You have said, “Yes,” as a mom to an international summer mission! You are beginning an exciting time of trusting the Lord in new ways. Even though you are committed, it’s normal to feel hesitant. You may feel a little stressed because you have no idea how the financial support will come in, what you will do to occupy the kids, and how to get those suitcases packed. Even though I felt all of these things, I was also excited and thankful to be a part of the mission overseas. I wanted to have open hands and continue to still say, “yes,” to the Lord and be “in it” with my husband. Often the international summer mission was an opportunity to practice stepping out in faith and going.
As you step out in faith, it is also helpful to step onto the shoulders of others who have gone before. The following is some helpful information, a packing list, and a kid’s packet that may be beneficial as you take your children this summer. There are even some thoughts on, “What about school?” and “What in the world am I going to do with them during the days?”
Remembering God’s Faithfulness
Whether this is your first time or you have been before with kids, we all need affirmation, encouragement, and fresh ideas. Remembering the Lord’s past faithfulness is always a good place to start. My kids recently were laughing at various family photos and some of those were from our times in East Asia. I loved to hear their comments and know how much these experiences blessed them and our family.
Now that my kids are older I can look back and see specifically how it has shaped them. For one, we built memories. Their rooms are filled with trinkets and souvenirs from these places. We share family jokes from these experiences and lots of photos. Second, they got to experience team life. The kids built special friendships with college students on our teams. They were their friends too. As they grew older, they took classes, played basketball to meet students with our team, and went with our team as they shared their faith. Third, those summers helped them relate to all kinds of people and gain a better perspective of the world. All of our kids befriended kids at school whose parents were from places like Korea, China, Germany, Africa, and India. Being more accepting of others is a gift the summers gave them and an asset in the world we live in today.
The first time I traveled overseas as a mom, I took our two little boys who were five months and two years old. We STINTed for a year in Russia. Five student men from Brian’s Bible study and two student women went with us. One thing I learned from that time as we recruited is that it is much easier to send if you are willing to go yourself. And, the best ask is, “I would love for you to come with me.”
The next time I went overseas was for a summer mission. We had three boys: ages 18 months, four and six years old. When we came to be on staff at Texas A&M, we decided to be “all in” with our new partnership so we went that first summer to East Asia.
It was a tough summer at times. The first week on the summer mission my oldest son came down with a virus and a fever that kept us at home for a week. As I felt “trapped” in the apartment, I thought I was out of my mind for doing this. But what was I going to do, give up? We had a full team of Aggies, and some would one day serve back in this country longer term.
In the many moments in the apartment I began to read, The Freedom of Simplicity, by Richard Foster, which profoundly influenced me and became a favorite book of mine. I learned that summer that as leaders at Texas A&M, we needed to keep the world in focus. If we didn’t jump into our partnership overseas right away, how could we expect others to go? If we go, others might follow.
The third time I traveled overseas, I had four boys whose ages were 3, 7, 10 and 12. Life for a summer in East Asia was much different because of the variety of ages in kids. If we didn’t make it to a playground or basketball court daily, I was not going to do well personally. And, they would not do well either! It was challenging, and just plain difficult sometimes. But again, it was confirmed — if I was there, my husband could be there. If my husband was there, then he could take students.
The fourth time we still had four kids and a good group of Aggies along with two student leaders. It was our second year in a row and the kids were now almost 5, 8, 11 and 13. Before we left, we heard reports about swine flu in East Asia. A week before our departure, the university “uninvited” us from our campus, leaving us unsure what the summer would look like. The housing we counted on was no longer an option, and we were reassigned to a new city. In spite of all of the uncertainties, it ended up being our best trip yet!
I can’t share all the wonderful experiences, or the, sometimes, very challenging events. Besides the swine flu, there were things like a crashing economy, a strange rash, a concussion, and mosquito attacks that made my kids look like they had a bad case of acne. But at home in the U.S., we have endured stranger things as well!
There were also many blessings like: a record number of students coming to Christ, the experience of a different culture, students from our teams going back longer term, and an increasing number of Texas A&M students going on summer missions.
This summer we are heading to South Asia for the second time with a team from Texas A&M and three of my kids are going, who are 10, 15 and 18 years old. There are a couple of other teams going to East Asia and over 100 Aggies going on Cru Summer Missions. As a mom, I am very grateful I get to part of all this with my family.
So, why go?
So, why do we go with our family on international summer missions?
1) As I mentioned, the best ask is, “Will you come with me?”
2) This is what we are about. The “going” and “sending” must be there all along in what we do.
3) If I go as a mom, then my husband can go for the full duration.
4) If we go, then students go. If you are an TL, or married to one, it is even more vital to go.
Mom Thoughts and Information
What about School?
So what do I do about taking my kids out of school? Most of our overseas summer missions overlapped with the kid’s end of the school year. How you answer this question depends on your family’s unique issues, the grades of the kids, and their particular school. The important thing is to have an open mind to consider the idea of them missing school as a legitimate possibility.
Here is how our family looked at this issue. If possible, we want our kids to be closely connected to our work and ministry at a young age. If we make a way for the children to go, then I can go. If I go, it is easier for my husband to go. And if we go as a family, then we can take students with us. If we do it once, then it becomes a reality to do it again — making “going to the world” embedded in our own ministry. Also, there isn’t always a lot of “work” done that last week of school!
But, my kids did dislike missing some of the field trips and parties at the end of the year. Prepare your kids for what they might miss while also highlighting what they will gain from your time overseas, too.
I have kids now from college age down to grade school. I found the easiest age to take kids out of school is in elementary school, and before high school. We have taken our children with us from 6 months old (on STINT) through high school.
We handled informing the school and teacher about missing classes in different ways. Some years we talked with the principal of the elementary school mid-spring semester. We told them that we planned to go out of the country for a mission trip for six weeks and the beginning would fall during the last two weeks of school. We asked, “What do we need to do to take Wesley out of school?” Each time, it was never an issue with our school. After we talked with the principal, we let the teachers know. Our teachers were always positive and glad our child could have the experience.
One year Brian caught the middle school principal in the hallway and asked him. The principal asked Brian if our child was doing well and making good grades. After that, he said, “Okay,” and told Brian what he needed to do.
That year, my kids were going to miss more school than usual. They had been out for our Winter Conference and regional staff conference, plus some other days. That year we had to “un-enroll” at least one child because they would be missing too many days out of the school year. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but we needed to re-enroll them upon returning. (Update: This particular child, by the way, ended up graduating from the University of Texas with an engineering degree. So it turned out alright!).
Looking back we are glad we made the effort to make it work, not assuming it wasn’t possible. We highly value our kid’s education, but we also value the experience, and the investment we were able to make in our kids and in the team as a whole.
Should I lead?
Whether or not you lead alongside your husband depends on a number of things: the ages of your kids, the make-up of the team, the availability of leaders and your own unique situation. I think one of the goals for you as a mom is to have the best summer possible alongside the team. And if it means you cannot do as much direct ministry or one-on-one type appointments, that is okay. It is a challenge enough to be there, especially with young children; and leading may make it way more challenging! It may be better not to lead as a mom, but allow someone else to lead, so you can give more attention to your family. The team’s success is your success also — not you, as a mom, having the best student ministry.
Another good option is to have a student leader lead alongside you. One of our best summers as a family was when we had two student leaders with us. This gave us more flexibility as a family. This summer as we go to South Asia, we will have two student leaders also. As a mom it may be better not to lead and give more attention to your family, or lead and have a student leader alongside you.
At the bottom is a link to a packet I put together of things for my kids to do. I wanted something that kept them occupied and that also benefited them. It may give you some ideas for tweaking it to make it your own. Or you can just use this one! (Update: the packet is a little dated, but it may give you some ideas!)
The packet is designed more for pre-school to upper grade school kids. Besides giving them something to work on from time to time, it also helped them engage with our team. When they completed an activity, I signed on the line next to it and talked with them about it. They received a reward after completing a certain amount of activities. The prize might be an ice-cream cone at McDonalds or an inexpensive toy from the market.
Along with this packet they each had their own spiral notebook, a folder with some printed material about different topics for research that were of interest to them, notebook paper and fun stickers. (We didn’t always have access to a computer.) One time I printed off material about polar bears and China. I also brought special books on subjects they found interesting. One child loved insects, so I found a book with photos and information about insects.
Books, Movies and Games
Kids like surprises so I bought some books, movies, card games and puzzle books as a surprise to them. I made sure we packed plenty of books for each reading level. One year I brought four Harry Potter books for us to read. I also brought some new-to-them Disney movies (Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, etc.). Each summer we learned a new card game, like Skip-bo, Phase 10, or Card Monopoly. We played these a lot all summer long! When we play those games now, we remember those particular summers in East Asia.
The kids knew there were going to be some surprises, so it gave them something to look forward to. After doing this one summer, they looked forward to it the next time.
The Backpack for the Plane Trip
For the plane ride, each child had their own backpack. I filled their backpack with some surprises (as mentioned above), which they had to wait to enjoy until we boarded the plane or were waiting in the airport.
In each bag was:
- a gallon Ziploc bag with snacks, including a favorite snack of theirs and others that would help get them through the 24-hour journey. During one flight home, two of my kids came down with a stomach bug over the Pacific Ocean and continued to throw-up until we arrived home in College Station. Ugh!! Now they can no longer stand the smell of airplane food; so I pack plenty of good snacks like peanut butter crackers, trail mix and granola bars.
- a special notebook,
- “the packet,”
- a new book,
- puzzle books,
- a sweatshirt and socks (since airplanes are cold),
- hand sanitizer,
- a change of underwear for the younger ones
- an ipad,
- a book light,
- packets of instant oatmeal. Sometimes there was hotwater on the plane and I was able to make them instant oatmeal!
What in the world am I going to do with them during the days?
What you do with your days depends on the ages of your kids, how much you want and are able to do ministry, and your particular summer mission. My desire was to help our family have a good summer alongside our team.
Usually, I had some “normal” days with the kids where I set our routine with family chores like laundry, quiet times, kid geared activities, and rest. Other days I went on some appointments, met with some of the student women, and we participated in team activities.
Some of the activities our children did with our team were:
- Language Classes for older kids. Kids 6th grade and up could do it, but it depends on the child and the arrangements with your university. Our kids just showed up with their dad and did it only the first week or two. It felt long to them, but they picked it up well and it gave them something to do.
- Campus time with dad and students. The older boys sometimes went to campus with one of us and to meet students through playing basketball. They also went with us and other students on our team on appointments (to share the gospel, do soularium, follow up, etc).
- Bonus Fun. One time we had use of a pool, so they went swimming some. There was also a bowling alley and ping pong tables they got to use sometimes.
- Research Time/Quiet Time–I had little research notebooks for each of them on a subject they were interested in. So we would have “research” or quiet time (Yes, quiet time each day.)
- Summer Fun Kid Packet–I put together a packet of things to do that you can modify. (This can be found at the end.) They received a prize for finishing a certain amount of activities.
- Normal Days–We used time together for normal day-to day activities that needed to get done. We would to go to the store for groceries, do laundry, eat out, etc.
- Parks–We found parks and other kids to play with. There were some parks close by we would visit regularly.
- Mobility–We did not get bikes. That seems a little overwhelming to me with the traffic!
- Games–We played a lot of card games, read books, watched movies, and visited other staff families. One year we lived by other staff families, so we were included in some birthday parties and playing in the water when it was hot. The boys even became friends with some Korean staff kids, which was fun!
- Travel Journaling–I think it would be neat to let the kids make videos to document the culture and family life.
- Team Activities–Time was also spent with the team. There were social times, eating out, sightseeing, and culture class.
I don’t like to pack at all! I usually wait until the last minute to get it all into the bags. I am good at making lists, though. And this list might help get the job done! It is not an exhaustive list, but it includes things that I found beneficial as I traveled with children on an international summer mission. You should also refer to the list for your particular summer mission.
Toiletries and Medicines
- Kid’s antibiotics
- Chewable or “melt away” medications (This is easier than carrying liquids, especially on the plane.)
- Chewable Antihistamine (especially for those, like mine, who have allergies. Mine has a mild peanut allergy and seasonal allergies.)
- Emergen-c or an immune boost of some sort (I like to take several, 24 hours before getting on the plane and then a few 24 hours after arriving).
- Insect repellant (We had lots of mosquitoes. We ended up buying one of those battery operated mosquito rackets to swat them.)
- Hand sanitizer
- Small Kleenex packs
- Small roll of tp while traveling (I often grab a roll of tp from home when it is towards the end and take it with me.)
- General Toiletries that your family travels with
- Small amount of laundry detergent for when you first get there
- Small stain remover
- Clothespins (for if you need to hang clothes to dry). One summer I did a good amount of laundry by hand, so I needed to hang things to dry. The boys “dry fit” clothes were easy to wash and dried quickly, by the way.
- Laundry bag
- Sponge, few dish towels (nice to have for when you get there)
- Sharpie for marking water bottles with initials of each family member
- Small sewing kit with safety pins
- Different size zip locks (For snacks/ packing toiletries in. I double bag liquid items when placing them in the suitcases.)
- Shopping bags (A couple of canvas bags are nice to have. You may be charged for plastic grocery-type bags at grocery stores/markets.)
Electronics and such
- Sound machine or sound machine app (nice for hotels or if windows are open)
- Extension cord (sometimes great to have for a hair dryer, if the outlet is not near a mirror)
- Portable speakers
- Travel dvd player (in the older days)
- Luggage locks (for use in apartment or hotel)
- Book lights for kids (my kids like having these for the plane, etc)
- All your family’s electronics and chargers/cords!
- Travel money pouch
- Kid’s spending money
- Important papers
- Copy of passport
- Copy of your visa page
- Umbrella stroller (this if often easier than a large stroller, especially when using different types of transportation)
- Baby backpack carrier — Kelty is a good brand
- Small umbrellas (One summer it rained a lot, but you can buy a cheap one. Wearing a rain jacket often seemed too hot.)
- Scotch tape, scissors, markers, colored pencils, etc
- Index cards/Note cards (I liked to write verses or notes to the kids on these.)
- Card games (card monopoly, skip-bo, phase 10, etc.)
- Birthday things, cake mix and icing, (if one of your kids has a birthday during the time)
- Gifts for students or for kids they become friends with (dollar items, stationary, stickers and pencils for kid)
- Brownie mix in a bag (I bring several to make for our team or give to staff)
- Peanut /almond butter (you may find it there, but it may be pricey)
- Cake mix and icing if one of your kids has a birthday
- Coffee singles, or VIA
- Instant oatmeal packets, plastic spoons, cups (more on this later, but this is great to have when traveling.)
- Snack items your family likes
- Sweatshirt or jacket for the plane
- One jeans or pants
- Clothes for the family
- For mom: I try to pack light and have enough clothes for a week. For example: for myself I would have 3 skirts, 2 shorts, mix and match shirts, a dress and clothes to run in. I usually had chacos, sandals I liked, running shoes and flip-flops. I also had airplane clothes, a lightweight zip-up sweatshirt or sweater, and jeans.
For the Plane
- Backpack for each child
- Snack bag (gallon Ziplock) for each child (and adult) with their name on it (I put some favorite and healthy snacks in it.)
- Extra underwear and pants for little ones
- Instant oatmeal if needed
- Puzzle books, books, book light
- Notebook and Packet
- Sweatshirt and socks (the plane will be cold)
- Hand sanitizer
- Antihistamine- chewable (for kids with allergies, or to help them fall asleep)
For hotels when in the country
- Sometimes we stayed in a hotel when traveling in the country. I brought instant oatmeal packets, spoons, and plastic cups for an easy and quick breakfast. Usually there are electric teakettles for hot water. (Which is also nice for making my VIA coffee!) This was a big help when we needed to get out early for sightseeing.
I hope this is helpful and that you have a great summer! If you would like to contact me, please do.
The “Summer Fun” Kid’s Packet: The Packet