We took our toddlers on a mission trip

7:16 AM


In March, we set out with our two kids (3 and 1), about 25 teenagers and 10 adults to do a one-week mission trip to Arizona. 

This was our church’s third trip to Show Low, Arizona, where we work with American Indian Christian Mission, an organization that has a small school for Apache children, runs a daily bus ministry for kids on the reservation, and helps churches there. 

There are serious issues of poverty, corruption, alcoholism, abuse, and suicide on many Native American reservations. Visiting a reservation really is a cross-cultural experience, one that for many of us is only a few hours away. And yet, we often board a plane for missions before we think of these people groups who are our neighbors.

We stayed at AICM and spent our days on the Apache reservation working on a building for a new church plant in the rural area of Cibeque. Each evening we’d take the blue bus around the neighborhoods to pick up kids, tell them about Jesus, play with them and take them back home.

Now, depending on what part of the country you live in, when you hear church plant you might think of a group of 100 people meeting in a school auditorium, with a full worship service, child care, and a small staff. 

Not here.

Cibeque Christian Church has about 15 people. The pastor, Robert, worked for AICM before starting the church and isn’t trained beyond the Bible in his hand. There’s only one usable room in the church building and it has holes in the walls and the ceiling. The windows are boarded up. 
The front of the church building on our first day there
So we got to spend four days pressure washing, putting on siding, painting and priming, cleaning out sheds and emptying infested rooms. Four days loving on kids as much as we possibly could in time that was achingly escaping us.

We attended a service at this little church before we started working on the building, and I’m so glad we did. You could feel an energy in everyone’s work as we did as much as we could as quickly as we could to transform that church. We wanted to see the change.
A few of our students outside the church building on the first day
My husband is a youth pastor and he leads this trip. This was his third time at AICM but his first time bringing our crew along. It looked a little different.

Our one-year-old had to be strapped to us all day because he was too heavy to carry and it wasn’t safe for him to crawl around. We had to keep a constant eye on our determined three-year-old because of safety issues on the reservation. 
One of our students helps Josiah play with a ladybug
Gabriel is thrilled to "help"
It was frustrating for both of us at times to have such clear needs and tasks laid before us each day but to be limited by the demands of parenting. We wanted to get up on ladders and paint. We wanted to run around with the Apache kids without constantly having our own kids’ safety at the front of our minds.

We wanted to do the heavy lifting.

Nobody really needed us to do the heavy lifting, though. We had a big and amazing group. Everyone stepped up and worked hard. No one needed us to be at the front, leading the charge. It was what we wanted.

And being in the back, with a baby strapped to your chest and a preschooler who needs to go to the bathroom, can be a quiet, lonely place if you’re longing for the captain’s hat.

But it’s usually Jesus calling us to serve in the back as we race for the front lines, isn’t it? He’s softly asking us to do small things with grace and serve people quietly with love. We’re the ones who think that platforms and megaphones are the way to do good.

I imagine some people would suggest that we should have left our kids at home, rather than dealing with the complications and logistics that they brought to the mix. And if it was just about my own experience, then I think that would be good advice.

But I watched my son throwing a football with a boy from a different culture, with a radically different life and values. I urged him to play with other kids and share cars rather than isolate himself. I cheered him on as he carried debris to the dumpster wearing his Lightning McQueen work gloves and chanting “I think I can, I think I can!
Josiah plays cars with his new friend Filipe
Josiah and I get on the blue bus to pick up kids on the reservation
I saw Apache children watch with interest when I cared for my kids and interacted with my husband. And my son watched as I played with and held tight to kids who were dusty and sticky and rough around the edges.  For a week, my kids were taught to serve and love and have empathy. Not taught with words, but with action. And I hope — I pray — that the kids whose parents are anything but loving got to see more of Jesus because of our family. 

So it was an imperfect effort. We messed up and got in the way sometimes, our attitudes got off track and we didn’t always keep our cool. But God used it to continue training me in how to serve in the small things, and to remind me that loving my people is never an insignificant job. I pray that God will take our imperfect effort and use it to set a foundation of mission, empathy, and faith in action deep in my boys’ hearts. 

And if that was my mission all along, it was worthwhile.


My sweet friend Carmen on our last day

Do you have an experience with missions that impacted you? I'd love to hear about it!

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