Very few comments made by high school seniors and college students can scare parents more than when they announce they have plans to go on a medical mission and travel to Guatemala, spend a few weeks in Rwanda with orphan kids, or go to Indonesia to minister to girls involved in the tragic and pathetic sex trade. As they share their excitement and enthusiasm for their hopeful venture, parents shudder with nervousness about all the potential hazards of travel as their child’s first campaign to “fly the coop” and “make a difference” silently fade to the background as all the reasons they shouldn’t go come to a parent’s mind, shouting, “We can’t let this happen!”
Moms and Dads, when your child comes to you with plans to launch out and change the world, I would encourage you to consider what your child is actually asking, and reflect on this potential opportunity that is set before your family to affirm those character traits and values that you have spent years building into the moral fabric of your son or daughter. This may be the opportunity that you have practiced for all your life, so be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Instead of thinking about all the reasons your child shouldn’t go, think of all that might be accomplished by giving your stamp of approval on what was first thought to be a bad idea. Realize that this may be a wonderful opportunity. Consider these things.
They want to make a make an impact. They want to fly and use the tools that you have given them. They see a mission trip to a foreign country as a new adventure, an excursion of excitement and intrigue, and an opportunity to travel and see the world. They have a sense of compassion because you have built it into their life. They want to “go and make disciples” because you have shared with them the truth of scripture. They want to help, because they have seen you help others. Their longing is one that has been instilled in their life, because of your influence on their life. And, because “their” world is more global than the world of teens ten years ago, distance or travel is no longer a barrier that limits their dreams or passion.
I always encourage parents to trust a couple of sure things as they release their kids to the world. First, trust what you have taught them. All the seeds that you have sown into their life will come to completion. Scripture reminds us that God will “bring to completion” that which He has started. And scripture reminds us (and encourages us) to not grow weary in doing good, for in due time you (a parent) will reap if you surely sow. Your “sowing” is not in vain. A parent must trust what they have done, in hopes that a harvest will come later in the life of their child.
Second, parents must trust that God, who brought their child into this life, will continue to be involved in the life of their child. The promise in scripture that tells us that He will never leave or forsake one of His own is a promise that applies to our children.
Now, I’m not saying that we should allow our twelve-year-old daughter to travel to western Africa to dig water wells. Nor am I encouraging any parent to throw caution to the wind. But I am saying that perhaps because our twelve year old will become that eighteen or nineteen year old young lady that might, one day, want to travel and “change the world” that we, as parents, not only teach, but train our kids to have the tools to accomplish their dreams when they come of age to be able to do so.
For all parents of tweens and teens, are you training your child to fulfill the great commission as it applies to their life? Are you working on them becoming independent? Are you helping them make good decisions, and training them to be able to do so, when the consequences of making poor decisions becomes more and more potentially life changing as the years pass? Are you training your child about finances? How to handle stress? How to deal with disappointment? How to not be influenced by people who have no interest in the wellbeing of your child? How to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow anger? How to take the scripture they know and apply it to the life they will be required to live? These are all parenting goals to make sure your child is ready to fulfill the call of God on their life when He decides to call them to the task He has set before them.
And what if you haven’t trained them for a trip or adventure? Then this “trip” they’re wanting to take might just be the opportunity for them to have a crash course on some pretty valuable character traits that need to be developed in their life. I would rather have a young person learn these valuable lessons on the mission field under the guidance of a mission director and an organization that can teach some principles that were missed during their younger years, than have them learn these lessons on their own without someone speaking truth into their life when they need it the most.
If you’re like me, you receive plenty of requests from folks wanting to experience the mission field; and wanting me to financially help them change the world. Well, this is what I’ve found. The lives changed on these mission trips are not always the ones touched by the child who goes to change the world. The lives who are truly changed are the ones who “go” and have their lives touched by the hand of God who uses a mission trip to affirm those qualities parents have been building into their child’s life. They learn about the needs of others. Their heart is moved with compassion, instilled by a Mom and a Dad, and fueled by interactions with people in another country, in another culture, living a life far different than the way they were raised. And there is a change. It’s a change that will one day change the world.
They learn to embrace the blessings of their life and the plenty that their family has provided while developing a thankfulness for their possessions and circumstances, countering the effects of a selfish and entitled culture in which they live. I believe they make a connection with the very heart of God and capture His vision for all people. They find the significance they desire, the impact they long for, and the feeling that their life does indeed matter, thus motivating them to further His Kingdom. All because of a trip abroad, a trip to see another culture, and a trip dedicated to change the world of your child. These trips are profitable for all involved and help your child…your young adult…find the significance for life that only a God of love can provide.
Moms and Dads, don’t miss out on the opportunity set before your child. In Moses’ words to the Pharaoh, God would beckon you as a parent to “let my people go!”
Trust what you have taught. And, trust that the God of this world holds your child in the palm of His hand, and wants to use your child to further His Kingdom. It will change your family. It will change your child. It might just change you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.