As we observe the season of Lent, I’ve been thinking about how careful we need to be to not “leave Jesus hanging on the cross” as we talk about His death and resurrection with the young children in our lives.
I’ve hesitated writing this post because the last thing I want to do is make someone feel self-conscious or sad about doing this in the past. Let me be the first to say that I don’t always do this perfectly! And, if you are someone who has never thought about this issue before, please don’t stress about it. Here’s just something to think about going forward: Don’t leave Jesus on the cross!
Here’s what I mean:
In the Church, especially around Easter, we have a tendency to focus on our sin and on the sadness and sorrow of Good Friday and the crucifixion. Rightly, we want people to understand their sin and need for a Savior.
Talking about our sins and all the things we’ve done wrong and how Jesus died on the cross to redeem our sins.
Writing our sins down on a piece of paper and hammering them into a wooden cross.
But, we have to be careful with children to not “stay” in that zone, for two reasons:
Children don’t have the same time concept as adults. My 3 -year-old still can’t quite remember the difference between yesterday and tomorrow. She can’t always recall a conversation I had with her earlier today. While this will obviously get better, even elementary school children don’t have a superb sense of time, in the same way teenagers and adults do.
Until around age 12, children are not abstract thinkers. They need things concretely explained to them. When we do an activity like “nailing our sins to the cross” (by writing a sin on a piece of paper), they can’t retain that activity over the course of two days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. They’re not processing that symbolism the same way adults do.
So, here’s a general rule when working with children, I would say all the way up through age 12 or so:
Don’t leave Jesus on the cross. If you talk about the crucifixion, talk about the resurrection in the next breath. If you lead an activity about sin and death, wrap it up with a component describing His victory from the grave.
In our family, I try to make sure we always say something like, “Jesus died on the cross and rose againon Easter,” rather than simply talking about Jesus dying on the cross and leaving it at that.
After all, what’s the value of His death on the cross if we don’t remember He rose again on Easter morning?
I want the victory of Easter to be ingrained in the minds and hearts of the children I teach.
I want to be sensitive to any Catholic Christian readers of Faith Passed Down. I understand there are reasons for crucifixes depicting Jesus on the cross, and I’m not trying to demean that practice.
Just make sure that as you view a cross with Jesus hanging on it with your young children, you point out that He’s not on the cross anymore – we can remember our sins and also remember that He rose victorious from the grave!
We’ve been enjoying some Lent/Easter activities at our house this week, and I wanted to share some ideas that have worked for us. I’ve included tips for doing these crafts with a variety of age groups.
This is the only idea on this list not from Pinterest, but instead from my own mom! She is a Christian-school Kindergarten teacher and I remember making this poster long ago when I was a student in her class!
I adapted it based on my memories, and we’re making it gradually as the days get closer to Easter.
I cut out a cross from purple construction paper (I just happened to have no plain purple paper, but did have this beautiful scrapbook paper when I went hunting!) Together Elle and I glued it to a piece of black construction paper. We used white glue to make an outline of the cross and added some glitter to make it fancy.
Now each day (as I think of it), we’re adding a symbol of the Easter story. I would use a hot-glue gun if possible, though it’s been working okay for me so far to just use regular Elmer’s glue.
Here are ideas for what to include:
green paper palm branch – for Palm Sunday
matzah cracker – for the bread Jesus broke at the Last Supper, saying, “This is My body.”
cardboard wine cup, painted silver – for the cup, saying “This is My blood.”
nickel – to represent the pieces of silver that Judas received for betraying Jesus.
a small piece of thorns – for the crown of thorns – You could use a stick that looks a little “pokey” if you don’t have access to thorns or are worried about injury.
white cotton – to represent the linens used to wrap Jesus’ body
sponge – to represent the sponge used to give Jesus a drink when He was on the cross
plastic toothpick sword, for the spear used to pierce Jesus’ side
paper bowl + small piece of white cloth, used to represent washing of disciples’ feet
white cloth or gauze – grave cloths used to wrap Jesus’ body
We had already put glitter on the outside of the cross, and then I was talking to my mom and she said that after Easter, they would put tissue paper to outline the cross as a “victory! Hooray He is risen!” sort of thing. I loved that idea. You could have kids crumple up little balls of brightly colored tissue and glue, or you can also use the end of a pencil (the eraser side) – wrap a tissue square around it, then place it on some glue, and it will look like flowers.
For younger kids: Cut and prepare all the parts of the poster ahead of time. If using hot glue, you will need to the gluing. Even for toddlers/preschoolers, this is a nice way to talk about the significance of some of these items – similar to doing Resurrection Eggs, but with a tangible thing to look at on the wall.
For older children/teenagers: They can cut and prepare the parts of the poster themselves. You could even offer a number of items, but allow them to choose the ones most significant (for example, make 6 items available, but have them choose each choose their 4 favorites). You could provide variety through different kinds of patterned scrapbook paper for the cross or different colors of glitter.
I loved how super-simple this activity was, with just colored construction paper and a glue stick.
For younger kids: Cut out all the squares + a cross for each child ahead of time. Assist with gluing.
For older children/teenagers: Offer whole sheets of paper and have students cut out the squares and crosses themselves. You could provide ideas for different “shaped” crosses (some with curly embellishments on the end, different sizes, etc.) You could also provide different patterns of paper for variety.
Another super simple activity. Afterwards, we used the branches to role-play the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem. We waved the branches and shouted “Hosanna.” My 3 year old went and got her stuffed dog off her bed and “rode” it like a donkey when she pretended to be Jesus!
For younger kids: This is perfect for young children who are still learning cutting skills. You cut out the shape of the palm branch, then let the child cut out the “fringe.”
For older children/teenagers: This craft may be too basic for older children or teenagers.
Here’s another activity we’re doing gradually, adding a symbol or two as the week goes on (that’s why it’s not all colored-in yet in the picture above.)
For younger kids: Cut out the shapes ahead of time. For my 3 year old, she seemed to color more thoroughly when I cut out the details of the entire shape and provided a piece of scratch paper underneath, rather than when I gave her the whole piece of paper, including some extra space on the outside of the shape, planning to cut it out later.
For older children/teenagers: Provide the entire printable (available at link above) and let them do their own cutting. I had trouble getting the text to print on the eggs, so I am just handwriting on a blank egg. Older children/teenagers with small penmanship can do this, too.
Check out the linked post for the idea behind this project, and a wonderful book to go along with it. The blog post doesn’t provide very specific directions, so here’s what we did:
Trace handprints with a pencil onto a white piece of paper. (I just used computer paper, and it folded/rolled very easily, which was nice.)
Cut out the handprints.
Take a green pipe cleaner (the entire thing) + a small piece of yellow pipe cleaner (I cut a full-length one into thirds). Wrap the yellow piece around the tip of the green pipe cleaner – I just twisted them together. You’re trying to make the yellow pollen part of the lily, along with the green stem.
Wrap/roll the handprint around the pipe cleaner, enclosing the yellow part, and secure with tape.
We made a few and put into a vase. We also made some hearts (“Because Jesus loves us!” said Elle) and wrapped those two together, which made kind of a tulip shape.
For younger kids: This activity would be great for kids who can cut. We’re not there yet with my 3-year-old, so I did find myself doing most of the “work” of this craft, but she was happy to help fold the pipe cleaner and tape it, and we did end up with a lovely table decoration!
For older children: Allow them to do the tracing and cutting themselves. Provide different colored paper for variety, or recommend trying different shapes besides just a handprint.
**Have you done any activities for Lent/Easter? Leave a comment below telling your favorites.
Christian Valentine Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers
We’ve been having fun preparing for Valentine’s Day at our house, and I wanted to share some of the simple activities we’ve been doing plus some ideas I have for the next few days. I have a 3.5 year old and 1 year old – both girls.
I haven’t had to get special supplies or do much prep work for these activities, so I hope you might still be able to use some of these if you have toddlers or preschoolers, even though Valentine’s Day is fast-approaching!
The Purpose: “We love because He first loved us.”
I personally love Valentine’s Day – in fact, I shocked my husband recently by sharing that it might even be my favorite holiday. As much as I love Easter and Christmas, I’m always filled with so much angst over the way our culture celebrates (bunnies and candy and over-the-top gift giving) versus the focus of these holidays as Christians (Christ and His birth, death, and victory through resurrection!)
I don’t feel that same angst over Valentine’s Day – after all, I think we all agree that loving one another is a good thing to do, whether our spouse, family members, or friends!
With that said, I think as Christians, we can particularly make sure our focus at Valentine’s Day is on God’s love for us as the REASON that we love one another. As believers, we don’t just love because it’s nice or makes us happy or wins us friends.
We love because Jesus already loved us (see 1 John 4). This is what sets us apart from the rest of the world!
So, as I’m talking with my kids about love and Valentine’s Day this week, I’m trying to focus WAY more on the love of God than on teaching my kids to love others.
Sometimes I see Valentine’s Day turned into a moral lesson about how children should act, with lots of discussion of their kindness and service to others.
While it’s fine to use this time to teach how to love one another, we want to be sure that the emphasis is that God loved us first.That’s it. He did it. Therefore, we can now love one another. But that’s only after we remember His love for us first.
Bible Verses to Use
Here are a few Bible verses we’ve been reading and discussing in our home (see the games section below for some ideas for how to do this). Though I typically like the NIrV versionwhen working with children, so many of these verses are familiar to me in the NIV translation that I’ve been using that one.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
1 John 3:16a – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.”
1 John 4:7 – “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:8 – “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:9 – “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”
1 John 4:10 – “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
1 John 4:11 – “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. ”
1 John 4:12 – “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.”
Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
We’ve been singing…
“Skidamarinka dink” – which is not at all “Christ-centered” but a nice way to remind my kids I love them. Here’s a cute little video if you’re not familiar with the song.
“Be Ye Kind to One Another” (the words of Ephesians 4:32)
I like to have our kids send Valentines to our friends and loved ones, as an expression of “love one another.” We made these hearts using this “shake up hearts” idea that I found on Pinterest.
This was a fun activity using just some basic ingredients – paint, paper, and a plastic jar (thankfully I remembered we were running out of peanut butter so I used that one.) You can check out the directions at the link above.
The only warning I’ll give is that we used too much paint and it got pretty clumpy, especially after a few papers. So, if you’re planning to assembly-line 100 cards or something like that, you will want to wash out the paint periodically.
After my daughters made the papers, I let the papers dry and later cut them into hearts. Then I wrote some messages and Bible verses on each one.
We’ll distribute some at a Valentine’s party we’re going to on Saturday, plus include some in our (much-delayed) Christmas thank you cards that I’m determined to send this week! 🙂
Valentine Crafts for Kids
These Silly Heart Puppets (also a Pinterest find) were a big hit, and required just a few simple supplies – paint, popsicle sticks, plus a thin cardboard box out of our pantry.
We decorated two into actual puppets, using googly eyes and pom-poms, but we also liked just the plain painted hearts.
You could write some of the Bible verses above on these hearts! (In all honesty, we didn’t really do this, because by the time I had that idea, my daughter had already distributed them as gifts to all her princess dolls – I just made this one as an example).
We made handprint hearts and feet.
We made a Valentine’s Day sign using ripped paper. My daughter cut/ripped some pink paper, then together we glued it into a heart. (I actually intended for us to cut out paper hearts before realizing her cutting skills aren’t nearly that developed! So ripping the paper into pieces worked much better.)
Valentine’s Day Games
After making some crafts, I could tell we were all getting stir-crazy, so I came up with two very simple, no-prep-needed games.
First, I cut out some hearts and quickly wrote a few Bible verses on them. (You’ll see from the photos I actually abbreviated some of the verses into 3-year-old language.) Alternatively, here are some printable hearts with verses that you could use.
Bible Verse Hide-and-Seek
Then, I sent my daughter into her room while I hid the hearts around the living room, taped onto the wall in various places. As she found each one, she brought it back to me and we read it together before she set out to find another.
Bible Verse Relay Race
For a more active version, I hung them all up on the door in our bedroom using tape (the only uncluttered part of the house at this point, so she wouldn’t trip). We had a starting line in the living room, and she ran to the door, picked up one heart, then brought it back to me, then ran to get another until she had collected all five. (We didn’t bother reading them aloud, though you could.) My one year old even enjoyed getting in on this one!
Activities and Other Ideas
Family Date Dinner
For the first time this year, we’re going to have a “family date dinner” with our kids on Valentine’s Day. I was inspired by an idea I saw on my favorite Sorta Awesome Hangout facebook group.
We plan to prepare a festive dinner, decorate our table with some paper hearts and little decorations, and light some candles. We’ll all get dressed up and turn on some fancy music to listen to. I hope we’ll read and talk about some of our “love” Bible verses and have some special family time together.
(For what it’s worth, I’m not trying to neglect my husband on Valentine’s Day! He and I have an at-home date night every Tuesday so we are having some special dates this week and next week to celebrate).
Valentine’s Tea Party
For several years – even when our kids were just babies! – my sister and I have had a Valentine’s tea party with heart-shaped treats and activities. Whether you do this with cousins, friends, a Sunday school class, or just within your immediate family, it’s a fun way to celebrate with loved ones.
I’ve always loved reading about Jess McClenahan’s darling parties, which I think was the inspiration for our first party… you can read about them here: onetwothreefour
Serve Outside Your Family
Something we may do this year is put together some Valentine’s Day goody baskets for someone who could use some encouragement – maybe a “thanks” gift for people who help us, like our apartment complex managers; or sending a package to a friend across the country; or dropping one off at the local hospital or a nursing home.
If we do, we’ll probably just fill a basket with some items from Target, like some sweets and stickers, and then include a couple of our homemade craft items from this week.
Do you have any other ideas for ways to serve at Valentine’s Day? I’d love to do more of this.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Leave a comment below.
Would you like a simple, meaningful way to offer thanks to God?
Would you like your Thanksgiving-dinner discussion of “what are you thankful for?” to be answered with more than just a generic “food, faith, and family?”
Would you like to include children and adults of all ages in thanking and praising God?
I love eating turkey and sweet potatoes as much as anyone, but sometimes it feels like the purpose of Thanksgiving – thanking the Lord for His blessings – falls to the wayside in the midst of eating delicious food, watching or playing sports, and perhaps getting a head-start on Christmas shopping.
I don’t think we have to choose one or another… we can have a fun day eating too much and then taking a nap before pumpkin pie, while stilltaking time to meaningfully thank God for His work and blessings. And, we can lead our children to do the same!
It’s a free download containing an outline for a simple Thanksgiving celebration. There are so many resources already for how to roast a great turkey or setting a beautiful Thanksgiving table… so this outline does notinclude those kinds of resources.
Instead, you’ll find:
Guidelines for a simple time of thankfulness.
48 discussion prompts, including questions appropriate for non-Christians and for children.
Options for a more elaborate celebration, if desired.
You will need to enter your email address to receive the download. Don’t worry – you won’t be signed up for a newsletter or put on any spam lists. I will remind you one time before Thanksgiving to remind you to use this guide, plus once or twice in December with info about a meaningful Christmas guide. That’s it!
I hope you enjoy a meaningful Thanksgiving celebration with your loved ones!
Does your life ever feel overwhelming? Do I even need to ask? I’m guessing the answer is yes!
Sometimes, it seems my life is an ever-growing list of expectations and things I should be doing – be a “good” Christian with a growing faith, participate in a fulfilling marriage, teach my children to be functional human beings, be a good friend, take care of my own physical and emotional health, serve other people, keep our house from descending into a pit of laundry and dishes… it’s never-ending.
And when it comes to passing faith down to my children, it seems no different… I’m supposed to help them memorize Scripture, go to church, do family devotions, volunteer at church, play worship music, take them to Sunday school, do service projects…
I just don’t know how to do it all! And I’m not sure that we should be doing it all.
I want to get back to the basics of faith-building, and I want to invite you to join me! Rather than having a list of expectations that can never possibly be fulfilled, I want to choose just a few simple things to do consistently to focus on Christ in our home.
Today I’m beginning a monthly challenge to simplify our daily faith-building to just three things:
Read the Bible.
Pray for each other.
How It Works:
You commit to trying to read the Bible, pray, and connect with the young people in your life each day. That’s it.
No other expectations, except as they fit into that framework. (Read below to see how church fits in, since I do believe participating in church is important!)
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with all those other faith-building things… it’s just that I’d rather do a few things well, rather than try to do 10 things, and not do any of them because it’s too overwhelming.
Each month I’ll share a post about Read-Pray-Connect… in the future, I’ll post before the 1st of the month (not nine days into the month, like today!) See? Life is overwhelming!
You’ll be able to download a calendar for the month with spots to check off Read-Pray-Connect each day. There will also be a reminder image that you can use as a phone lock screen, or print out and tuck in your planner, refrigerator, or car dashboard.
What do these three terms mean?
Read = Read the Bible aloud with your children/teenagers.
You can choose a children’s Bible story book or the “real” Bible. You can read one verse or an entire chapter… whatever works for you! You can even listen to an audio Bible together.
The only stipulations…
do the Bible reading with your children (not just a personal devotion time for you).
read aloud. There is value, even for adults and teenagers, in reading aloud together. If you really, really, really can’t do it aloud, you could read your own Bible silently side-by-side your older children/teenagers.
Pray = Pray for each other, together, aloud.
You can say the whole prayer, or your young people can pray too. (If you are saying the whole prayer, go ahead and pray for your own needs for yourself).
The length or time of day doesn’t matter. This can be a short two-sentence prayer before dinner, or a lengthy prayer time at the beginning of the day.
You can ask your children for requests, pray a general blessing over them, or use a prayer guide for a new topic each day. Here’s a free printable How to Pray for Your Children calendar from Inspired to Action, if you want some ideas.
Alternatively, The Power of a Praying Parent by Stormie Omartian has daily prayers on 31 different topics, and the prayers are already all typed and ready to go, so you don’t even really have to think about it… just read the prayers. (There are even fill-in-the-blank spots for your child’s name.)
It may feel awkward praying aloud… it certainly feels that way to me sometimes. I encourage you to just go for it!
I find that praying before meals or at bedtime seems more natural/easier for me than just saying, “Okay, we’re going to pray now!!” I can take the mealtime prayer, thank God for our food, then pray for a few moments for each member of my family, and it doesn’t seem so weird. So you might try one of those time slots first.
Connect = Connect together with your children in a meaningful way.
Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realize that while I spent much of my day with my children, we didn’t really connect much. The day can fill up with activities, running errands, doing chores, or watching TV, and there’s not much connection time.
I want to spend at least a few minutes every day “connecting” with my kids in some meaningful way… but I know it doesn’t need to be complicated, doesn’t necessarily require any advanced planning, and doesn’t have to cost money or take up much time.
Here are some ideas for ways to connect:
Read a book together.
Play a board game.
Sit down together and have an after-school snack.
Print out a “grown-up coloring page” and color alongside your child.
Bake brownies together.
Go on a walk around the neighborhood after dinner.
Linger for awhile longer than usual at bedtime, talking, scratching backs, or reading stories.
Enjoy a family movie night together (though I do encourage you not just to default to TV/movie time as your “connecting time” every day… it’s so tempting!)
Go to church together.
Play catch with a football or baseball.
Respond with “yes” when your child says, “Will you play with me?”
Get out art supplies and make a craft together.
Take your teenager out for a coffee shop drink or a smoothie.
Participate in a service project together.
Attend an event together, whether a church activity, library storytime, or an art show at school. Stick with your child and participate together.
Go play at the park together.
As you are doing jobs around the house, teach your child to do the chore with you.
Eat a leisurely dinner together as a family.
Tell your child, “I’d like to spend some time with you tonight. What would you like to do?”
If you have more than one child, your connection time may happen individually (like reading a book with one particular child) or it may happen as a family (like playing Frisbee in the backyard all together.) If you are married, your spouse can certainly join you, or not… anything works!
What if my child refuses to participate in Read-Pray-Connect?
If you’re feeling discouraged because your child refuses to read the Bible with you or doesn’t want to spend time together… I’m so sorry.
I want you to know that it’s normal for children and teenagers to feel contrary to whatever we want to do! Also, sometimes when we set out to do God’s purposes, and encounter resistance, there are spiritual forces at play, trying to prevent us from serving Him.
If you’re encountering trouble with your children participating, here are some ideas:
Keep going.Don’t be swayed just because one day he didn’t want to play with you, or because your baby screamed through your whole bedtime prayer yesterday. I encourage you to try to Read-Pray-Connect every day for a month. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the month, it’s much easier as you’ve established a habit.
Explain your motivation to your child. Share why you want to Read-Pray-Connect with them. Explain your heart.
If your older child is not interested in Jesus, emphasize the “connect” part first.You may just want to focus on “connecting” before trying to do the other two steps.
Pray for your child silently. If your child is resistant to being prayed for, just commit to praying each day on your own.
What if I don’t Read-Pray-Connect every day?
Of course, there are going to be unusual days where Read-Pray-Connect doesn’t happen… that’s totally normal. Don’t be discouraged! Just cross that day off the calendar and start fresh the next day.
I do want to encourage you to be creative, though!
On a business trip?“Connect” via FaceTime or send a greeting card in the mail (or by email).
Busy day of soccer practice and piano lessons? Pray together as you drive in the car.
House is a mess and you can’t find your kids’ Bible? Tell your own version of the story of David and Goliath instead.
Does your teenager have tons of homework to do?Make some hot cocoa for both of you and spread out on the dining room table together… while he does his homework, you can work on a project too. Pray for him silently as he works.
What if I’m an adult mentor, not a parent?
If you’re an adult mentor – perhaps a youth ministry volunteer, a grandparent, or a family friend – I encourage you to adapt Read-Pray-Connect for your own situation!
I suggest that you commit to Read-Pray-Connect only on days when you see your young person.
Are you a teacher at a Christian school? Commit to read the Bible, pray as a class, and connect personally with some of your students… but only on school days. Obviously, it would be too tricky to do this on the weekends.
Do you lead a weekly small group for high school girls? Commit to Read-Pray-Connect just on Wednesday nights when you get together. Perhaps it seems obvious that you would do these three things at your small group meeting, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are times when small groups get together and don’t read the Bible or pray… so make a commitment to do it every time!
Are you a grandparent? Whenever you see your grandchildren, make an effort to Read-Pray-Connect with them. You could read the Bible together during an after-school snack, play a game together to connect, and then pray for them before they leave your home.
This seems pretty basic… I already do these 3 things every day.
Great! Perhaps, then, this challenge just isn’t for you.
Or, perhaps, you’d like to grow in these particular areas.
For example, in our family, we do actually pray before practically every meal, and usually that includes at least a brief mention of each other’s needs. So, technically, I’m already doing “Pray” each day. But, I realized I’d like to either download that prayer calendar or get the Power of a Praying Parent book, and be more specific with my prayers beyond just, “Help Elle obey and help Ava sleep well today!” 🙂
Perhaps you already read the Bible together each day, but you’d like to read it more systematically (like a Bible in a Year plan), or you want to not just read it but discuss it afterwards.
Or, maybe you play lots with your kids (Connect), but you want to read aloud more together, too.
As you can see in the photo above, at the top of each Read-Pray-Connect calendar, there will always be a little section to record your goals for the month, so if you want to “increase” your goal, you can write it down there (if you print it out).
Didn’t you just spend the past month telling us we need to do global missions with our kids? How does that fit in? And what about all the other things… memorizing Scripture, going to church, family devotions, singing worship music, taking them to youth group or Sunday school, doing service projects… that I’m supposed to do with my kids?
I did! In fact, writing the Global Missions with Kids series is one of the things that inspired me to simplify part of my Faith Passed Down message. Because, yes, I think Global Missions with Kids is absolutely vital!
But, I don’t think it’s going to happen if we’re frazzled or have exceptionally high expectations of our family faith-building. Plus, the concepts of “Read-Pray-Connect” are pretty foundational before we can do any of the other stuff.
As for the other activities, first, see how they fit in to Read-Pray-Connect. For example, going to church can easily be a “connect” time as a family for that day.
Then, consider whether those activities stress you out or not, and if they’re worth trying to continue.
For a long time, I had this vision of doing a weekly family worship night after dinner, with songs, Bible reading, prayers, and activities. However, it rarely happened. It just didn’t work with our schedule and it wasn’t very meaningful when we did do it.
Instead, I switched to just doing a morning Bible reading with my kids (Morning Time). We can do it anytime during the morning, rather than trying to squeeze it into a small, stressful window between dinner and bedtime.
If you have too high of expectations, they’re never going to happen, and you’ll just feel discouraged. If you’re having trouble getting all the faith-building time you hoped, I encourage you to step back and focus on Read-Pray-Connect for a month or two, then see how you can fit in some of those other activities.
Click on the image below to download a lock screen for your phone or print and tuck into your planner, stick on your refrigerator, set on your car dashboard...
Will you join me to Read-Pray-Connect?
Leave a comment below if you want to participate.
Also, I would love to see photos of you participating in Read-Pray-Connect. Share a photo of you reading the Bible with your kids, praying, or connecting in a fun way and use #ReadPrayConnect. Next month I’ll share your photo in the December Read-Pray-Connect post!
The other night after my husband came home from work, our family gathered around the table and ate a simple Peruvian dinner of chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad.
Together with our two little girls, we talked about the nation of Peru, learning some basics about their culture. We located Peru on a map (it’s in South America!) and listened to a song in Spanish. (We may have danced along with it!) Then we prayed for the people of Peru before heading to bed.
It was a sweet, meaningful, and simple time, and I’d love to empower your family to do the same.
Today I’m thrilled to share the first installment of a new resource called Around the World from Your Living Room. It’s a simple series that I’ve put together providing resources for a meal, activity (like a craft or game), and prayer for different countries.
Here’s how it works:
Your family (or small group, or Sunday school class, or whatever) gathers together for an hour or two to focus on a country.
You’ll prepare a simple meal together from that country, using easy-to-find, real food ingredients.
As you eat, you’ll learn about the country.
Then you’ll do a craft or play a game originating in that country.
Finally, you’ll gather together to spend a few moments praying for the people there.
Today I’ll be sharing a guide for Peru, and in the months to come, I’ll share about several more countries. I have traveled to Peru twice, so I was especially excited to share about Peru with my family and all of you!
Overview: Peru is a beautiful, mountainous country with a rich history, known as the seat of the Incan empire in the 1500s. Peru is famous for housing Macchu Pichu, an ancient palace for the Incas, located high in the mountains near Cusco. Most Peruvians face poverty, though for the past years they have had a good economy under good government.
Location: Peru is on the coast of South America, bordering Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia.
Population: 30 million people
Language: Spanish is the most common, but a small population speaks Quechua.
81% Roman Catholic Christians
12% Evangelical Christians
Weather: Near the coast, Peru has mild weather, with warm summers and cool winters. In the mountains, it can be very cold, though there is rarely snow except on the very top of the Andes mountains. Peru is located south of the Equator, which means summertime happens in December/January/February and wintertime happens in June/July/August.
I sliced two potatoes lengthwise into “French fry” shapes, tossed them in some olive oil, then put them in the oven on 400*. But, I had to go pick up the chicken… so, I just turned off the oven a few minutes into cooking, and let the potatoes sit inside for 30+ minutes while we were gone. They turned out great!
Chop up some iceberg/romaine lettuce for a salad. Top with shredded carrots and tomatoes.
For dressing, you can make this cilantro avocado dressing… or if you go to El Pollo Loco, just ask for a side of their avocado dressing – it’s very similar!
Alternatively, look for a bottled avocado and/or cilantro dressing (Trader Joe’s carries a cilantro dressing in their refrigerated section.) Or just use ranch!
Make a batch of white rice using your normal method. We use a rice cooker.
Even if you usually eat brown rice (we do!), I highly recommend white rice so it’s a more “authentic” experience.
Optional: Inka Cola
Your local grocery store may carry Inka Cola, especially if you live in an area with a larger Latino population. I found some at Target.
Inka Cola is a staple of Peruvian culture. It is a caffeinated, BRIGHT yellow soda and tastes just like bubble gum.
We didn’t buy any for our dinner because my husband hates bubble gum flavoring and our girls are too little for soda yet. But, it will definitely give your meal a genuine Peruvian flavor!
Alternative: Check if you have a Peruvian restaurant in your town… many communities do!
Hands-on Activity: Nazca Line Pictures
The Nazca lines are a famous location in Peru featuring incredible, huge sand drawings of animals and shapes, somehow created by an ancient civilization. To learn more about the Nazca lines, click here.
The Nazca lines were likely made as an offering to ancient gods. You could talk with your children about how we worship the One True God. You could talk about creating your art project to worship God, our Creator.
Inspired by this site, we made sand pictures in honor of the Nazca Lines.
Look at photos of the Nazca Lines. You can look at this page for examples (or just google “how to draw the Nazca lines” and view the images that appear.
Have your child draw a picture with a pencil or marker. Younger children can draw any shape; older children may want to draw an animal that looks like the Nazca lines.
Trace over the drawing with glue. (You may want to do this on behalf of younger children.)
Sprinkle sand (of any color) over the glue, then shake it off into a trash can or a piece of paper. Let dry.
Tip: We didn’t have any sand, so I actually used unsweetened Kool-aid mix instead. It worked at first, when it dried, it “melted” a bit. My preschooler wasn’t picky, but an older child may prefer the precision of colored sand.
As a family, spend a few minutes praying for Peru. If you have a globe or world map, locate Peru and have each family member place a finger on (or near) the country. You can lead the prayer, or invite each family member to pray about a specific request.
Your prayer time does not need to be lengthy! Don’t feel intimidated by thinking you need to pray for 10-20 minutes or more. Just a couple minutes focused on these requests, or others that come to mind, is fine.
Economy: The economy in Peru has been improving, but 25% of Peruvians still live in poverty, surviving in shanty-towns without electricity, running water, or other basics. Pray for job opportunities and for hope for the people there.
Religion: Many Peruvians are Roman Catholic Christians, but not all are actively practicing in their faith. Pray that Jesus would be a real, daily presence in their lives.
Health: Malnutrition rates in Peru have been dropping, thanks to government campaigns to teach good hygiene and provide clean water. Pray that this continues!
History: The Quechua are a native tribal group (you might think of them as “Native Americans” or “American Indians.”) Missionaries have worked hard to translate the Bible into their language and to bring Christ to this group, and God is transforming the Quechua! Pray that He would continue to be known among them. (I found this request on Operation World).
Ministry: Pray for local Peruvians who are reaching out within their own country, offering physical and spiritual support. Pray for the ministry of Krochet Kids as they provide jobs making knit hats and help support a community among the women who work there.
The Goodfellow Family works with Krochet Kids in Peru.Their blog has many pictures about their life in Peru, both every day life and their travels around the country.
Listen to Spanish worship music. When I visited Peruvian churches on a mission trip, I loved these two songs: “Te Alabare Mi Buen Jesus” and “Tu Eres Todopoderoso.” If you know basic Spanish, you will probably understand part of the songs (Alabare = worship/praise & todopoderoso = all powerful). I highly recommend dancing along. 🙂
Tell me about your experiences!
Did you spend an evening focused on Peru?
I would love to see your photos or hear about your experiences! Leave a comment below or share your photos using the hashtag #AroundtheWorldfromYourLivingRoom.
As a senior in high school, I pursued entrance into two colleges on the East Coast (American University and Seton Hall) known for their international studies programs. I envisioned myself serving as a U.S. Foreign Service Ambassador or working for the United Nations. But when those universities proved too expensive, even with scholarship opportunities, I began to look toward some Christian universities closer to my California home.
I ended up attending Concordia University in Irvine, California, and I am so thankful. It was a perfect fit for me, and it turns out that though moving across the country seemedglamorous, I ended up loving coming home some weekends to do laundry and hang out with my family!
I loved my Concordia experience, but at the time, there were few options for international involvement. (Now, they have a program called Around-the-World Semester which is amazing! Students travel to ten-ish different countries to study and serve).
Without any viable options for international studies, I entered a wonderful program to become a Director of Christian Education, which is roughly the Lutheran church’s equivalent of a youth pastor (but not actually a “pastor.”)
I took classes in youth ministry, children’s ministry, adult education, world missions, teaching strategies, church leadership, and theology. I thought perhaps this would be a good tool to serve overseas as a missionary.
After graduation, DCE students are expected to complete a one-year full-time church internship, and the leaders of the program assign you to an internship. Students stand up in front of a chapel service and they say, “Kelly, you are headed to…”
In the months leading up to the chapel service where I would find out my future, I had hoped to be assigned to a location overseas, perhaps in South America. However, a few weeks prior, I learned that wouldn’t be an option – all assignments would be within the United States.
Looking back, in my heart, I closed the door on serving as an overseas missionary at that time. I figured God wasn’t sending me overseas, so I would just work at a church here, leading short-term mission trips, and that was that.
When the day of the chapel service rolled around, they said, “Kelly, you are headed to First Lutheran Church in El Cajon, California.” I was pleased, and prepared to move to San Diego at the end of the summer (2008). (But only after a last-hurrah trip with some girl friends to Europe to be tourists and also participate in a mission trip in Hungary).
I didn’t know it at the time, but my assignment was truly life-changing. I had met this guy, Jay, a few months earlier when he visited Concordia – he was a friend of a friend. Turns out he was a member at my new church in San Diego. Since the church didn’t have many young adults, we naturally started hanging out as soon as I moved there. One thing led to another, and we’ll celebrate six years of marriage next week! 🙂
But soon after Jay and I got married (November 2009), we both started to feel a gentle call to serve in overseas missions. He is a pilot, and we knew of an organization that uses pilots to serve isolated people in remote areas of the world.
We began looking more into this organization. As we read blog posts by current overseas missionaries, talked to a recruiter, and prayed, we felt God’s leading to begin preparations to join the organization.
It was a lengthy process, since Jay needed to receive his airplane mechanic’s license – a two-year process, along with some other requirements like more Bible training. We took the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, which was wonderful preparation, too!
Eventually, we were ready. Shortly after our daughter, Elle, was born (June 2012), we traveled to Idaho and spent two weeks being evaluated by the organization. We passed, and a few months later (January 2013), our family had joined as official members of the organization.
We both serve them, though technically, my husband is the “employee” and I am the “accompanying spouse,” meaning most of the time, he is the one working full-time and I just assist as possible in the midst of my role as stay-at-home mom.
We spent our first year (2013) support-raising – a process called “deputation” in missionary circles. The process was long and we were impatient to finish and get overseas, but looking back, that was a wonderful year. We witnessed God’s provision and met so many lovely, Godly people who generously provide the financial support, prayers, and encouragement we need for our service.
Jay and I were able to work together on deputation, and he was home for the whole year as we worked from home and traveled a lot to visit supporters… which meant he was a significant daily presence in one-year-old Elle’s life. (Something we miss now that he works a typical 8 to 5 job).
But, we didn’t realize all that at the time, because it was stressful to work together and we were living on a small monthly salary and therefore living with family to be able to afford to be in California, which has a very high cost of living. So when January 2014 rolled around, and we received 100% of the monthly support needed to move overseas, we were ecstatic.
We headed to Idaho for two final months of training, and planned to move to Asia in June 2014.
We were crushed when a few weeks into our training, we learned that safety concerns in our country of service meant we couldn’t go right away. In the meantime, we learned we were expecting another baby!
Life seemed so topsy-turvy. We had already been packed up and ready to go overseas, and instead, we were facing several more months in the United States.
We regrouped and made plans to stay in Idaho until the baby was born. We did language study, spent time with some teammates from Asia who had returned to the U.S. because of the concerns, and enjoyed a peaceful, faith-stretching time in Idaho. It ended up being a very hard year, but also a very good one, as we felt we were truly depending on God to sustain us through all the changes we were facing.
But it wasn’t over! As issues calmed down in Asia, we made plans again to head overseas after our daughter was born.
Our sweet Ava was born in October 2014, and within a few hours of her birth, we learned she was born with microphthalmia, a condition where one of her eyes never really developed – essentially, it’s as though she is missing that eye.
There’s no known cause, and we were relieved to quickly learn through an MRI and eye exam that everything in her brain is fine, and her other eye has normal vision. (Something confirmed by her present-day ability to pick up the tiniest of crumbs off our kitchen floor as an afternoon snack!!)
Thankfully, she was eligible to receive a prosthetic “glass” eye (they’re actually made of silicone!), so by the time she was six weeks old, we had started the process. It’s been painless for her – just a lot of doctor visits to insert a slightly larger prosthetic into her eyelids to stretch her eyelids and encourage growth in that area. A year later, it’s impossible to even tell that she’s wearing a prosthetic – it looks wonderful!
But, the frequency of these appointments (every one to four weeks) meant that yet again, our overseas departure was delayed. So, we continue to live in the U.S. (We actually relocated to California to be closer to medical treatment, since there was none available in Idaho).
We hope to head overseas in 2016, as her eye treatment gets more established and we can wait several months between appointments. It’s tough when we have willing hearts and a love for the people of our intended area of service, but we can’t actually go yet! But we know the Lord is at work, leading and guiding us through every step of this crazy journey!
Hear from Missionaries Overseas
Since I don’t have any overseas experience to share, I wanted to point you toward some wonderful missionary blogs I enjoy reading. For my husband and me, reading blogs was one of the first steps God used to get us thinking and talking about mission work.
A Life Overseas is a blog for missionaries and other overseas workers, with high-quality, thoughtful posts from variety of authors. Most missionaries I know read this blog. 🙂
Urbana is a missions conference for college students that takes place each year – the next one is coming up in December 2015. If you know a young person interested in missions, Urbana is considered the best! (Unless you attend a Concordia University, in which case, go to Beautiful Feet!)
**Do you have any questions about overseas missions? Have you ever served as a long-term overseas missionary? Leave a comment below.
All month long we’ve been talking about ways to get involved in global missions with kids. Today I want to address a pretty typical way for young people to be involved in missions: going on a mission trip!
When I was 13 years old, my older sister started getting brochures in the mail from Teen Missions International, an organization that leads summer-long mission trips around the world.
I poured over the brochures, reading about the building projects and evangelism trips teenagers could participate in. Every participant had to wear work boots and they were advised that most would have to take bucket showers.
It sounded perfect!
For the next two years, I was desperate to go on a mission trip, and for those two years, my parents said “no.”
Then one day, an old friend of my parents, Jan, was in town on a business trip. At the last minute, we went out for Mexican food with her, and she shared about the ministry her family was involved with in Peru.
Jan’s husband was a pastor, and they all would go down to Peru to serve at an orphanage and encourage some Peruvian pastor friends. I listened with great interest, but at the end of the evening we said goodbye, and that was that.
Except that over Christmas break that year, I read God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and my faith grew. I realized that perhaps God was using my parents’ reservations about a mission trip as the means to keep me from going on the wrong trip. I wrote about it in my journal, and I came to peace with not going on a mission trip until they saw fit to have me go.
Within two weeks, we had received a letter in the mail from Jan’s husband, who was leading another mission trip to Peru, asking if anyone in the family, especially me, would like to attend. My mom read the letter and cried, saying she knew I was supposed to go.
So that summer, my dad and brother dropped me off in Chicago and I traveled with the team down to Peru. For two weeks, we served at orphanages and children’s shelters, visited schools, and enjoyed fellowship with Peruvian believers.
Since then, I’ve gone on a number of other mission trips, have led several trips, studied short-term missions, and now am planning to move overseas. So, you might say it made a big impact on me. 🙂
It will likely change their worldviewas they gain understanding of new cultures, economic status, and needs around the globe.
It may increase their faith as they see God’s provision in a new way, deal with the challenges of poverty and suffering, and enjoy spiritual community with their teammates.
It may offer them new friendships with teammates and with local Christians in the area they serve.
It may inspire future language learning, an interest in international studies, or a desire to serve in full-time Christian ministry.
Things to Consider Regarding Teenagers and Mission Trips
As a parent, I’m guessing your two concerns are likely:
safety – will my child be safe?
cost – how will we pay for the trip?
Safety: Generally speaking, mission trips are safe, at least as safe as any other youth ministry activity. Of course, you’ll want to check the State Department’s travel recommendations for the particular region.
I encourage you to really pray about this trip. Is this the Lord’s will? I remember a line I learned on my first mission trip to Peru: “There is no place safer than in the center of God’s will.” Is this a guarantee against physical peril? Certainly not! But it is an encouragement that His all-surpassing peace and faithfulness accompanies us everywhere.
Cost: Likewise, I encourage you to consider the Lord’s provision. If this is His will, He will provide the funding. Perhaps that will be out of your own budget, or perhaps through donations of friends, family, and fellow church members… most likely, a little of both.
In addition to those questions, here are some additional things to consider:
Who is hosting the trip? Do they have experience leading a mission trip?
Will the group be working with a local church? (the answer should be yes!)
Could you go along? (more on this below)
What is your child’s temperament? Will they enjoy being away from home, in new conditions and a strange environment?
Think about going on the trip yourself. I’m usually not a big fan of “helicopter parenting,” but if possible, I would encourage you to consider participating in the trip with your child.
I don’t suggest this because of safety, but rather because this will likely be a big experience for your child, and it would be nice for them to have you (or another trusted adult, like an older sibling or grandparent) along for the sake of the shared experience.
A few years ago my mom and brother joined me on a day trip to Mexico, and I’ve also gone on a lengthier house-building trip with my sister. Both of those memories are special to me, and it helped me to be able to have that experience with someone close to me!
Send your child on an inter-generational trip (not just teenagers), if possible. I have been on both teenager-only trips (of course, there were adult leaders, but everyone else was a teenager) and inter-generational trips (people of all ages – teenagers, younger adults, and older adults), and I encourage you to consider an inter-generational trip.
Generally, a trip with multiple generations affords a richer opportunity for mentorship and wisdom from the older members of the group. It also is likely to be more “missions-focused” and perhaps less focused on friendship-drama, relationship-drama, or other issues that can be more present in a trip just for teenagers.
Prepare your teenager ahead of time. Hopefully, the team leader is doing training and preparation, including cultural training and lots of prayer. If not, consider partnering with your teenager to do some training of your own. A great place to start would be reading and discussing Serving with Eyes Wide Open by David Livermore together.
Be an encourager and prayer warrior during the trip. If you’re not going on the trip with your child, be prepared to encourage and pray for your child!
Ahead of time, you can write letters for your child to pack in a suitcase and open each day they’re gone. I’ve had friends and family members do this in the past and it’s such nice encouragement and a reminder to stay”grounded” even when I may not be feeling well, am tired, or am frustrated with a team member.
Also, if your child will have access to the internet, a daily email will be a great encouragement. Don’t expect your child to communicate much with you, however, and I would encourage you to not send them with a full-capacity cell phone while they’re away. The purpose of the trip is not to converse with you (or friends!) back home, but to focus on the task at hand.
Be ready for afterwards. Homecoming is always the hardest part of a mission trip for me.
First, there’s the physical stuff – I’m tired from jet lag, lengthy travels, and probably little sleep on the mission trip. My body is getting used to eating our food again.
Second, it’s emotionally difficult, as I’m facing a totally different “world” than what I was used to on the trip. Not only is our culture different, but on the mission trip, I formed bonds with my teammates and am now sad to miss that community and comraderie.
Third, I’ve just had this great experience, and I come home, and not many people want to talk about it!
Be aware that your teenager is going through these issues (or others not listed)! If possible, clear your teenager’s schedule and your own schedule for a few days. If they want to sleep and veg out, just watching TV or hanging out, that’s fine. They may be excited to spend time with friends.
Set aside a time to look at photos together or hear memories from the trip. Then, keep asking. They may not want to share everything right away. Ask in a week, a month, two months, if they have more memories to share or things they are missing from the trip.
If you have more questions about mission trips, feel free to leave a comment below! I’d love to answer any questions or offer my input on your specific situation. 🙂
**Have you ever sent a teenager on a mission trip?Did you go on a mission trip as a teenager? Leave a comment below.
Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip? If you have children, have you ever considered taking them on a mission trip with you?
I’ve been on many mission trips through the years, to places like Peru, China, Poland, Hungary, and Mexico.
Though we plan to move overseas ourselves, we have not yet taken our kids (ages three and age one) on a mission trip… though we’re talking about a weekend trip to Mexico in a few months (just a few hours from home, we figure we can make an early exit if needed!)
I’ve been inspired by reading stories of families online who have taken their children with them, including:
I’m not sure that there are any hard-and-fast rules about taking your children on a mission trip… so much will depend on your particular children, where you are going, and what you’ll be doing.
If you have a specific question, feel free to leave a comment below and I’m happy to let you know my thoughts.
So, today I want to talk about just some general thoughts on short-term missions. I’ll warn you – this post is quite long. I’m intending it for those who might be very interested in thoughts about mission trips.
In recent years, some have criticized short-term mission trips, wondering their value and whether they cause more harm than good.
I’ve been one of those critics – during my final year of college, I did an extra project all about short-term missions, questioning whether we as Western Christians should keep doing them. Spoiler alert: I think we should still do short-term missions.
A fifteen year old girl, camera and bag of souvenirs in tow, walks out of the secure area of the airport and into the arms of her parents, anxious to see their daughter after her two-week mission trip to Africa.
They ask her about her experiences, and she describes, “It was wonderful! I held this little boy at an orphanage for two whole hours, and I can just tell that his life was totally changed because of me. It was kind of hard because I don’t speak their language, but my group and I learned how to say ‘Jesus loves you,’ in their language, so I’m sure that lots of people learned about Him from us.
Also, my group went on a safari, and we saw elephants and giraffes. I got to try eating ants, too. It was a great trip. I just feel so on fire for God now, and I really bonded with the other people on my team.”
Scenes like this occur at airports around the United States throughout the year, as short-term mission trip participants of all ages return home and tell others about their experiences. Their testimonies make short-term missions sound godly, adventurous, and fun, and partly based on their stories, people continue to participate in short-term mission trips.
Unfortunately, these reports of short-term missions frequently focus on or even overestimate the positives without considering some of the negatives. There are numerous reasons or goals for short-term missions, and it is not always clear if the goals are being accomplished. Some wonder whether short-term missions is truly as effective as many claim it is, while others question who should be the focus of short-term missions: the participants or the recipients.
The Gospel of Jesus can be spread through mission trips. Through drama and puppet presentations, day camps, distributing hygiene kits, or operating a soup kitchen, teams can bring the message of Christ to the people they encounter.
Mission trip participants can improve the welfare of people they meet. They may focus on housebuilding, medical missions, or food distribution. In many regions of the world there is a need for relief or poverty alleviation, and many short-term teams are able to help with poverty issues in powerful ways through their work.
Christians of all ages can grow spiritually and emotionally through a short-term missions experience.
Many long-term missionaries are recruited through short-term experiences.
Even if they never return to the foreign mission field, short-term mission participants can be excellent informers and supporters of missions back home. Participants have seen first-hand what needs to be done, and their stories can often reach friends, family, and church members much more effectively than a long-term missionary who does not have the same direct connection to a congregation. They are able to tell their congregations how to pray, because they have specific names and needs rather than simply a vague, general prayer request for a career missionary on the church prayer list, and they are also able to encourage others to continue to support missionaries and their work financially.
Short-term missions enables laypeople to be directly involved in carrying out the Great Commission. It does not require extensive training for participants. The short-term missions movement has been extremely empowering for laypeople by showing them their role in the priesthood of all believers, meaning that all Christians, not just professionally trained ones, are able to serve God’s kingdom. In short-term missions, nearly any Christian can be a participant in mission work.
Short-term missionaries can encourage long-term missionaries and help meet a specific need. Short-term teams can meet a specific need for a long-term missionary, like providing the manpower and funding to build a new church fellowship hall or running a Vacation Bible School program. Long-term missionaries can also find great encouragement in simply having someone visit them from their country of origin and show that someone cares about the missionary’s work; in a ministry where discouragement and loneliness is prevalent, this can be a huge boost in energy and enthusiasm for the continued work of the long-term missionary.
Mission trips carry out the “mutual encouragement of believers” described in Romans 1:11-12.
Concerns regarding Short-term Mission Trips
Sometimes short-term mission trip participants overestimate their spiritual impact. They often don’t have language ability, they don’t have long-term commitment, and they may not know the culture of the people they are reaching. Cultural barriers can be hard to deal with in a lifetime of mission work, and infinitely more so in a short-term setting.
Unfortunately, short-term teams do not always do necessary or effective work as they seek to improve the welfare of others. Sometimes, mission projects are initiated by the participants, rather than nationals within the country. Westerners think they know how to help, so they think they are bringing a valuable economic resource, like a new home, food, or toiletry items, when in truth, the people living there did not want or need that economic resource.
Westerners can have a patronizing attitude, thinking we’re the great American saviors, without respecting the culture we’re meeting.
Short-term missions experiences can result in a spiritual “mountain-top experience” where participants come home with aspirations of a changed life, but typically don’t end up making many changes.
Short-term mission participants often are unequipped, receiving zero-training before their mission experience.
Sometimes, mission trip participants go because they just want the adventure, rather than out of a sense of service to God. There is nothing wrong with travel and adventure, and Christians can be encouraged to go on vacations and see the world, but if the purpose is adventure, and not missions, then it should not be called a “mission trip.”
Short-term mission teams likely mean more work for the long-term missionary hosts. Along with their encouragement and enthusiasm, short-term mission teams can bring grumbling first-time travelers, people naturally insensitive and unaware of cultural issues, and the need for the long-term missionaries’ time.
Short-term missions can be too focused on the participants rather than the receivers.
Some wonder whether the cost of a mission trip (flights, hotel rooms, food, passports) would be better donated directly to the people being served.
Practical Recommendations for Short-term Missions
1. Train short-term mission participants before their trip.Training should include education about culture in general and the destination culture in particular. Training can help participants nurture their spiritual growth and teaches people about missions.
Depending on the situation, training can take place in different formats, for example, as a weekly class for several months before the trip, or as a three day intensive training session at the beginning of the trip.
I recommend at least 10% of the length of your trip be spent in training beforehand. So, a 10 day trip should include at least one full day of training beforehand. A 10-hour day trip to Mexico should include at least an hour-long training ahead of time. Note: this is training, not just information about what to pack or what to expect.
2. Partner with nationals in the receiving country.
Some of the problems with short-term missions, like the existence of unnecessary work projects, stem from a lack of relationship between the short-term mission team and a national church in the country where the short-term mission is taking place.
There needs to be a partnership between the short-term mission team and national churches in order for effective short-term mission work to take place. Ideally, national churches should be at the forefront, and they should be the ones suggesting a short-term mission team be involved in some way.
3. Pursue meaningful missions experiences during the trip.
Rather than settling for repainting a freshly painted church, mission trip leaders should intentionally pursue missions experiences that are meaningful for both the recipients and the participants.
Trip organizers should work with their national church partners to develop projects that will benefit the receivers, rather than simply inventing something that may or may not actually help them. This not only serves the recipients, but the participants as well, as they see that their presence is truly making an impact in the lives of others.
4. Implement an ongoing missions ministry rather than simply taking once-a-year trips.
Some churches label a two-week section of the annual church calendar “short-term mission trip,” and ignore missions the rest of the year. Churches should pursue an ongoing missions emphasis throughout the year through Bible classes, missions presentations, debriefing sessions for past trips, and support of missions through church ministries.
5. Participate in missions wherever you are, both in your own community and overseas on a mission trip.
While there are certainly people in need, both economically and spiritually, all over the world, there are also people in virtually every community in the United States that need to hear the Word of Christ and need to experience His love.
6. Debrief after the missions experience. The same 10% rule can be applied here – a 10 day trip should result in at least one day of debriefing… not just a rest or vacation day, but a time specifically devoted to thinking through the mission trip and praying about changes to make back home.
7. Seek excellence in short-term missions.
In order to improve the quality of short-term missions, the people involved need to continue to aim for improvement. This involves diligence and dedication to doing short-term missions well.
Seeking excellence requires time, and trial and error. It might mean writing goals for the short-term missions experience. It means evaluating motives.
Before they begin, participants can ask themselves why they are going on this trip, and leaders can ask themselves why they are leading. They can evaluate if it is because of a sense of adventure, or because everyone else is doing it, or if it is because they want to serve God and others through their experience.
Yes, We Should Continue Short-term Mission Trips!
In an “updated” version of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters concerning short-term missions, Frampton Fox speculates about a conversation between two demons, in which Wormwood, one of the demons, says, “We must inspire more indigenous scholars to criticize [short-term] missionaries for their colonialism to the exclusion of the considerable damage that their sacrifice has done to our interests.”
The demons go on to discuss how enough criticism might stop short-term missions altogether (something they view as positive, of course).
The demons’ comments provide an important reminder to those that closely examine short-term missions: the negatives of short-term missions should not cause people to become discouraged and disillusioned and give up.
Yes, there are flaws in short-term missions. Inexperienced trip leaders go without the right preparation, and participants join the team for the wrong motivations.
Short-term mission teams make cultural blunders, complete unnecessary construction projects, and do not speak enough of the native language to say much more than “Where is the bathroom?”
Teams embarrass their long-term missionary hosts and exhaust the national churches trying to work with the short-term participants.
Participants spend far too much time thinking about their own needs – including needs for photos and souvenirs – than they do thinking about the people they are trying to serve. Although they return back home vowing to change their lives as the result of their short-term mission experiences, their lives are back to normal within a few months.
Yes, there are flaws in short-term missions, but in spite of all the mistakes that are made, God works anyway. Participants have the wrong motivations, but God uses them.
Someone goes on a trip primarily because she wants to see the Great Wall of China, and God changes her heart to love the Chinese people. Leaders are unprepared to lead a short-term mission trip, but the team arrives home safely and happily at the end of the trip.
As God’s people, let us strive to do His will with diligence and in a way that glorifies Him as we do short-term missions. Let us use our knowledge and intellect to study short-term missions and develop ways to touch people, using the knowledge He has given us. But in the meantime, let us not stop doing short-term missions.
Sign up for mailings or emails from Voice of the Martyrs and/or Open Doors. You can receive free books, posters, magazines, and other resources from these organizations. Both do a great job of educating you about the persecuted church. Share these resources with your kids.
Read God’s Smuggler as a family. This story of Brother Andrew, a young man who took Bibles and other Christian literature behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union, is interesting and inspiring.
I haven’t read it in a few years, but I don’t believe there is any violence… only perhaps near the beginning when he is serving in the military. I would feel comfortable reading it aloud with my 3 year old, editing it as I read, if necessary.
Explore Kids of Courage, a free web site for kids from Voice of the Martyrs. This resource is excellent! There are videos, stories, downloads, coloring pages… definitely worth checking out.
Don’t traumatize your children. You know how much “graphicness” your kids can handle. Consider the level of violence of movies/TV shows/video games your child views, and match your descriptions/exposure to that same level as you share about the persecuted church.
Even the youngest of children can be told there are places where it’s hard to follow Jesus, or where you get in trouble for following Jesus, without needing to know the gory details.
Alongside your children, write a letter to encourage a persecuted Christian.
Assemble an action pack togetherto send to a country where Christians are persecuted. Packs include clothes, toiletries, and a ball. Action packs go to Christians, while Outreach Packs are given to Christians to distribute to non-Christians as an act of love and outreach… neat!