Are family and mission not a dangerous combination? For us, the answer is a joyful “yes”: dangerous to false comforts, threatening to passivity and unsettling to untested beliefs. The engagement of families in mission can also be a dangerous light in the darkness, and those who get involved are often ruined for the ordinary.
Jake and Freya Mahal took their two children on short-term outreaches, working on relief and development projects in Indonesia and the Philippines. Freya relates some highlights from their time in the Philippines: “As a family we really connected with a particular family in one of the villages. There was something very special about the time we spent together. It was awesome to see our kids step out in faith and have words of knowledge for them. They lost any inhibitions that might have held them back here in the UK, and I think they brought a bit of that home with them, too.”
Jake adds: “Our 10-year-old now has a few stories of taking initiative at school and listening to God for her friends.”
Dave and Clare West and their four children have, over a number of years, been involved in various short-term outreaches, both overseas and in the UK. For them, the greatest impact is not always found in the far-flung locations. Dave recalls how, during a short mission in an English town, one of his family members received a specific word from God to make a paper flower. “She was then led to give it to a particular person, which opened up an opportunity for prayer and encouragement which significantly touched them,” he explains. “Experiences like this have led to a clear desire in my family to hear from God and act out of obedience to his direction.”
Why go as a family?
Over the centuries, the Church has generally reasoned that Jesus’ command to go (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15) might not just have been a special instruction for the apostles, but for all who follow him. Peter’s words, explaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:39, reminded the crowd that: “The promise is for you and for your children...” Could this mean that God’s empowering to be his witnesses is also for your children?
‘Red Sea’ experiences
The children of Israel who stood at the edge of the Red Sea saw an undeniable demonstration of God’s sovereignty there. However, the generations that came afterwards did not all have the same first-hand experience and did not wholly put their trust in God. There is something about moving out of our comfort zone in obedience to God that encourages dependence on him. Whether it’s raising finances, not knowing if you’ll like the food or being uncertain if you’ve got what it takes, the challenges are fuel for prayer. Parents and children will be able to look back on answers to prayer together and say: “God did that.”
Dave West says: “We didn’t want our children to simply inherit our experience of God, but to see him work in them and through them, creating genuine faith and relationship with him.”
Faith in action
James 2 reminds us that faith without works is dead; our beliefs and actions need to match up. As parents, we may do many things as an outworking of our relationship with God. However, our children might not always see these things or make the connection between our beliefs and actions. Hands-on activity is very meaningful to them, especially if they get to be involved themselves. One lad who was participating in one of our outreaches in Glasgow with his family decided to live his life for Jesus after hearing his dad share his testimony with others. We have seen that small steps of putting faith into action can often be catalytic in awakening greater faith in young people and adults.
Blessed to be a blessing
Going into mission together is not simply about getting a job done. The sight of families standing shoulder to shoulder, loving others, is something the world is longing for. The presence of families serving together seems to shift the spiritual atmosphere and is one of the things we have found that people respond to the most. This recalls the beautiful blessing on unity that God commands in Psalm 133, which he is longing to pour out on those who together reflect his nature and character. The world is full of brokenness and no family is perfect, but we are jars of clay containing treasure to be given away.
How can we go?
Local Our call to participate in the mission of God applies to our whole lives, not just certain chunks of time in particular places. Finding ways to be intentionally ‘others-focused’ as a family in the weekly rhythms of life can be very powerful. Whether you are sharing hospitality in your home or showing kindness in your neighbourhood, there is huge scope for co-labouring with God where you live. For further ideas, visit youthandchildrens.work/links
The fear factor can sometimes be greater when sticking our missional necks out on home turf. Teens, in particular, may find it easier to practise stepping out in publicly visible ways when they know their mates are unlikely to come around the corner. Let’s encourage them to fan the small sparks of faith into flame and then let them bring the fire home. It is also sometimes easier to have faith for situations and contexts that are not familiar.
Why not partner up with another family or two, jump in the car and go to the next town, the other side of the city or wherever the Lord leads you? You never know, you might just stir a new movement of all-age mission in your church. For further ideas, visit youthandchildrens.work/links
The ends of the earth
A number of organisations provide opportunities for families to join short-term mission trips overseas. You may also be part of a church that has relationships with churches and projects in other nations. As missionaries ourselves, and having witnessed both the good and the bad of short-term mission, we know that it is most helpful to serve alongside those who are investing in people and places long term. It is also worth looking out for opportunities that involve partnerships with local people on the ground, particularly when it comes to practical projects – those born out of listening, dialogue and responsiveness to felt needs, which honour and include locals as part of their long-term solutions and bear the greatest witness to Jesus’ way of doing things. For further ideas, visit youthandchildrens.work/links
Keys for preparation
Before you make any decisions, stop! It is really important for children and teens to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to family mission. If they are old enough to understand they need to be included in discussions, have the opportunity to listen to God and pray about the possibilities. If they have any major hesitations about what is being discussed, these need to be heard and talked through.
With God’s wisdom, parents will need to gauge from this what their children are ready for. An unwilling servant is a slave, and that is not what God wants for his children. However, when young people have gained their own sense of what the Lord might be asking them to do, their response to him will also be their own. That way they will be much more prepared to face whatever challenges and discomforts may come. We have actually seen many parents being led into short-term mission by their children’s desire and enthusiasm!
Prayer is another bedrock of preparation for mission, whether at home or far away. Creativity and physical action – ranging from prayer dens to prayer walks – can be very helpful for all ages. Intercession allows the Lord to do a heart transplant in us and the results can be earth-shaking.
We have lost count of the number of young people we have seen gripped by God’s heart for a town, nation or people group because they were given the opportunity to ask the Lord what he thought about them. At the start of a mission to Iceland we were involved in leading, 11-year-old Philip was excited to be on the plane. He explained that he had been praying for Iceland since he was 6. Now he would finally get to be there!
Don’t forget to make space for God to speak. Ask him for his assignments as a family and as individuals. Write these things down and refer back to them together.
Freya Mahal describes a time when her family was travelling to be with the Indonesian people of Lailunggi. In prayer, she sensed that God wanted to say to them: “You are far away but not forgotten. You are remote but remembered.” They shared this on arrival and it brought great joy to the locals, who informed the family that they called themselves ‘the forgotten people’. When the Mahals and their team had come to the end of their time there, the locals said: “We now know that we are not forgotten because God has sent you to us to show us that he remembers us.” These simple few words, coupled with some graft and willingness to go, had a great impact. For creative prayer ideas, visit youthandchildrens.work/links
Orientation and research
If you will be relating to people of a different culture or background, whether down the road or overseas, taking time to understand their world view and history is key. If you are travelling with a mission organisation they will most likely help you with this. Otherwise, do your homework as a family. Find information and contact people on the ground to fuel prayer as well as understanding. Visit youthandchildrens. work/links for more on this.
Mission will not only have an impact on those served, but also on the family sent. One of the enriching things about engaging with other cultures and contexts as a family is the growth of a global perspective and appreciation of other ways of life. Louise Hargreaves’ family went to Romania for two weeks to support long-term missionaries when her children were 6, 4 and 2. She says: “Ten years later my children describe our time in Romania as an eye-opening adventure. It gave them a bigger understanding of different cultures and helped them realise they can get on with all kinds of different people.”
Dave West describes the unifying effect of co-labouring as a family: “We have been doing this for many years. Our oldest is now 27 and will still come on mission with us.”
For the Mahals, mission has catalysed lifestyle changes: “In Indonesia we were in a particularly poor and remote village. While we were there, surrounded by people with so very little, Jake and I made a suggestion to the kids that, from then on, we only buy four gifts at Christmas. Even four gifts felt excessive given our surroundings! We all agreed, and haven’t looked back. Interestingly, the kids struggle every year to come up with ideas of anything they might need. They are well aware that we live with way more than we ever need.”
Jake summarises the impact of mission on his home: “As a family, we’ve placed ourselves into the story of scripture, experienced the injustice it so often addresses, tangibly seen and felt the healing power of Jesus among the poor – just like in the Gospels – and we’ve seen glimpses of his kingdom beginning to unfold here on earth as it is in heaven. All of this, I believe, better equips us to live the kingdom in the everyday.”
Questions for reflection:
• What is your family doing that requires dependence on God, not just on your own abilities or resources?
• What’s in your hand? What are you blessed with as a family that could be a blessing to others? (For example hospitality, creativity, practical skills, worship or play.)
• What is stopping you?
ANDY AND CATHERINE KENNEDY with their children Noah and Grace, love to be a family serving Jesus together. Part of their role with YWAM England over the last 25 years has been leading intergenerational WildFire mission teams in the UK and overseas (ywamwildfire.com)