I wrote last week about the wonderful experience we had with our granddaughter Anna the last week we were in Europe for LST. Again, taking your grandkids with you when you do mission work is truly a formative memory for them. You can leave them no greater legacy than to show them what faithfully doing God’s work can be.
But there are some tips I can give you for making your trip more rewarding for both you and your grandchildren. Let me just say that Sherrylee and I took our three children with us every summer of their lives until they were college-aged, we have sent many other families with children through LST, and now we have begun taking grandkids with us, so we have lots of experience to share with you.
Tip #1 - Make sure they are old enough. If they are your own children, you can take them at every age, but for grandkids, they need to be able to function for an extended time away from their parents. In my experience, 11 or 12-years-old is about as early as you want to start. In fact you have a window between 11 and 14 when it is probably ideal.
- They may need to be old enough to fly by themselves. Our two granddaughters both flew individually as unaccompanied minors across the Atlantic by themselves. Of course, a flight attendant always escorts them on and off the plane, but they still had to negotiate the nine-hour flight on their own.
- At this age, they should be able to entertain themselves (reading, listening to music, video games, etc) when you are busy, but they can also visit with and relate to adults—especially at meals.
- They also are old enough to try new foods—more or less—and when they don’t like what is served, they don’t make a big fuss, but wait until later to catch up.
- They are old enough to understand and manage their own jetlag.
- They are old enough to want to make their own memories, by taking pictures, keeping a journal, or collecting postcards.
- They are old enough to carry their own luggage and keep up with their own things. (If you teach them to travel light, this shouldn’t be a problem.)
Tip #2 - Make your plans early enough
- Their Mom and Dad need to be fully on board with the plans, of course.
- Determine early on who is going to pay for what. With ours, the parents paid for the flights and the extra site-seeing costs. We provided ground transportation, lodging, and most meals. Since the kids slept in the room with us, that was rarely an extra expense. Since we almost always rent a car and drive ourselves, that too was no extra expense. And until they are teens, they really don’t eat that much either.
Tip #3 - Make sure everybody knows and understands that it is a mission trip and that the work comes first!
- For our gkids, that means that they travel on our itinerary to places we must go and they see the people that we need to see. Our time with them is not built around showing them Europe.
Tip #4 – Of course you try to squeeze into the schedule something especially interesting for the gkids.
- For our first foray with a grandkid, we spent an hour in Ghent, walking the pedestrian zone before our meeting with the missionaries. Then we stopped at the Heidelberg castle for a walk on the grounds, not even a tour, on our way to the airport in Frankfurt the day before we flew back. The next year with her we planned one day out of eight for an outing in Paris.
- This year we planned one day out of nine for sightseeing, so we drove to Amsterdam and saw Anne Frank’s house and museum and then went to Zaanse Schans (about 30 minutes further down the road) to a chocolate museum and an open air dutch village full of working windmills. The one other touristy thing we did with her was the Night watchman tour one afternoon in Rothenburg, where we were attending the Euro-American conference for three days.
- You can sometimes get free layovers in London or other great sight-seeing places either going or coming home. We did that this year, which gave us half a day and an evening in London. We just saw the London Tower and Phantom—but she loved it.
- Of course these were all fun and special for them, but I hope you can see that we made a balanced effort to do something special for the kids, while not really taking anything away from the work we were there to do.
Tip #5 - Don’t be afraid to go one on one with your grandkid!
- We are tempted sometimes to take two at a time, or to let them invite a friend—but I’d suggest you resist that and just take one! Each one will have their own story then, and you will know that you have made an impact on that one child’s life. If they are alone with you, then your experiences together will be yours. If they have another friend with them, you will lose many of those special moments you might have had.
Tip #6 – Give them something meaningful to do!
- Regardless of the kind of mission trip you are doing, find something meaningful that your grandchild can do. On LST projects, they often read the Gospel with other children. Or they entertain smaller children while the parents read. On our trip this year, we attended a missions conference, so Anna not only participated in the youth program, but she helped work with the younger children. Meaningful is the key word here. Even children know when they are just being given busy work or when they are just accessories.
Tip #7 – Help them remember!
- With our oldest grandchild, we talked a lot of history as we drove. We told her all about the Reformation and World War II. Since we’ve returned, we’ve “reminded” her of some of those conversations, even occasionally giving her a little something to remind her of something we talked about. Just keeping memories alive.
- With our next grandchild that we took this year, our experience was completely different in that while we drove around, we played “Who Came First” with Bible characters, and we sang and sang and sang. I’m thinking about making her a Playlist of “Songs We Sang in Germany” or something like that to help her remember.
- In addition, for both of them, we have given them a photobook with our pictures of them and their activities with us—all the good times! I’m pretty convinced that most of our childhood memories are directly from pictures that we have seen over and over again. These photobooks are a very inexpensive way of capturing those memories and giving them to our grandkids in a more permanent and accessible medium than anything digital.
Just do it! If you put God first, and just enjoy the grandkids, it will be a great experience for both of you!