Category Archives: middle school (age 11-13)

Download this FREE super-simple guide to a meaningful Thanksgiving for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings... great for kids and adults!

A Meaningful Thanksgiving Celebration

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

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?

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

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 still taking time to meaningfully thank God for His work and blessings. And, we can lead our children to do the same!

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

I’ve put together a simple guide called Not Just Food and Football: A Meaningful Thanksgiving Celebration for All Ages.

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 not include those kinds of resources.

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

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.

Click here to download your free resource. Enter the coupon code: thanksgiving2015 if prompted. You’ll receive your download via email immediately.

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!

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

I hope you enjoy a meaningful Thanksgiving celebration with your loved ones!

Kelly

P.S. Are you new to Faith Passed Down? You can read more about me here. My site is devoted to faith-building ideas for children and teenagers, and every week I send out simple inspiration and tips via email for pointing our kids to Jesus. I just completed a series on 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids, and I have ideas for teaching Jesus to kids of all ages, even babies!

Download this FREE super-simple guide for a thoughtful time of sharing thanks for our blessings at Thanksgiving... great for kids and adults!

Read-Pray-Connect: An Introduction

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:

  1. Read the Bible.
  2. Pray for each other.
  3. Connect together.

Read Pray Connect - a monthly challenge

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.

november on refrigerator

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!

November lock screen on phone

Questions?

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.

November RPC goals

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 far as Global Missions with Kids, I encourage you to see how that fits into Read-Pray-Connect. As you read a Bible story, talk about how it shows God’s love for the world. Or as you pray for your own family, pray for your sponsored children as well. As you consider a connect time for the weekend, keep in mind a project like packing an Operation Christmas Child box.

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.

Read-Pray-Connect Downloads

Nov RPC calendar

Click here to download the November Read Pray Connect calendar.

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...

November lock screen

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!

Around the World from Your Living Room: Peru

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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Around the World from your living room - Peru

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.

south america

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!

Peru

Around the World from Your Living Room: Peru 

Learn about Peru:

Peru location

First, talk with your children about Peru. Look at some of these facts together. You can also view some photos of Peru from National Geographic… I particularly enjoyed the “Faces of Peru” slideshow.

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

Capital: Lima

Language: Spanish is the most common, but a small population speaks Quechua.

Major Religions:

  • 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.

(Many of this information was found at the CIA World Factbook).

A Simple Meal: Chicken, Rice, Fries, and Salad

peruvian food

Peru is known for many delicious foods, but a typical every day meal includes chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad… plus perhaps some Inka Cola soda to wash it down.

Roasted chicken. You can make a roasted chicken yourself (a whole chicken or just parts like the legs and thighs). Here’s a recipe I like (but you can skip seasoning it two days ahead).

We purchased a whole chicken from El Pollo Loco (a fast food chain in our area), or a rotisserie chicken from your grocery store works, too.

French Fries  

Did you know potatoes originated in Peru? (Not Ireland!)

Here is a recipe for baked French fries.

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!

Salad

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!

Rice

Make a batch of white rice using your normal method. We use a rice cooker.

If you are willing to spend a little more time on it, this simple recipe for Peruvian white rice with garlic and lemon juice sounds delicious.

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

nazca spider

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.

nazcalines craft directions

Inspired by this site, we made sand pictures in honor of the Nazca Lines.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Trace over the drawing with glue. (You may want to do this on behalf of younger children.)
  4. 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.

peru coloring page

Alternative: you could just print out this cute llama coloring page and color it.

Pray for Peru:

praying for Peru

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.

For additional prayer requests, visit Operation World.

Additional Resources and Ideas:

  • 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.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

Should I Send My Teenager on a Mission Trip?

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

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!

should i send my teenager 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.”

teenagers 5

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. 🙂

teenagers 4

Benefits of Sending Teenagers on a Mission Trip

  • They are participating in God’s global mission in agreement with His heart for the world.
  • It will likely change their worldview as 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.

teenagers 6

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?

Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about some general considerations regarding short-term mission trips. I encourage you to check it out if you want more to think about regarding the pros and cons of mission trips, and some recommendations.

teenagers 2

Recommendations for Teenagers and Mission Trips

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.

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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. 🙂

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever sent a teenager on a mission trip?Did you go on a mission trip as a teenager? Leave a comment below.

Go and Make Disciples… in Two Weeks?

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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Mission Trips as a Family?

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.

If you’re not interested, no problem! Check out some other ways to be involved in global missions with kids here.

go and make disciples

Should We Go on Short-Term 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.

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Positives of Short-term Mission Trips

  • The Bible indicates that God’s people are called to show His love and do His work cross-culturally, and short-term missions is one way (but not the only way!) that can be done. 
  • 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.mexico 2

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.poland 4

 

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.

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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.

Likewise, as a family, participating in missions year-round, rather than just during a mission trip, is key. I know of some great ideas for how to get involved in missions wherever you are!

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.

In order to truly serve missions as a whole, Christians should be involved in missions both far away and close to home.

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.

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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.

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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.

Let us not throw our hands up in the air and think, “If I can’t do it well, I shouldn’t do it at all.”  Instead, let us continue to seek improvement, but let us remember when we do not do short-term missions well, that God “chose the foolish things of the world” and “the weak things of the world” to serve Him.

 

For further reading…

** What are your thoughts and experiences on short-term mission trips? Leave a comment below.

How to Support the Persecuted Church

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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When I was younger,  I somehow found out about the plight of the persecuted church. I began reading publications from Christian Freedom International, Open Doors, and the Voice of the Martyrs.

I learned about the Karen people living on the border of Burma (Myanmar). I learned about Chinese people without access to Bibles.

I began to pray for the persecuted church, read magazines about them, and asked for God’s Smuggler for Christmas one year.

I even put together a proposal for having a display at our church during the fellowship hour with photos and stories about the persecuted church.

Since then, the persecuted church has been a cause dear to my heart, even inspiring much of my call to serve in overseas missions, and I can trace the roots back to those early days.

I was 12 when I learned about the persecuted church! I wasn’t an adult with an advanced understanding of the world and religious freedoms. I wasn’t college-educated, or even high school-educated.

I was just an awkward middle school student with a heart for Christians living in tough situations.

I share this story to encourage you to consider sharing about the persecuted church with the children in your family, or the young people you mentor.

Even from a young age, children can understand, pray for, and make a difference in supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ideas for Sharing and Supporting the Persecuted Church with Your Kids

Learn about Christian persecution. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Christian persecution, you can check out this overview here.

Read stories about persecuted Christians. Here are some stories and photos from Open Doors. Their World Watch List is worth exploring together with your children.

Sign up for mailings or emails from Voice of the Martyrs and/or Open DoorsYou 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.

It’s available on Amazon, but is much cheaper straight through the Open Doors web site… not sure about shipping though.

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.

Take action. 

Check out these additional resources:

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Do you have any ideas to add to this list? Leave a comment below.

Bless Babies and Mamas Around the World

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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Babies and pregnant moms hold a special place in my heart. There is something so precious about new life coming into the world!

Today I want to share some ways you and your children can bless pregnant moms and/or babies around the world. Most children seem to naturally enjoy babies, and many of you who are parents may find this fits in well with this stage of life as you raise your own babies or experience your own pregnancies!

bless babies and mamas around the world

Donate to a Compassion Child Survival Program

These centers focus specifically on moms and young children, offering mentoring, check ups and assistance with birth, baby and toddler supplies (diapers, clothes, etc.), emotional support, clean water, healthy food, and spiritual guidance.  Child Survival Programs are located in places like Haiti, Bolivia, Indonesia, and Tanzania.

My family’s goal is to have a Compassion sponsorship on behalf of each member of our family. We have a girl who shares my husband’s birthday and a boy who shares my birthday. When firstborn was a baby, however, we decided to sponsor a child survival program on her behalf, since it benefits children her own age (0 to 3), prior to them being able to be sponsored individually. Though we don’t send any letters, we’ve appreciated the updates about the program! (It’s also a little cheaper than a regular child sponsorship!)

Pray for ladies at the Heartline Haiti Birth Center.

I’ve loved reading about this birth center where women’s practical needs are being met and lives are being saved as women and children receive great medical care in child birth.

I remember reading that many women in Haiti don’t believe in breastfeeding, because they see formula cans with chubby American babies on the front, and believe formula is best. However, not being able to afford formula, they’ll just crush up cookies and mix it with (likely unsanitary) water, which makes the baby sick, and causes them to lose weight. Heartline offers breastfeeding support and helps moms after birth.

Tara Livesay, who works at Heartline, posts photos of mamas to pray for at the birth center. Also, they keep an updated wish list of supplies that can be purchased and mailed to North Carolina so they can be delivered to Haiti… it would be fun to shop with your kids and pack a box together! Last week, Heartline was the recipient of an awesome “Love Flash Mob” – you can read the encouraging posts about what happened here and here! Amazing!

Support the work of your local pregnancy care center.

Contact a pregnancy care center in your area and see how you can help. They may be in need of diaper donations, translators, volunteers, baby-blanket-makers, or counselors. While your children may not be able to participate in all of these activities, find out if there’s a way you could work together to support a pregnancy care center.

Put together baby care kits to send overseas.

Lutheran World Relief offers instructions for sending a variety of kits overseas, including baby care kits. I’ve never put together these kits before, but it seems like with a little preparation, this would be a hands-on way to bless little babies (and moms!) overseas… great for putting together at a Sunday school class, scout group, homeschool group, or even a birthday party!

The kits include baby clothes, inexpensive cloth diapers, pins, and soap.

Alternatively, blogger Adriel Booker has info on birth kits you can send overseas. We tried to make these for Mother’s Day last year, but I flaked and never got the stuff for it! 🙁 Check out the instructions… I’d encourage you to email Adriel to make sure she is still accepting kits.

Check out the Love a Mama Initiative.

As I was looking at info for the birth kits above from Adriel Booker’s blog, I found this whole page of ways they have helped love moms, particularly around Mother’s Day. Such wonderful, practical ideas!

Honestly, I’m not sure whether she’s still doing any of these endeavors, but if one of them captures your heart, I’d contact her! I don’t know Adriel personally, but I know she works with YWAM, which is a highly respected missions organization, and I love her heart for helping moms!

Here are a few blog posts worth reading:

It is worth poking around her site! 🙂 A few projects that caught my eye include:

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**What other ideas do you have for blessing babies and moms around the world? Leave a comment below.

Discussing Poverty with Kids

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

Today’s topic is short,because honestly, I’m not an expert on talking about or helping poverty on my own, much less with kids.

Every time we see a homeless person, I’m torn over whether we should give him a dollar, buy him lunch, send him to the closest shelter, or ignore him completely. It’s even worse when I’m visiting another country and see even more begging and poverty!

So, I don’t feel like an authority on this topic by any stretch, but here’s what I’m going to do to learn more and try to tackle this issue… I encourage you to do the same!!

1. Check out this excellent post about 4 Ways to Help Kids Engage with Poverty Issues. Read the comments too, they are great! (Incidentally, it’s a guest post on another site written by Adriel Booker, the one whose blog I loved when we talked about babies and moms!)

2. Get the Step into My Shoes curriculum from Compassion International. They sent me a free copy of it to review here, and it is amazing!!!!!

I’m not quite done with it yet, so I’m going to do a whole post about it next month… I’ll be sure to link back here about it! – but I can confidently say: get it! It’s worth it.

I swooned over just the directions for a couple days because they are so well-written and they thought of everything, even adjustments for preschoolers and for teenagers (so appreciated!)

3. Read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor – and Yourself. I’ve started this book a few times but have never finished it… it’s just so good, I feel like I ought to savor it!

This book is highly respected in the missions world, and I have a feeling it would give me the answer to my question about what to do when I see a homeless person.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**How do you address poverty with your children? Leave a comment below.

How to Start a Backyard Bible Club

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

Click here to subscribe to emails!

As I shared yesterday, for four years I was involved in a lovely ministry called Afternoon Blast, where leaders from our church operated a weekly children’s program on the lawn of an apartment complex about a mile away.

Today I’d like to share the practical how-tos of organizing an Afternoon Blast-style program in your own community. The typical term for this type of program is a “Backyard Bible Club,” which can refer to either a weekly club or a week-long VBS program during the summer.

In this post, I’ll mostly talk about the weekly club, but these concepts will also apply for a VBS program, and I’ve added some additional tips for a summer program at the end of the post.

how to start a Backyard Bible Club

 

4 Reasons to Start a Backyard Bible Club

1. You want to be involved in cross-cultural ministry to children. 

Though your Bible club doesn’t have to be aimed at cross-cultural ministry, it’s a great opportunity to try. Even if your church is not located in a cross-cultural neighborhood, you can launch your club in an area where there are a variety of other cultures.

2. You want to be involved in ministry to your own neighbors.

Many people host Backyard Bible Clubs in their own home or neighborhood. Here’s an example from Smartter Each Day, and I loved that she invited moms and kids in her own neighborhood to attend.

Whether you already know your neighbors and want to go deeper with sharing Christ, or whether you want to get to know your neighbors, a Backyard Bible Club is a great way to be involved in ministry from your own home.

3. God is reminding you of His call to “go and tell,” not just “come and see.”

It is easy for churches to fall into a mentality that “We’re here! If anyone wants to know Jesus, they can just come to our church!” We forget the call to “go and tell,” doing more than just inviting people to attractive events at our own church.

4. A Backyard Bible Club is simple and economical to lead.

After the initial start-up, our Backyard Bible Club took little weekly preparation and was practically free, with just a few expenses for supplies (soccer ball, crayons, clipboards) and the occasional snack – but most snacks were donated by church members.

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All about Our Backyard Bible Club

Our Backyard Bible Club was called Afternoon Blast.

Who Was There:  Usually it was me, one or both of our church’s children ministry leaders, and one to four other adult volunteers.

We had anywhere from 10 – 40 kids on any given Tuesday. They were mostly elementary-school-age, though a few were in middle school (and often brought homework to do), and a few were younger. For awhile we had a little one-year-old who just ran and ran and ran the whole time… he kept us busy!! 🙂

What We Did:

We would bring the supplies in the trunk of our car.  I usually organized the craft/coloring page area, so I had a tarp (in case the ground was wet) with a blanket to spread on top, a tub of clipboards, a box of crayons, and coloring pages stored in manila envelopes.

Our children’s ministry leader would bring some kind of game/sport (a soccer ball, cones for relay races, Frisbees, a soft Nerf football), along with a children’s Bible for our Bible story.  She also brought snack.

We followed a very simple, loose schedule:

  • 4:00 – 4:10 pm Arrival & get set up
  • 4:10 – 4:40 pm Activities: games, coloring/crafts, hang out
  • 4:40 – 5:00 pm Bible story & snack, departure

We sometimes followed a curriculum, sometimes just did random Bible stories.

For awhile, we were following the lessons that our at-church children’s program did during their weekly event. This worked to some extent, though sometimes the lessons were a little harder for this context.

One year, we used The Jesus StoryBook Bible to plan out a whole schedule. I liked this a lot. Each week we covered a new story. Prescheduling which story we would do each week helped because we could plan coordinating activities as possible.

I usually selected coloring pages or a craft that coincided with the story, and sometimes we could find a fun game that worked too. Sometimes we just read the Bible story (truthfully, The Jesus Storybook Bible was a little long for our context), and sometimes we planned out a lengthier Bible lesson… this one about the paralytic man was one of my favorites.

Snack time was always a highlight – every week we distributed some kind of prepackaged snack: often fruit snacks, pudding cups, bags of chips or Chex mix, but sometimes a special treat like homemade cookies or Popsicles. Typically, these were donated by church members who picked up an extra box at Costco, but occasionally paid for out of the children’s ministry budget.

We did have to make a rule that “we only give snack to kids who are here” because most children would want to take several so they could give one to their siblings, parents, or best friends.

When & Where We Met:

We met most Tuesdays from 4 to 5 pm at small lawn on an corner of the apartment complex. Children from the complex attended our program, including many refugee families.

We live in California so it was possible to meet outside year-round. I know this is a gift not everyone has! (Do you have a home or apartment community room where you could meet during the winter?) If it rained, we would just cancel till the following week.

 

For one or two summers, we also hosted VBS at the Afternoon Blast site (more on that below.)

 

 

Challenges we faced:

  • discipline among children, particularly 8-12 year old boys.
  • keeping attention during the Bible story
  • recruiting leaders to help. At our church, there was excitement from our members that someone was doing Afternoon Blast, but few wanted to join us to participate. Nearly everyone involved was a paid church staff person, or the spouse of staff.

If you haven’t already, read my post about refugee ministry for more about Afternoon Blast.

afternoon blast 6How to Get Started with a Backyard Bible Club

  1. Pray! As with any ministry, but particularly with this new-to-you style of ministry, prayer is vital.
  2. Form a team of leaders. Gather together to pray and discuss some of the following issues (purpose, location).
  3. Determine your purpose. This is key and will help you make some other decisions in this planning phase. Is your goal to disciple your own church’s children? To meet new families within your same demographic? To engage in cross-cultural ministry? To aid children of a certain ethnic group or economic status? To invite families to attend your own church? To expose families to Christianity for the first time? To get kids to become interested in your church so they’ll ride your church’s Sunday school bus to church each week?
  4. Choose a (potential) location. After you’ve determined your purpose, use that information to help choose a location. For example, if you want to engage in cross-cultural ministry, you’ll want to choose a location where people of other cultures live. If you want families to attend your own church, you don’t want to choose a location 30 minutes from your church.
  5. Prayer walk. I highly encourage you to prayer walk in the neighborhood of your potential location. Walk around with your team of leaders, and pray aloud as you walk. Pray for future ministry and for any people you see. Ask God to set up some opportunities for you to talk with people who live there!
  6. If needed, seek permission for your location. If your program is taking place at your own home, this is simple. However, if you hope to meet at an apartment complex or community room, you’ll need to meet with management. Pray ahead of time! Set up a meeting (or just drop by) and explain your goals. I’d focus on why this is good for the complex: keeps kids out of trouble, selling point for potential renters, you’ll pick up trash afterwards, etc.
  7. Think through legal stuff. Your church’s insurance should cover events that occur outside your church property, but you’ll want to double check the terms. Make plans to carry a first-aid kit with your Backyard Bible Club supplies.
  8. Invite children and families to participate. Walk through the neighborhood, handing out flyers and talking to people you see. Consider advertising with posters on community bulletin boards or  flyers on doors, if permitted (but don’t make a lot of trash! Maybe come back the next day and clean up any that have fallen to the ground). Personal invitations are really key, so if needed, walk through the neighborhood several times. Pray for an advocate within the neighborhood who will catch a vision and invite their friends and neighbors to participate.
  9. Plan lessons. Plan a few months of simple lessons – games, crafts, Bible stories, snacks, or whatever else you want to include. Keep it simple. Being outside or away from your home “turf” can be exhausting! You’re having to transport your supplies and figure out a new environment. So, choose fun stuff that will keep the kids engaged, but keep it as simple as possible.
  10. Start small. Don’t be discouraged if only a few children show up the first day. Put up a banner and balloons (or something to draw attention to yourself) and be prepared to invite anyone who walks by when they see you! (Even if they don’t have kids, tell them to invite any kids they know.)

afternoon blast 5

Additional Tips for a Summer VBS-style Backyard Bible Club

When I googled “Backyard Bible Club,” it seemed like many churches hosted Backyard Bible Clubs that only happened for one week in the summer, like a VBS program.

We did this with Afternoon Blast for a couple years (in addition to our weekly program) so I wanted to share some extra tips.

  • Schedule for a shorter amount of time and fewer days than your typical at-church VBS. If you are outdoors and not on your home turf (or, you’re actually at your own house and have to clean every day in preparation for Backyard Bible Club!), it will get wearying to do all five days of a typical VBS program. Skip a day or two of the curriculum and meet for three or four days. Also, schedule for less time than you meet at church. So, if you meet for three hours at church, schedule your Backyard Bible Club for just 1.5 – 2 hours. You won’t need to spend nearly as much time transitioning between stations, and you will likely not spend quite as much time on each activity.
  • Do a test-run at your own church first, if possible. We did a three day VBS at our own church the first week, then a second three-day VBS at Afternoon Blast the following week. It was good to have the kinks worked out at our own location first.
  • Host an event for the whole family. We didn’t do this with our summer program, but I wish we would have. We easily could have gotten a bunch of pizzas and concluded our final day of VBS with a pizza party for everyone. (Of course, BBQ would have been an option but would have required bringing grills – too much work!) Looking back, this would have been a great way to meet parents.
  • Think about how you’ll follow up. Will you use this to begin a weekly program? Or, do you already have a weekly program that could use more volunteer leaders? We had a few leaders who participated in VBS and then continued volunteering through the following school year.

afternoon blast 4

How to Involve Your Own Children and Teenagers in a Backyard Bible Club

For each post of this Global Missions with Kids series, I’ve been trying to point out specifically how to involve your children and teenagers… but this one seems pretty obvious. 🙂

Just bring your kids! They can play and participate just like any of the other children. If you have older children or teenagers, invite them to come along as leaders. Give them a purposeful and age-appropriate job to do.

Even after I stopped working at our church when my daughter was born, I remained involved in Afternoon Blast, often bringing her along with me. She would stay in her stroller or portable car seat, or I would put her in the Ergo carrier… the kids loved tickling her feet (though, they also loved handling her pacifier and sticking it back in her mouth! My new-mom-fears freaked out, but she never got sick!)

More questions? Want prayer?

If you are wanting to lead a Backyard Bible Club, please leave a comment below or email me (kelly{at}FaithPassedDown{dot}com.) I would be honored to answer any questions and pray for you and your ministry.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever been a part of a Backyard Bible Club? Is it something you’d be interested in doing in the future? Leave a comment below.

Practical Ways to Support Refugees

 

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! You can view all the posts in the series here. Please remember that the goal isn’t for you to do ALL these projects, but rather pick one or two. You can download a printable worksheet here to guide you through discerning which project is best for you and the young people in your life.

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After my college graduation, I moved to San Diego and began a full-time youth ministry internship. I was 22, excited to have a real job doing church ministry, and looking for things to do, so when our children’s ministry leaders invited me to join them in leading a program called “Afternoon Blast,” I gladly jumped on board.

For the next four years, every Tuesday afternoon from four to five o’clock, you’d find me on a postage-stamp sized lawn of an apartment complex in our town.

afternoon blast 2As children from the apartments gathered on the grass, we’d pull out hula hoops and Frisbees, bubbles and crayons.

I manned the coloring station, spreading out a blanket with clipboards and coloring sheets. I would color for about 40 minutes with my little friends, chatting as we determined whether Cinderella would look better with brown or pink hair. (This was years before the current adult coloring craze! Maybe I was a trendsetter! 😉

afternoon blast 6

After a sufficient amount of playtime, we’d rally the troops for a Bible story and snack before heading home.

Over the course of more than four years, these children – mostly ages five to ten or so – became my friends. As they grew up, I delighted in seeing them, chatting with them about school and their families, and occasionally talking with their parents. It was one of the highlights of my week!

Nearly every child who came to Afternoon Blast was a refugee from Iraq.

Usually, our coloring conversation was about normal kid stuff, like favorite foods, an upcoming field trip at school, or how much homework they needed to complete that night.

But sometimes it wasn’t.

Sometimes our conversation was about bombs. Or the murder of an uncle that caused the family to flee the country. Or their experiences waiting for years in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Turkey, or Greece.

The children learned English as a second or third language, so sometimes I would help them find the right word to say. It is a strange moment when you are asked the English word for the object they are describing, and you have to answer “grenade.”

Most of the children were Iraqi Christians who had fled Iraq during the war of the early 2000s. Interestingly, these Chaldean Christians perform their church liturgy in Chaldean, which is the modern version of Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

I vividly remember one day when we discussed a recent attack on a Chaldean church back in Iraq.

The children knew some of the people who were killed in the attack, and explained to me that people from a certain religious group were responsible for the killings.

One girl responded: “I hate them.”

I was unsure of how to respond to this, but before I could even consider my response, another girl said, “We can’t say that. We can’t say that we hate them, because they are people, just like we are.”

How I wish our country, and our Church, could have that same response to those who are different than us, including refugees.

I was so blessed by my friendship with these refugee children, and I’ve continued to be involved in refugee ministry since then.

I’ve even been able to include my daughter in a few of these activities, so I’m excited to share how to be involved in serving refugees, especially with your own children.

beyond prayer and donations practical ways to support refugees

What is a refugee?

“Under both international and U.S. law, a refugee is an individual who

  • has fled his or her country of origin 
  • because of a credible fear of persecution
  • on account of their race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” (We Welcome Refugees).

If you are looking for a longer explanation, We Welcome Refugees has an excellent page put together answering basic questions about the difference between refugees, migrants, immigrants, and asylum-seekers. I learned a lot from reading it, and especially appreciated the section, How Does the Bible Inform Our Thinking on This Situation?

The United States and other Western countries typically welcome a designated number of refugees each year. The main thing to remember is that a refugee has a credible fear of persecution.

A refugee is not simply seeking monetary gain or a better life – they are seeking safety and security.

The Current Refugee Crisis

I’ve been thinking about this 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series for months, and have had “talk about how to help refugees” penciled into this outline for a long time. Then, within the past several weeks, the news has erupted with discussion of the refugee and migrant crisis happening in the Middle East and Europe right now.

If you are looking for something to do right this second to address the crisis, there are number of excellent posts on other web sites to check out regarding the current refugee crisis of fall 2015:

Certainly, I hope that as Christians, we will respond to this particular moment moment in history. Our family has, primarily through donations to refugee organizations that are serving “in the trenches” in the Middle East.

However, I hope we won’t just settle for briefly addressing this crisis and moving on.

I also know most people who are wanting to respond to the crisis are wanting to do something in a hands-on, tangible way, with a direct connection to refugees.

I’d like to to encourage you to consider ministering to refugees already living in your own country. These refugees have gone through horrors of their own and are just as “deserving” of our help.

I also believe that our work to help successfully settle refugees here now paves the way for more refugees to be successfully settled in the future.

So, keep reading for a few ways you can help refugees in our country now.

Ways to Minister to Refugees Already Living in Your Own Country

  1. Get Connected to a Resettlement Agency

The best resource for getting connected to refugees is local resettlement agencies. All refugees in the United States are resettled by one of nine different agencies. (I’m sorry to those readers outside the U.S. because I’m not familiar with your systems, but I imagine you may have a similar agency in your country!)

If World Relief works in your area, they are wonderful – try to get connected to them first. My husband and I volunteer with them, and they are doing wonderful work.

If not, here is a list of all nine resettlement agencies (each name is linked to the web site of the agency):

2. Minister to Refugee Children in Your Community Tomorrow I’ll be sharing more about how to set up a program like Afternoon Blast for children in your community (the more common name is “Backyard Bible Club”). Of course, the program doesn’t need to be limited to refugees – anyone is welcome!

Your own children could easily be involved in this program. After my daughter I was born, I used to bring her to Afternoon Blast and the little girls loved cooing to her. Older children could participate in the games and activities.

3. Welcome a Refugee Family into Your Extended Family

Though you may be wanting to welcome a refugee family from Syria to stay in your guest room right now, the reality is that with legal red tape and limitations on who can enter the country, it’s probably not realistic.

But, you can invite a refugee family who is already living in your community to be a part of your “extended family.”

If you don’t already know a refugee family, contact a resettlement agency in your community, or find a church that works with refugees. Ask them to get you connected.

Then, invite the refugee family to your home for a meal or some kind of get together. Welcome them for holiday meals or a Sunday afternoon watching football. Ask them to teach you to give you a cooking lesson so you can learn how to make one of their favorite ethnic dishes. Offer to help fill out paperwork or find a doctor.

Your own children could – and should! – certainly be present for these activities! This is a natural way to involve your children in ministering as a family.

4. Give Christmas Gifts to Refugees

For several Christmases in two different states, my family has partnered with other families in our small group to buy Christmas gifts for a refugee family.

Like I mentioned above, contact a local resettlement agency to see if they can get you connected.

If you know of an area with lots of refugees, you could also see if the local public school has a social worker who might know of a family in need. (In San Diego our school’s social worker was wonderful at getting us connected.)

Ask the family for a list of wants and needs, then arrange a time to deliver them to the family.

Your children could help you choose gifts, assist you with wrapping, and then deliver the gifts with you.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**How have you responded to the current refugee crisis? How would you like to respond in the future? Leave a comment below.