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.

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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.”

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.