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Posts Tagged ‘youth missions’

short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.
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20131124_155115Sherrylee and I have just finished spending most of the month of November in Europe, visiting mission sites and talking to some of the most committed Christian people in the world about how to accomplish more for His Kingdom and how to talk to more people about Jesus.

I was able to stop and write a couple of posts during this trip (“Writing An Alternate Religious History for Spain” and “Cathedrals or Storefronts—Does It Matter In Europe?”), but for the most part, we were moving too quickly and too often to generalize our thinking into blog writing.  I apologize for that, but sometimes it is more important to do the work than to write about it.  I know you will understand.

So you don’t know, for instance, that our 11-year-old granddaughter Anna joined us for the last nine days of our trip in Europe. She flew all the way from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, changing planes at DFW by herself! What a girl!

For almost a year now, she has known that it was her turn!  Sherrylee and I have made a commitment to take one of our grandkids with us each year as they become old enough to travel with us.  Three years ago, we took our oldest grandchild Cassidy (also 11 at the time) and then took her again the next year when she was 12.  Kellan would have been the next because he is three weeks older than Anna, but his parents were already taking him to Germany, so he will be invited next year.

But this is not a “let-us-show-you-Europe” trip, oh no!  This is a Mimi and Grandad’s mission trip and the grandkids are invited to join us in the work we are doing. We tell them from the very beginning that we are visiting with missionaries and attending mission conferences; we are not going to Disneyworld in Paris.

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 am, we met Anna at the Frankfurt airport. The airlines are excellent about handling unaccompanied minors, so she was really never unattended during her 24 hours of travel!  The kids just have to be brave enough and independent enough to handle the emotional distance from their parents, not the physical distance.  And Anna was great!

By noon, we were in the car driving to the Netherlands to visit our friends Hans and Ans van Erp, who were the family who invited LST first to Eindhoven in 1987 to help them plant a new church there.  This church is now one of the strongest churches of Christ in Europe.

Anna was especially eager to meet Hans and Ans (yes, we all love it that their names rhyme!). She reportedly told her sister before she left, “I’m going to meet Hans and Ans van Erp. They knew Mommy when she was my age and now they are going to get to know me too! 

Within the first four days that she was with us, we had visited with the van Erps, then the Reinhardts in Wunstorf, Germany, as well as the Roehrkasses, Bratchers, and Smelsors in Hildesheim, Germany.  All of these visits involved long conversations about their local works and how LST was working or could work together with them.  Anna was there for all the conversations—of course.

On Saturday after her arrival, we drove five hours to Rothenburg ob der Taube, Germany, for the Euro-American Retreat.  This was the 50th anniversary of this retreat, which this year brought 230 people from all over Europe together for worship, prayer, Bible study, and lots of fellowship.

We were there a little early because I was speaking at the opening service. There was a children’s program, but Mimi went and got Anna because she wanted her to hear Grandad “preach.”  Well, it’s just one more little memory that may be meaningful to her in her own Christian life, knowing that she is from a family of preachers and teachers! I was glad she was there.

Over the next three days, Anna participated in worship, was part of the children’s classes, hung out with a few of the younger teens who were so kind to include the almost-teens, and she helped the small children prepare for their program on Tuesday night in front of the whole assembly.

Does that sound like a European vacation to you?  Does that sound like your grandkids dream trip?  Well, it could be if they know how much being with other Christians and encouraging them means to you!!

Of course, we planned some tourist things for Anna.  Of course!  We took one day and went to Anne Frank’s house and museum in Amsterdam, then drove a few minutes over to Zaanse Schans and toured a chocolate factory and working windmills.  It was a cold, blustery northern European November day, but she loved it.

And to cap off her experience, we planned a London layover on the way home, which gave us half a day there.  We drove by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but got to tour the Tower of London.  The real treat for her was attending a performance of Phantom of the Opera because Anna herself is very musically gifted.

Take your grandkids with you when you plan your next mission trip!! Sure, you have to make a few adjustments, but you will plant seeds in them that may change them forever. If you haven’t read Cassidy’s recent post about her view of missions, you should stop and read that now!

If we left no other legacy than to have given our children——a vision of what they can do with their lives for God in gratitude for what He has done for them, that would be so much more of an inheritance than anything else we could leave behind.

Take your grandchildren with you when you do His work!  Don’t make it all about them; make it about Him!  Let them see what your greatest love is!

That’s the motivational part of this post.  Next, I’ll come back and share some tips with you on how to take your grandkids on a mission trip with you successfully.

It’s good to talk again!

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Clint Loveness, a friend and Let’s Start Talking participant has created a great story video that speaks about young people, video games, and missions. You probably want to share this with your teens and grandteens!  It’s just over four minutes, so click below and enjoy it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJGuAInoOlk

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Sherrylee and I have been traveling all day yesterday and today, visiting with LST board members and with LST leaders.  We are now in Santa Barbara—what a beautiful place—and finishing preparations to host an Intensive Training Weekend for several teams from Pepperdine University that begins tomorrow.

Intensive Training Weekends have been part of the LST training plan since the very beginning. The very first one was held in the winter of 1982. One of the team members had a cousin who had a “lake house” that they would make available to us.  My experience with lake houses was that they were luxurious recreational homes, usually in a resort-type setting.

This lake house was on Voss Lake in western Oklahoma, a man-made pond without a tree within 100 miles! The house did have plumbing, but it was separated from the main house, and the wind came whistling down the plains right through the outer walls of this lake house!  And it was in the single digits outside and sometimes in!

Nevertheless, we had a great time and most of the training elements that we still use would found their genesis at this first primitive retreat. We passed information about Germany to the team members, we did team building activities, we had very meaningful devotional time, and we built stronger relationships.

Thirty years later, our Intensive Training weekend is much better conceived, but quite similar to the original. Teams experience about 36 hours of LST project simulation, designed to help them understand who their team is, why they are going, and how they can have a successful mission project.

As team members come in the door, they are met by “customs officials,” who check their passports, their paperwork, and who see if they have brought too much luggage! At their orientation, they reset their watches to “LST Time”—about four hours later than local time—and the fun begins!

Because the teams are going overseas, no overhead projected songs are used for worship and  no checking email or texting is allowed; in addition,  a fifty-pound pink suitcase is awarded to teams that must carry  it around for a while, just to learn how heavy and burdensome too much luggage can be.

The highlight of the weekend may be the field training, when each team is given about fifteen tasks to accomplish on their own (This is why we try to get away from their home city, so that they will be unfamiliar with local sites and resources). They may be asked to interview a stranger and ask them what people in their country think about Jesus. They likely have to find out how much it costs to take public transportation for the retreat center to the local airport, or they may have to find the address and phone number of the nearest American embassy—without using the internet.  Every task has some parallel to either a task or decision that the team might be confronted with on the mission field.

They have a very small budget for lunch and they have to all agree on what they will eat. They also have to all try some food that they have never eaten before. It’s all fun, but it’s also a little challenging.

As the hosts of the weekend, we are not only hoping to create an environment where teams get to know each other better, where they catch the LST spirit (which we pray is the same as the Spirit of Christ), but we hope also to  observe which teams might have issues.

For instance, one year, a student arrived at the weekend who had totally disregarded the luggage limit that we had imposed.  When he was told that some of his stuff was going to be “confiscated,” he got angry and left!  Better to deal with that kind of spirit in training than have the same spirit create an incident with the mission church in some foreign country!

We often have interpersonal team issues that have been mostly ignored when people are not together every day, but that surface pretty quickly under the pressure of sitting together, eating together, and sleeping in the same room in sleeping bags on the floor of a church building together. Better to deal with them here than in the pressure cooker of the mission field.

At most of our Intensive Training weekends for students, we gather at 6am on Sunday (10am LST time!) for multi-cultural worship. We start with a Herzlich Wilkommen, and then proceed to a song in Portuguese.  Scripture may be read in Spanish, followed by a prayer in Japanese.  At some point, where we can arrange it, someone preaches for 10-15 minutes in a foreign language, followed by an English explanation of the lesson.

Communion is often taken by coming to the front as a team, praying with your arms around each other, sometimes sharing one cup—or a few! This hour is precious and one that impacts everyone!

The only major element of the weekend that I have not described is our session on Expectations and Commitments. That particular session comes with so many stories that it deserves its own post!

Look for the next post on “Stories Behind the Expectations and Commitments”.

 

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A couple of days ago, I asked you to help me with word choice for a revision of what we used to call “Guidelines.”  I received many good suggestions, so I thought you might like to see what the current final product is.

I went with Expectations, which was by far the most popular suggestion.  I like expectations too because it carries some weight while not feeling as negative or authoritarian as rules. Several suggested great words like covenant and promises, but expectations won!

I don’t know when the idea of a two-part entry hit me, but I thought it might be helpful to separate the principle from the concrete actions. By separating these, it certainly allows us to appeal to the principle even if a corresponding action has not been mentioned specifically.  We were desperately trying to avoid any attempt to capture every possible situation or every possible disruptive action that might occur on an LST project. We did not want to become Scribes and  Pharisees!

Feel free to ask questions or comment on any of these expectations and commitments. There is a story behind each one. If you will apply to go on an LST project, you will get to hear the story, though I suspect if you read enough of these blog posts, you will hear the stories as well.

EXPECTATIONS AND COMMITMENTS!

 

EXPECTATIONS COMMITMENTS
1)      God first! 1) I will begin each day with my team devotional and put God first in all I do and say!
2) Put others before Yourself! 2) I will put the needs of my project first and my teammates next. I will not insist on my way!
3) Be affirming, not critical. 3) I will affirm my missionary, my team members, and the local church. I will not criticize, correct, or debate with anyone, either in person, or in my communication to people at home!

 

4) Serve those you came to serve 4) I will not use electronic access to keep me from engaging and serving. I will not be distracted or disengage from the project to which I have committed.
5) Develop spiritual relationships 5) I will not get involved romantically in any way with anyone. All relationships will be pure and not perverse, chaste and within God’s boundaries for single and married Christians.
6) Adapt in culturally appropriate ways.

 

6) I will dress, speak, and act in ways that the host church holds to be spiritually and culturally appropriate
7) Protect the integrity of your testimony! 7) I will abstain from tobacco, alcoholic drinks, illegal drugs, bars, discos, nightclubs, and any other activity or situation which I, my team, LST, or the host church believes will diminish my witness for Christ.
8  Be responsible for yourself! 8  I will make only myself legally, financially, and morally responsible for my own actions, and I will not blame others.
9) Submit to the local host. 9) I will cooperate completely with the local host. I will bring all Readers asking about salvation to the local host, and I will only help local people financially through the local host, so that the most good can be accomplished. I will not try to be independent of the local host.
10) Submit to the Let’s Start Talking Ministry I will cooperate fully with the Let’s Start Talking Ministry by following the letter and the spirit of these expectations, as well as all other instructions given by LST. I will not commit LST funds, LST teams, or the LST ministry unless specifically authorized.

 

 

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We were sitting with friends last night and talking about mission trips–probably no surprise to you!  They are a family of four, with a boy of six and a girl of four.  This couple is very active in their local church, but also have a heart for foreign missions, so the dad asked me what I thought was a good age for their children to actually go abroad.

Great question, Dad! And the right question!  Let me try to answer it with a variety of insights for all of you whose children might be of very different ages.  Let me just say that I will be talking about mission projects like Let’s Start Talking projects that have always been pretty family friendly in that workers

  • go to one place and stay there for the duration of their mission project,
  • they have a pretty regularly scheduled day,
  • they are usually housed independently,
  • they are working with people in a pretty contained environment, and
  • they have a certain degree of control over their eating arrangements

Of course, if you are going on another type of mission project, you will have to weigh all of those factors in order to make your decision.

I don’t think there is a too young! Parents who take their very infant to school age children–and we have many–have great experiences that shape their children, even though the kids themselves will only have the vaguest memories of the actual trip.  What they remember though are the pictures you take and the fact that they have been to Japan or Germany or Argentina! And they have a passport!

Here’s how some parents with very young children make this possible!

  • The parents each work half with the children and half with the mission project. Of course, I would argue strongly that each parent is working full-time with two different mission projects, if you see your children as the most important mission God has given you!
  • Many parents recruit an older teen or college student to go with them as their helper. The helper gets to do some of the mission project too, but is mostly responsible for helping with the children.
  • Some families travel with other families with children and share the fun!
  • Many families recruit grandparents to go with them and be a part of the mission with the children. (I especially like this one!)
  • Sometimes both parents can’t go, so then the single parent definitely will need a helper–but he/she can still make it work!

Elementary school-aged children make the very best mission partners! They are independent enough not to need your constant attention, but still eager enough to please you that they really want to be a part of what you do!  This is perhaps the most impressionable time in their lives–and they will remember almost everything they do.  They can’t really “work” a full day, but they will be just fine if you can give them a couple of hours of good attention each day!  Here are some special ideas for elementary-aged children

  • They can accept certain “tasks” as their responsibility and this makes them feel like part of the mission!  I’m talking about things like playing with children that might come with their parents to your project, or even telling younger children Bible stories–not all day, but certainly some time spent “working” will be just what they want.
  • Playing with or spending time with the local missionary’s children. Forget about language barriers; children hardly even notice language differences.
  • They especially love preparing for parties or social events. If you need name tags or something special, perhaps your kids can help you make it.
  • Giving them private chronicling tasks, like journaling or creating a picture album of their mission, whether by drawings or a simple camera is something that helps make their mission project meaningful!

Teenagers are the hardest age–only because they have a mind of their own–which is, of course, what you are wanting for them–someday! Younger teens can be great mission partners. Until they are 14 or so, they probably want to work right beside you on your mission project–and you should let them.  But, by 15 and later, the mission project is competing with summer fun with their friends, Bible camp, summer school, summer sports activities–just lots of stuff, and I think you need to respect their needs, not just assume that they will continue to be ready to go whenever you call.  Here are some points to remember:

  • Teens are not the center of the universe even though they think they are! You can still set their agenda, but you may have to negotiate it instead of dictating it. This means something like what we did with our kids at this age: you have to spend six weeks with us in Europe, but we will send you to camp for four of those weeks.  Or you can stay home for two weeks with your cousins, then you can go to soccer camp for two weeks, but then you join us for the last three weeks.  Everyone needs to learn to compromise–teens and parents.!
  • Sometimes all it takes with teens is letting them have their best friend go with them!  Why not?
  • Whether at home or abroad, teens may think they are adults, but they are not, so don’t expect them to be! Once when Emily was about 16, she was staying with her brothers (18 & 20) at home for a week or two before we arrived home. Naturally, all kinds of household disasters happened: the dog chewed up the curtains and tore down a door trying to get to a bird that had come down the chimney, a squirrel got into the house and wreaked havoc, and then the hot water heater in an upstairs closet sprang a leak and dripped down through the ceiling. Emily called us in tears and said, “Please come home. I don’t want to be responsible any more!”  Of course not!

The best answer I can give you about when to take your children on mission projects is to start with them as young as you can and go often! The absolute worst answer is to wait until they are older and will appreciate it!  I promise you they will appreciate it when they are teenagers so much more, if they have already fallen in love with it as children.

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Being afraid of foreign things is part of the Fall, I suspect. I know that we have encountered this same fear in children all over the world.  In Africa, the little children who have never seen a white person run away crying. In Japan, the little children cautiously want to touch our “round” eyes.  The Chinese can’t keep their hands off the blonde hair of some American children.  If we want our children to have a heart for the mission of God, then we have to begin helping them not be afraid or put off by foreign things.

In fact, what would happen if they loved foreign things? God so loved the world . . . which was very foreign, so perhaps learning to love foreign things is learning to be more godly!

Here are a few ideas for you to help your kids (and yourself) love the world—the whole world, not just your small corner of it!

  • Never talk disparagingly about foreigners and foreign things! We all know that prejudice and bigotry are passed on from generation to generation, but sometimes only very subtly.  You don’t have to wear a white cap and robe to teach your children to be racists.  Just your typical racial jokes or stereotyping will suffice. The same with their attitude toward foreigners. What do you say about the men who cut your grass or the teaching assistant that is difficult to understand? What do you say about foreign cars, foreign athletes—even about immigration issues?
  • Expose your young children to foreign foods. Instead of just Happy Meals and hamburgers, take your kids for a gyro sandwich on pita. Some of our grandkids like Sushi (I don’t), but all of them think that the Hibachi steakhouse is the best treat ever for special occasions. Our son’s family found a German deli where they could buy Brötchen and other German things, so we had a very fun German breakfast together one morning!  Take your pick from all the countries of the world and explore their foods. Remember, they are all going to be at the banquet of the Lamb!
  • Encourage your children to start learning other languages as early as possible. I love that Dora the Explorer and other kid shows expose the pre-schoolers to Spanish. Did you know that only about 1/3 of American children take any foreign language in school!  No wonder we are internationally illiterate. I just read that 200 million Chinese children are learning English and only 24,000 American children are learning Chinese.  Who do you think will influence whom in the future?  For us Christians, the question is not political; it is who will share their heart for/against God with whom?
  • Watch foreign movies! (Now I’ve really crossed a line, haven’t I !!) With all the rental possibilities now, you have access to children’s movies from around the world. Yes, they may be subtitled, but unless you make a big deal out of that, your children won’t.  Maybe start with films from England or India in English. There are also cartoons. Sure they are different—that’s what foreignness is!!  You might even try some yourself!
  • Look for schools that offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program! The IB program, which is an internationally recognized curriculum, is gaining some popularity in the U.S,  You do find it in public schools as well as private schools.
  • Give your child an early experience abroad—anywhere! Lots of soccer teams, choirs, bands, etc. are doing international trips. Encourage this. Of course, a mission trip would be even better.
  • The absolutely best thing you can do is to take your children with you overseas—especially on a mission trip. The combination of watching the people they love and admire the most, interacting with foreign people and foreign situations, together with their own unique opportunities to experience foreignness are the best heart-forming experiences hands down!

I do need to warn you that loving foreign things is not very American—to our own shame! I do believe, however, that it is very Christian.  Perhaps we should take Paul’s words more seriously when searching our own hearts to discern our attitudes toward foreigners:

“Remember that at that time you were separate . . . excluded from citizenship  . . . and foreigners . . . But now you who once were far away  have been brought near through the blood of Christ . . . .Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people!” (Ephesians 2:12-19).

As God loved us foreigners, so we should love other foreigners—and teach our kids to do so also. By doing so, we will certainly see a heart for the mission of God grow in them.

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