When my children were six, eight, and eleven, I took them on a mission trip to Mexico. God used that trip to gradually change our thinking, our attitudes, our priorities, our individual lives, and our family. Here's why I encourage you to take your family on a mission trip.

Our God is a missionary God. He loves every person and every family in the world as much as He loves you and your family. He wants His name glorified among all the peoples of the earth. God wants to give your family His heart for the world.

A mission trip gives your family a unique opportunity to hear God's voice. Many organizations lead short-term mission trips. Which one fits your family best? Perhaps, like me, you'll see a notice for a mission trip that grabs your attention. Then you'll check out the details. Here's the key question: "Does God want our family to go on this mission trip at this time?" Discuss and pray about it as a family. Help your children learn to hear God's voice. If God wants you to go, He will make it clear to you.

A mission trip gives your family a common focus. Today, family members often run in different directions. A mission trip gives you singular vision. You prepare together, learn about the culture, write and send support letters, attend team meetings, learn words and phrases in another language, pray together-and that's all before the actual trip!

A mission trip gives your whole family firsthand experience in trusting God as your provider. A mission trip costs money. A mission trip for the whole family costs lots of money. Pray and ask God to provide for your needs. Tell others of your plans and ask for prayer support and financial help. Then leave it in God's hands. As the saying goes, "Where God guides, He provides." Your children (and you) will be amazed by the variety of ways God provides. (Even if you are able to pay for the entire trip yourself, don't do it. Don't prevent others from supporting you. Don't miss the joy in God that overflows as He meets your needs). When God provided over $300 beyond our costs for our Mexico trip, my children concluded, "God must really want us to go! Now we can give this money to the people in Mexico." Together we decided which projects we wanted to give that 'extra' money toward. .

A mission trip helps you experience life from a different perspective. People in other cultures have traditions, customs, and beliefs that are just as important to them as ours are to us. They think and act differently than we do. You eat their foods, do things their way, and learn from the people you serve. At a school in a Nairobi slum, three-year-olds through eighth graders all received a tin plate with a large scoop of beans, corn, and ugali. The children laughed and talked as they ate their lunch. Not a single bean was left on any plate. Later, I learned that most of those children wouldn't eat again until they were at school the next day.

A mission trip shows you the depth of people's needs and God's heart of compassion. Every mission trip exposes team members to poverty, sickness, and suffering. It wakes us up to the harsh realities of life throughout the world. It helps us discover the difference between wants and basic needs. When my daughter returned from a mission trip to the Ukraine she said, "I gave my clothes to girls who only had one shirt or skirt." At home, she carefully sorted through everything she owned and gave most of it away. "I don't need these things," she explained, "but I can give them to others who do."

A mission trip helps your faith grow stronger. You're in a different culture. You're outside of your comfort zone. You don't speak the language well. These are opportunities to depend on God. On a mission trip, you are not in charge. You cannot 'fix' situations. At times you feel helpless. You, like your children, have to adjust to changes and disappointments. Your children see that you need to trust God too.

A family mission trip gives you opportunities to release your children to God. On our Mexico trip, I thought I would be like a mother hen looking after her chicks. Not so. My eleven-year-old son stayed in the men's building down the hill from the rest of our family. My children asked to be on three different Bible distribution teams. I sensed God saying, "Let them go." That was hard for me. Each one came back telling stories of how God had touched people's hearts through their team.

A mission trip teaches things you can't learn in the same way at home. Imagine you are thirteen, attending a Christian school in a Nairobi slum. You and your family live in one room, the size of your bathroom. There is no running water. Your parents are unemployed. You eat two meals a day, both at school. You live next to an enormous garbage dump. How would you answer the question: "What are you thankful for?" I asked the seventh graders at that school. They answered: I'm thankful that my family takes good care of me; that God made me; that I can come to school and get a good education; for our visitors (our mission team); that Jesus died on the cross for me; that I have a good life. We learned much about thankfulness from those children that day.

A mission trip gives your family a common experience with lifelong memories you will all treasure. It's been twelve years since our family mission trip to Mexico. During the past five years, my young adults have gone on mission trips to Ukraine, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Kenya, and China. I just returned from my first overseas mission trip. My favorite mission trip is still our family one. Why? Because together we experienced God's presence, power, and love in another culture. God used that mission trip to shape our family.

Go ahead. Take the plunge. Start praying and planning now. Your family will be changed forever!


Linda Joyce Heaner is a freelance author and speaker. Read about her family's first mission trip and subsequent trips in her new book, God, I Need Help. You can contact her at  linda@abidinghope.com.