“I want to go on a short-term missions trip to Zambia.”
What would rush through your parents’ minds if you said that?
Unless you’ve had kids of your own you’ll likely have a hard time experiencing the mix of emotions your parent may feel—pride, shock, twitch-inducing uncertainty.
What about your feelings? If the thought of telling your parents about a mission trip puts makes your heart plummet, how could you approach it?
They will want to talk it over with you, likely without a crowd, so you can process your dream with them. Part of honoring and respecting their commitment to you involves taking the time to talk with them alone and honestly asking for their input.
So, announcing to your parents that you’re going on an overseas mission trip while in your aunt’s dining room over Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t qualify as a good start. What does?
Pray first. Pray like you’re going into an organic chemistry test, only with this you have a decent chance. You could even ask your parents to pray together about the trip. They may be honored to have you ask.
Any international trip contains the makings of potential snags and snafus. Writing down and praying through potential issues will allow you to keep God foremost in your thinking and see Him work.
When your parents ask questions, you’ll want to provide details, not just say, “I’m trusting God with this.” Before you get too far, try to learn some basics about the trip:
Cost: Have a clear picture. If the trip costs three thousand dollars, will that include airfare, housing and food while you’re there?
Paying for the trip: Where will that money come from? You may want to make clear that you’re not expecting money from your parents or getting set to drain your savings. Your mom isn’t raising your support for you. You’re responsible, but you’ll be getting help. Ministries such as The Navigators orient you and train you in relationship-based fundraising and other tools you can use for the rest of your life.
Foregoing income: You could be giving up weeks of income, or at least additional training in your field, such as an internship. One way to honor your parents, especially if college costs are an issue: Line up as many work hours as you can before and after your trip, so that you can still make money over the summer.
Even if you’ve worked part of the summer, you can admit that there will be short-term costs. On the other hand, you may find that like Navigator mission trip veteran Bradley* your future employers will welcome your overseas experience:
“More than the tangible results, cross-cultural experiences overseas show that you have experience interacting with people from different viewpoints and world views. I think that the growth gained in adaptability, empathy, and communication skills are all things that any serious employer would be impressed by and directly looking for. These are things that I emphasized in my interviews.”
Yes, you may give up some income for the summer, but you’ll gain international experience. You’ll know where the Black Sea is on a map! More to the point, you will have crossed cultures and given yourself a leg up when you go for job and internship interviews, especially for companies that employ internationals or maintain international offices.
Trip leaders: Who’s organizing the trip? Call them to see who’s leading the trip and give that person a heads-up that you or your parent may be calling with questions. Knowing that someone older with more experience will be leading your trip could alleviate some concerns.
Safety: You may want to know how your sending organization prepares trip members for real and potential threats to safety and well-being. They should offer some form of team training and support prior to the trip. The Navigators and other groups have a crisis management team in place for emergencies.
What you’ll be doing with your team: You should have a description of the trip’s purpose and leaders who will help your team succeed. Many short-term trips are well established, with in-country hosts who know how to help American trip members add value to the local ministry. You can check with the sending organization to see if their short-term trips are shepherded by people who lead ministries, have spent time overseas, or both.
Your motives: What reasons do you have for going overseas? Your heart for God and others may come through most clearly if you simply talk about how your spiritual journey has led to this trip. You might add your understanding of the need, even a story that motivates you to go to the nations—but don’t preach. If you’re going simply for adventure, be ready for the logical question, “Why can’t that wait?”
From clapping at your first steps until they hauled your clothes into your first dorm room, your parents have looked out for you. They wondered if you will make it home safely after a road trip with your friends. They fretted over your health when you caught the flu. They fidgeted over your test scores and what college doors they may open. They wonder and worry about you, and you want to honor them (Exodus 20:12, Matthew 18:19).
Thoughtful parents informed about a mission trip can generate dozens of questions instantly. Whether your parents are together or apart, each of them may want to process this in a different way. One may welcome that you want to strike out on your own. The other may fear for your safety. Both may have financial concerns.
If your parents don’t follow Jesus, how can your attitude about this trip be a testimony to them? God’s Word says to honor “your parents,” not “your believing parents.” Your approach to communication, your faith and persistence in fundraising, and your heart for helping others can speak volumes to your father or mother. Keep in mind that they love you like crazy and want the best for you.
If your parent believes in God and knows about missions, that won’t keep him or her from wondering about what could happen to you. In that case, they may ask (along with other questions), “How does this fit into following God?” or “Do I have enough faith to allow my kid to take this risk?” (By the way, their questions are their questions. You don’t need to grill them on whether or not they have the faith to let you go.)
You may have been mulling over a mission trip for a long time. Give your parents time to think about it too. If you simply declare your intention of flying to an unpronounceable country with people they don’t know, how would you expect them to react? Before you gear up to explain that you’re a responsible adult, fully capable of making your own decisions, try listening to them.
In whatever way they process this new idea, your parents will appreciate being given the time to think it through and your availability to talk it through.
You’ll have limited success with the question, “I want to go on this mission trip and my application is due tonight at midnight—can I go?” To give your parents the opportunity to think and discuss a trip, ask them questions early in the process, even when you start considering your mission trip. Your parents will appreciate the time to process with you. You could ask them things like:
Approaching the first discussion of your trip by saying, “I’m going…” is far different from bringing your parents into the decision. After explaining what you want to do, ask them questions, putting their concerns and interests above your own (Philippians 2:3-4). Consider questions like these:
Because of their own experiences in life, your parents probably will consider some things that you haven’t. Do your best to respect them and their point of view, even their objections, throughout the conversation. Acknowledge that they have a more experienced point of view—and that they care about you!
You’ll want to talk this through as well as any big decision you’ve ever made. If you’re in long-term discussions about your trip and your heart for God, your mission trip could prove to be a developmental experience for both you and your parents.
As you’re mining information about your destination country, your parents may be doing their own research. By keeping in touch with them about your trip, you’ll know what they’re learning.
Mission trips often involve fundraising. You could use their help thinking of likely supporters who will be glad to help send you on your way to the mission field, even people you’ve not considered.
Tell your parents early and often how much you appreciate them. (Not a bad idea anytime!)
Pray that God would use your trip in their lives to draw them closer to Him and His heart for the world.
Whatever you do, honor your parents. Even if after weeks of discussion they flatly refuse to let you go on this trip, are you willing to stay home? Your relationship with your parents holds more value than any single missions trip.
Assuming you go, keep talking about it when you get home. Your parents may surprise you with their capacity for learning!
* Name changed because he served in a sensitive location.