I've been doing mission trips wrong

Kara Powell | Jun 4, 2015

Photo by Christienne Nathalie A. Beroña.

I’ve made a big mistake with my previous short-term mission trips. I’ve always thought of them more as group experiences rather than individual journeys for each kid.

It’s easy to do when you’ve got 32 college students for a single weekend building a house in Mexico. Or 18 high school students digging wells for a week in Guatemala. There are so many details to organize that if the entire group seems to learn—and make it back home safely—the trip feels like a success.

A few weeks ago Compassion International invited our family to Brazil as part of our partnership with their Step Into My Shoes project. Experiencing the trip with my own kids changed everything.

As a parent, I was more tuned in to each of our kids’ unique needs and personalities. As a parent, I paid far more attention to how God worked through each of them as individuals than I ever have as a youth pastor. Even though none of us spoke Portuguese, I watched them communicate in their own ways with the people they were meeting.

Nathan, our 6’2” 14 year-old, quickly connected with Brazilian boys on the soccer field, as well as through playing guitar.

Krista, our leadership-minded 12 year-old, bonded fast with Brazilian girls through volleyball.

Jessica, our more introverted 9 year-old, connected with smaller groups of kids her age, who loved the way she listened to them (even though she couldn’t understand them) and took pictures (a hobby she loves).

As a mom, my radar was tuned in to their individual approaches to culture and life, how their individual personalities best interacted with others, and how their individual lives were changed.

Looking back on all the youth ministry trips I’ve led, I wish I had done a better job…

  • BEFORE: Helping kids identify their unique personalities and gifts. Some ideas here.
  • DURING: Debriefing with them each day about how God used those personalities and gifts in unique ways.
  • AFTER: Once we get back home, helping them discover how God can continue to use both their gifts and what they learned from our missional work in our own community.

Whether you’re a parent or a church leader, what can you do this summer to help every young person you’re around be sensitive to how God wants to use them individually to change the world around them?

Check out the Step Into My Shoes Project

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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