“Best decision ever”: What happens when you go on a family missions trip

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It was an irresistible invitation to adventure. Taking four children aged six to 15 to Kenya on a missions trip. Helping with medical treatments for children living in poverty, building mud huts, and sharing the Father’s love with people from a completely different culture.

“It’s funny, we didn’t even think twice about doing it as a family,” said Jo Smith, “we thought, ‘We’re family, let’s not leave anyone behind.’ But actually, a lot of people go on their own or just with one kid.” So, what sparked the Smith’s interest, and what happened when they took the leap of faith to go on a missions trip together?

The Shoe That Grows

Tungiasis affects many Kenyan children living in poverty. Fleas, known as jiggers, burrow into the feet, causing children pain that prevents them walking, helping out with the family, and focusing at school. When these kids own a pair of shoes, their feet are protected. But a donation of one pair of shoes only lasts about a year until they’re too small.

The Smith family was introduced to The Shoe That Grows at church in the Fall of 2017. It’s a shoe that is specially designed to grow with the child that wears it. Catch The Fire Toronto were raising money to send pairs of shoes to children suffering from Tungiasis at The Kenyan Children’s Project (KCP). The church was planning to go on a missions trip to deliver the shoes personally.

That Sunday, the family got talking. What if they went? Russ Smith spent his childhood with missionary parents in Nigeria, so it seemed an exciting opportunity for the kids to experience something of their family heritage.

The idea became a reality in March 2018, when Russ and Jo took their four children to Kenya; Ella (15), Gracie (13), Judah (10) and Olivia (6).

Getting Ready to Go

Preparing for a family of six to travel thousands of miles and visit a completely different culture is no small feat. “The barrier is the cost for people,” said Russ, “and yes, it was a huge stretch, but it was one of those financial investments that you know is also a spiritual investment.”

The family raised funds through reaching out to friends and relatives on social media. The response from local friends was surprising. “I think with it being a mix of ministry and humanitarian [work], you could explain to people who are non-Christians… they were in awe, really, that actually we were going to serve and give back. They really connected to The Shoe That Grows. It was a tear-jerker to receive a lot from people who are not necessarily in a relationship with God.”

Ella and Gracie also raised money selling candy for Kenya at youth group, and Judah sold some at school.

I asked Russ and Jo if they had any concerns about bringing all four children into such a different environment. “It was certainly the best missions trip I’ve been on in that it was so well run,” said Russ, “so we didn't really have any concerns in that respect, we didn't have any fears.”

“The kids did really well with all the things they had to take and the injections they had to get. That was probably the hardest part of it all really,” said Jo.

Everyone Took Part

The Smith family got involved with both practical help and ministry during their two weeks at the KCP.

They all got involved on the day where they helping treat the kid’s feet for Tungiasis. Gracie and Olivia played with the kids that were waiting in line for their treatment.

Ella helped with the treatments, “It was really gross! I guess the part of, ‘we’re helping someone,’ got over that, but like the smell was like ‘oh!’”

The day turned out to be a highlight of the trip. “That was one of my favourite days because we got to give out The Shoe That Grows,” said Judah.

“That was cool, knowing that the church all paid tithes and offerings for and we actually got to put them on them,” said Ella.

Interacting with the children was a real highlight for all four Smith kids, “It was nice because it was kids our age and younger, and something Olivia could interact with too,” said Gracie.

Miracles Right Before Our Eyes

“I saw people with blind eyes actually see again,” said Gracie, “I was in awe and speechless. You can’t comprehend how powerful that is until you actually see it.”

Seeing miracles together really impacted the whole family. Jo told me about one experience they shared, seeing a blind man’s eyes grow back, “The kids were right in there in his face just staring at the miracle in action… that was such a sweet thing for not only us to experience but also our kids to experience and then collectively us together as a family.”

“We saw the eye grow back,” said Ella, “It was this tiny, squishy thing and at the end of it, he actually had two eyes. It was so cool.”

I could see that each of their perspective on healing was transformed by the experience, “My level of expectancy and also gratitude is way higher,” said Ella.

A video of the trip made by Ella Smith:

We’re all different now

As I spoke to each of the Smiths, they all told me that the biggest change they’ve seen as a family is their gratitude. Gracie talked about the things she’s appreciating more now: “Something as little as water, because they have to walk super far, and their water is really gross. Or something just like a washroom, because they don’t have that... it changes your perspective and it makes you feel really thankful for what you’ve got.”

Judah talked about how he was impacted by making a difference to other people’s lives, “we helped kids that one, don’t have a home, two that don’t have shoes. It actually helps knowing that you’ve helped people that can’t afford many things.”

“There were some pretty vulnerable situations that we all went through together.” said Ella, “It’s something powerful going as a family, and experiencing it all together because we did so many vulnerable things, powerful things, and amazing things, that experiencing that together is way different than on your own.”

It was worth it

There were challenges and vulnerabilities during the trip. “Everything was so unfamiliar,” said Jo, “The whole thing was probably a tentative walk of, ‘ok, let's be open for what’s next,’ because you can’t really plan for what’s going to happen next. We were all experiencing a new together which is what was really special. Lots of debriefs at the end of each day!”

But it was worth it, “Oh my goodness, the decision to say yes as a family, especially when it wasn’t the norm really... that was the best decision ever to say yes to such a thing!” said Jo.

“We planted something in our kid's hearts for missions, for Africa, and maybe even for KCP,” said Russ, “We all carry a sense in our hearts that we’re very blessed… we’ve been inspired by people who are doing amazing things.”

Would you take your kids on a missions trip?

Does the idea completely overwhelm you? “Definitely, you can do it as a family!” said Russ, “go with someone who has done it before. You want a positive experience.”

“Just entertain the thought even if it’s a prompt,” said Jo, “It might not be something you can do right now, but it might be something you can do in a year, or two years, or five years.”

Written by Alice Clarke