us to go! And each word that describes missions shows purpose and desire to accomplish some good.
My father gave me a special U.S. penny when I was a child in New Zealand, where my parents were missionaries for almost ten years. He said, “Angie, keep this in your pocket and remember that when you read it, it tells you what you are.”
He did not tell me this because money was important to him. Rather, he said, “First of all, you TRUST IN GOD. And don’t forget that you are ONE CENT.” (wah-wahhhhhh) See, my father’s use of puns could be rather annoying to his daughter, but this time his humour was profound: You are one sent. The root of mission involves sending. But who? My child?
Maybe. That is up to God.
How to Travel without Fear
Will they be able to drink the water or eat the food?
Great question. Even if the provisions are typically fruit and vegetables, there is still the issue that a person’s system may not be able to handle the way it is prepared. They are in a different country. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be concerned about what they are putting into their stomachs! Here are a few things to consider concerning nutrition on a short-term trip.
- Trust the organization they are going to work with. Typically, if your child is going to be in a place where there have been many mission teams before them, this factor has already been considered. Most organizations provide purified drinking water and cook with it too. They know best the Gastrointestinal (GI) dangers poorly prepared food can cause. Trust this, but if you’re not sure about the organization, ask the mission leader.
- Ask before they eat! Yes, your child should trust the host missionaries but if they feel something edible is questionable, they should be encouraged to ask before they eat! I had a student down twelve cans of a national, popular fruit drink before asking if it was okay to do so! Well, it was, but only one can, not twelve. Anyone else know how many mangos, coconut, and guava it takes to spend all day in the latrine? Quick answer: at least 12 cans!
- The reality is, sometimes people get sick. Who knows how it happens? Typically, it is from someone making a poor decision about what is appropriate for their stomachs (“I’m a tough guy! I can handle it!”) I’ve spent many an hour with tough guys who have to wretch their poor decisions out the van window. Bottom line, there will always be a possibility someone gets sick from the food or water. But remember, this mission organization would no longer have a program if they were continuously letting people get deathly ill on every trip. GI problems are a natural travel annoyance. Expect that possibility, help your child pack their medicines well, and pray for the best.
Travelling without Fear:
The Coronavirus Concern
With valid fears and worries about the Coronavirus, one may ask the question: is there a reason for care? Yes, there is. Governments need to observe the virus and ascertain steps required to restrain the spread.
And regrettably, the way the virus is reported has prompted people to overreact. For example, most recently in 2019 in the United States, there were an estimated 55,000 flu-related deaths (as related by the CDC). But few people recognise the flu's real impact, and it is rarely a news-worthy topic because "we know plenty of people who have gotten it and were okay."
But hey, statistics do not mean much if you are a concerned parent, and I tooootally get that. The United States just upped the ante on quarantine!
It is tough thinking of your son or daughter going overseas and beyond your protection in the first place! Making wise and safe choices for your children is not something to take lightly. And it is the responsibility of making sure all those who participate in ministry are doing so safely.
Safety is on the shoulders of the mission leaders. The only way to know that these leaders are taking this threat seriously is to ask (and ask HOW). If it is dangerous to them, they will not hesitate to divert a team to a safe destination or cancel a trip if needed.
I am aware that there are groups that have done mission work this summer and there are some that, of course, have had to cancel. You can click HERE for an access point just for you to help you and your child make a decision about missions (or not) in 2020 (it shows links to important health organizations), and if you have decided it is not the right decision there is also a very viable alternative while still "doing missions" right here in your hometown. Well, actually it is RIGHT HERE in this exciting new course called "NO MONKEY BUSINESS."
How to Communicate with My Child
on Their Mission Trip
Will my child be able to communicate with me on a regular basis?
In most cases there is a high possibility of good communication. Technology has made it so that groups can send personal emails, updates, and even photos of their ongoing trip to the interested folks back home. However, no matter how far technology has advanced, there are still places where it might be troublesome to call home every day.
There are some places without electricity or phone lines. That can be pretty nerve racking when you go for a few days without one word! Here are some good rules of thumb to consider concerning communication with your child and their mission group.
- No news is usually very good news. A mission group might be out in a village that is two hours from a phone. But believe me, if there is an emergency, they will get to that phone. However, it is typically not expedient to waste gas and service time to drive into town every single day for everyone to make a phone call. If you don’t hear from them (except when is planned), feel better!
- Establish a phone/email tree. Find out what the mission leader has planned and if necessary, suggest being in charge of a communication tree, a phone/email list that is set up to get the word out if there is an emergency. It might make the mission leader feel a lighter load if he or she realizes that they only have to call one person instead of 30 because they will also have to deal with the emergency issue at hand. Sometimes it might even be helpful to do this for your general communication. The mission leader makes one call in the middle of the week, gives a run down of what is going on, and leaves the rest up to you or another volunteer parent, especially because in many places there may be one phone and no email.
- Talk to the mission leader. Most mission leaders understand the necessity of communication and the need to know that everything is all right. They can at least communicate from the airport upon arrival, at least once in the middle of the trip, and then maybe when the group is in route to come home. If you know what is going to happen ahead of time, the fret time will be significantly decreased when the phone isn’t ringing.
How to Know If a Country is Safe
Is the government safe/stable? Is it a dangerous place? Is it worth the risk?
What helps comfort you into making decisions about your child’s life? Easy. You are there. Because there is always a danger your child may drown, doesn’t mean you don’t go swimming with them. You can’t be there on their mission trip, but the same matters apply. You are a parent and safety is your first responsibility. The mission leaders and local missionaries now share this responsibility. You have to make the decision whether or not you are going to trust them to take care of your child. If this sounds too trite, please read on . . .
There are plenty of true stories out there concerning people who have been on various trips and something horrible has happened. A Peace Corp worker is raped in a taxicab, a missionary’s child is kidnapped, a mission team member falls to his death from a swinging bridge, a bus of passengers is hijacked, your child caught a virus . . . I’m sorry, but I wasn’t planning on mincing words here. Things have happened and may happen again. These are the kinds of stories that make a parent say “no way” to their child when they want to go on a mission trip. These are the stories that keep us up at night or make us want to tie our children with a chain to their bedroom doorknobs. But before we get that rash (and before I change your mind about this trip in one paragraph), let’s talk about a few important factors with this valid concern.
- Is the government safe/stable? There thousands of short-term mission trips every year. Take some comfort in that the awful tragedies you hear about are one-in-a-million. If you are tempted to say, “But what if my child is that one?” then it may be a good idea to reevaluate what it means to be culpable for your children. It might even help to read this book with them (or get your own copy and don’t tell them about it). Bottom line, things have happened, but statistically not very often. Again, these mission organizations wouldn’t have a program if they let people get in trouble or die on a regular basis!
- IS IT A DANGEROUS RISK? Mission tragedies are few and far between. Consider your local news. There was a shooting at the convenience store near your neighborhood, but you are not going to move out of your city. You hear there may be a crack house somewhere in your part of town, but you are still going to let your children play in the backyard. There was a horrible car accident involving a teenager last weekend that causes your heart to beat faster, but you are not going to forbid your daughter from ever getting a license. There was an accidental drowning at the local pool, but you are not going to hinder your child from learning to swim.
- Is it worth the risk? Find out as much about the target mission point as you can but find out from sources you trust. Consider avoiding the CDC or government internet overviews.These sites are going to tell you the worst-case scenarios because they have to. Oh, they are true, but just like the news is typically going to first report the worst stories of the week, these sites are designed to list every possible thing that could go wrong so you can’t say they didn’t tell you so.
Before I moved to Atlanta, I looked up the crime rate on the web. It is a good thing I didn’t make my decision to move there on that fact because I would have missed a wonderful seven years there! Find out about the country but hear it from missionaries or nationals who have lived there (and whom you trust). Don’t decide on one negative review.
Keep talking to people and gather your resources wisely.
Yes, I am of the belief that sending your child on a mission trip IS worth the risk. Parents do not want to send their children off to war, but they do. Why? And this is the most important part of this post, so hang tight...
Parents do not want to send their children off to war, but they do because for the most part they believe the cause is worthy. While they would never choose to sacrifice their children, they allow the possibility that their child is in a place far from them, in a danger zone. Does this mean your child will be in as much danger as in a war zone, in harm’s way? No, but it is a Spiritual battle that we are facing – we are battling a mindset of fear that would cause us to back down from opportunities for our children to grow and mature through these incredible cross-cultural experiences.
We never know how far we can go unless we can push the edge of our own boundaries, our comfort zones. But ... how to know if a missions trip is worth the risk?
LEAVING THE QUIVER (advice from parents of mission-minded teens)
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the support of my crazy parents, who encouraged me to do everything and go everywhere as long as it didn’t cross the lines of my faith base. Yes, I got the missions bug from them in the first place since they chose to give birth to me way down under. They also sent me on domestic mission trips (Ohio, Arizona, California, etc.) as a teenager, and helped pay for part of my education in Italy, plus they supported me at home while I raised money to work in Austria for a semester. Who knows how long it took them to get out of Angie-imposed debt.
And who knows how many nights they stayed awake hoping and praying I was okay while I gallivanted across the globe.
So, of course, when I wanted to solicit advice for my book on short-term missions, I went first to mom and dad! But I also gathered wisdom from numerous other parents who have faithfully watched their kids climb planes, church buses, and vans to do mission work in an unfamiliar venue. These parents wanted to share their journeys with you, and they are definitely included in the material at NO MONKEY BUSINESS, but without further adieu, I present one to you…
Also! Join Archers David Mumbach and Alycia Neighbours of AIM (Archers in International Missions). In this video, Alycia chats a little about how the skill of an archer relates to a parent sending their child out into the world on a mission trip. This video and more are located in tandem with NO MONKEY BUSINESS, a short-term missionary's 2020 survival guide at home or abroad. You can see the quick interview below first!
Often our nervousness as sending parents is part of an anxiety that says I want to control what my child does so I don’t have to deal with how it makes me feel. But as you know, parenting is not about maintaining control over the activities of your children; it is about influencing them positively as they make choices. You cannot retain a position of influence over your children unless you regain a position of control over ourselves.2
I invite you to look over the “overview” below, but I especially want you to think about the second “T” in the list. I have known some parents who have said they felt closer to their children when they were also doing an unusual work of service while their kid was away. It is also something you can share with your child when they return. You have some kind of common ground you might not have had before, a step towards better understanding why their eyes are aglow with new light.
1From an interview with Wineskins magazine, January–April 2006; www.wineskins.org.
2Hal Runkel, ScreamFree Parenting (Duluth: ScreamFree Living, 2004).