10 Things I Learned on Our First Family Mission Trip
Last week, I asked you to pray for our family as we left on our first mission trip together. I know many of you did, and I’m very grateful. We went with a team from our church to Marion, AR, (the same place BookGirl and my husband went in October of last year) where we assisted the same church we have worked with for three years now. They hosted a lot of back-to-school activities over the weekend, including a clothing giveaway, a back-to-school celebration (including hot dogs and bounce houses), and a school supplies giveaway. They also partner with some other churches and non-profit organizations several times a year to do food distribution in partnership with Mid-South Food Bank, and we helped with that on Friday morning. (The food distribution was my kids’ favorite part!)
It was a busy few days, and we learned a lot—about serving others and alongside one another.
- It is critical to have a team leader who is flexible. We had three kids 11 and under on the mission team, and two of them were mine. We may have made a couple more bathroom stops than we would have if only teens and adults were traveling, but our team leader took it all in stride. He also handled other situations well, but I’ll get to those later.
- It is critical to be flexible yourself. I can’t count the number of times our plans were changed at the last minute—or even in the middle of an activity. When you’re serving others and are trying to do what they want or need to have done, you just have to go with the flow. For my very rigid thinker, this was a difficult concept to grasp. We had multiple near-meltdowns with her because the plans kept changing constantly.
- Take snacks. Because our plans changed so frequently, our meals kept getting spaced farther and farther apart. I was thankful we had packed snacks to take with us! I thought the kids would be the only ones who needed them, but DH and I ended up eating them too, and we shared with other team members!
- Be prepared to be humbled. I lost count of how many times I was reminded of how blessed we really are and how content we should be with what we have, or was touched by an interaction with one of the residents of the community we were serving.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Fortunately, I took comfortable shoes, and I’m so thankful I did. We were on our feet a lot more than I normally am in a day. It actually reminded me of how I felt in the first week of school when I was a classroom teacher.
- Be prepared for inclement weather. We had a lot of outdoor activities planned, and we didn’t always have the option of going to Plan B. Some events (like the food distribution) had to happen at the scheduled time, regardless of weather. It helps if your comfortable shoes are water resistant, your hair is low maintenance, and your clothes are dark (especially if it rains). The only thing we could really do was stop and buy ponchos for the entire team. We did, and we used them.
- Don’t get discouraged by the immediate results. During the food distribution, we served over 650 families. It was easy to see we were making an impact. During some of the other activities, we had a very small turnout, despite our having divided up on Thursday night to distribute invitations all over the neighborhood. I know the impact we have will go on for longer than just the few days we were there, but it was discouraging—until the pastor of the church we were helping told us that he had already had some breakthrough conversations with some of the adults in the community and thanked us for watching the kids on the bounce houses so those conversations could take place.
- Plan a day of rest upon your return. For some reason (probably based on the original schedule we were given for this trip, which didn’t pan out, as I mentioned above), I thought we would get more sleep on the mission trip than we did at church camp a month ago. We didn’t. I’m thankful that we were able to have a day to rest and recuperate when we got home before we had to jump back into our regular schedule. Next time I’ll kn0w to plan for one.
- You get to know people better. While we were there to minister to others and spend time with them, we also spent a lot of time together as a mission team, traveling, eating, and working alongside each other. It was a blessing to get to know some of our church members better. I had worked with some of them in the children’s ministry before, but I hadn’t ever spent this much time interacting with them. It was a great experience.
- Hold everything loosely. Because of multiple changes to the schedule, we were already learning to hold our time and sleep loosely, but we got another lesson in holding things loosely when one of the vehicles we were traveling in was broken into while we ate lunch before heading home on Saturday. Some of our bags were stolen, along with some pretty important contents. We were also robbed of our time because the process of getting a police report done, checking security camera footage, calls to cancel credit and debit cards, etc. put us over four hours behind on getting back home. We worked together as a team, prayed each other through, and finally made it home at 11:15 pm.
What have you learned while on a mission trip or doing volunteer work?