Mission vacation. Can we combine the two? Certainly. I don’t mean moving in with missionaries and expecting them to host guests who want to play. Nor am I suggesting we must avoid Yellowstone or the many sites in Orlando in favor of work. But perhaps we should make room for both mission and vacation. Along with our families we can see the world and serve people as we have fulfilling, rewarding, and memorable times together. It’s a way to make missions a way of life.
Several years ago, our family spent one month volunteering at a hospital in Kenya, East Africa. My husband, Stan, and I worked in the dental clinic. Stan felt God’s presence as he had to break the news to a patient about her terminal illness—a new experience for him. I learned that I had not really surrendered at all—as I had sung so many times in the comfortable church services at home. The hardships of this trip forced me to reevaluate my commitment to the Lord and His calling on my life. I wanted to feel significant. I wanted the people to need me. I found out instead how much I needed God to change me.
Grace, age 18: I have volunteered at an American hospital and now work in a doctor’s office, so I felt as if I could really be of help. It was frustrating to me the first few days after our arrival at the Kenya hospital because they were not sure of a job for me. The first two days I spent sitting in a garage-like room rolling up old sheets that would be used for bandages. I believe the Lord used this time to test me. I was willing to come to a hospital and do things I thought would be interesting and, for a nursing student, fun. But the Lord placed me all by myself in the storage room with boxes of old sheets. He asked me why I had come on this trip. Was it because my family came? Was it because I’m always up for an adventure? Or was it because I really wanted to serve Him?
Sitting by yourself for two days can really make you look at your life and evaluate why you exist. After those two days, I told the Lord if I did nothing more glamorous than rolling sheets on this trip, I would be perfectly happy. I realized how much importance I had placed on being successful in school and in all my activities. I thought about how I would feel if I never achieved any of the things I thought would be ideal for my life. I realized what really mattered and committed to the Lord that whatever He had planned for my life was just fine with me.
Catie, 21: My journey began with a hand injury. As a piano major, I found this affected most of my school work. The following summer I went to Kenya for a month. While there I worked in the hospital pharmacy since I am a pharmacy technician. As I worked there and saw what a need they had for pharmacists, I began to think about pharmacy school. I had seriously considered it in high school and had always had some interest in medicine, but had decided to go with music. The more I thought about pharmacy, the more I realized what was happening. I heard God calling me to pharmacy school.
In Africa without a television or radio, I had time to think. As I sat in the quiet for several hours, I was able to see how God was changing my heart. When I arrived back in the U.S., I made all the arrangements to leave my former university and attend a community college to prepare for pharmacy school. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. Would I have heard the calling and voice of God if not for the trip to Africa?
Where Do You Start?
Start the idea of mission and service at home. My nineteen-month-old began learning to serve when I came home from the hospital with her new sister. I needed her help. She had her first experience with serving, and she loved it. When my girls grew older, we delivered Meals on Wheels as well as food to families during times of sickness or loss. The girls helped volunteer in church in various capacities and during their early teens helped in the children’s Sunday school classes and VBS. As older teens they went with their youth group to the Navajo Reservation to help construct a building. Our family helps every summer with VBS for an inner-city community in Dallas. One summer we helped with the Summer Medical Institute in Harlingen, Texas. Start small and close to home. We learned lessons at each stage and God built on those as we progressed spiritually as individuals and as a family. The trips got longer and farther away from home as our children grew.
Whom to Include
Any family can do mission vacations. You may have one child or six or ten, but you can still go as a family on mission. Sometimes Dad can go with the older siblings while Mom stays home with babies or vice versa. During the teen years, a mission trip with one parent may make the difference in the life of a son of daughter.
Where to Go
Do you need to go next door or around the world as you share the love of Christ? God uses willing and obedient people. Look where you believe He could best use your family. What gifts and talents has He given you? Can you build homes? Are you a plumber or electrician? Are you in the medical field? Do you enjoy working with children? How much time do you have? What does your budget allow? Considering all these will help you decide on a destination.
How to Prepare Pray. Pray. Then pray some more.
Besides considering large mission agencies, look close to home. Check at your own church and get in touch with your church’s missionaries. Talk with people you know. Contact churches in your community that organize mission trips and allow non-members to go along. Go on-line and look into the mission organizations that welcome families. You may find many.
Look at your calendar. For an overseas trip, you may need to start a year ahead of the time. But think about places your family would like to see. Do you have a heart for Native Americans? Plan a trip to the American Southwest. If you want to see the Grand Canyon, plan an extra day or two at the beginning or end of the trip to sight-see. We spent one day in England on the way to Africa and a weekend at a safari club while in Kenya.
After you decide on a church group or mission agency, a time, and a place, tell your friends and family. Ask for their prayers and, if needed, their support. We sent out a letter about our intentions to go to Tenwek Hospital in Africa. We had prayer support through every stage of the planning as well as during the trip, and we also received funds to make it all possible.
Consider Your Skills
Can you speak Spanish? Look for a mission to Central America and take a day to see the ancient ruins and walk on the beach. What does your family love? What people group do you have a heart for? It may take you across town or around the world.
Many organizations work with medical personnel, but these trips need additional support members, too. So don’t discount a group just because you lack medical training. The hospital in Kenya where we volunteered had a family come to stay for a month. The father worked as an architect to help design additions to the building. The mother helped in the community health clinic. She and the children helped paint signs, and they all visited the elementary school and read to the children. Others helped design and build water purifiers. Someone has to cook for volunteers, and someone has to clean. The inner-city mission trips here in the states need teachers, musicians, plumbers, electricians—everything. Just remember, no limits exist on what type of service you can provide.
Homemaker Pam Cobb, who attended DTS, is married to alum Stan Cobb, DDS, a regional director with the Christian Medical and Dental Association. She resides in Dallas, Texas.