Sometime during the summer of 2007, I realized that God was calling our family to missions. My husband and I began to talk and pray about a time in the distant future when our children ages 9, 7, and 5 would be old enough to accompany us on a short-term missions trip. That opportunity came far sooner than we expected. In March 2008, our church introduced its first family missions trip to New Orleans. Although we couldn’t imagine what our children would be able to do to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, we never doubted that the Lord would use our family for His glory. We had no idea the blessings that He had planned for us.
My husband and I began to sow seeds of mercy in the hearts of our children long before we set foot on Louisiana soil. We took advantage of every opportunity to make an eternal impact on our children, and the lives of the people of New Orleans. The lessons began with support-raising. The cost for our family of five to participate in this trip was $3750, which included transportation, food, lodging, and our ministry budget. We immediately began praying with our children that God would provide our financial and spiritual needs for the trip.
We asked God for opportunities to raise support as a family, and we encouraged our children to pray about ways they could earn some of their own support. Our 7 year-old son, Tucker, earned money doing yard work for our neighbors. Even 5 year-old Marshall bought supplies and made dishes of candy to sell with his grandmother. We had a garage sale in which the children selected items they would be willing to part with to benefit the people of New Orleans. I had been looking for opportunities to teach my children to “give until it hurts.” These were wonderful lessons in sacrificial love and faith, as we watched the Lord provide in unexpected ways. Our children saw us share God’s love even in our own community as potential supporters questioned what we were planning to do and why we were doing it.
Our first day in New Orleans, we went on a tour of the city. Three years after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, parts of the city looked as if the storm had just happened. We saw water lines painted on buildings and cemeteries in ruins. Boarded-up homes still bore the tell-tale “X” indicating when recovery efforts took place and how many precious lives were lost. Driving through the city, we began to see tremendous physical needs. We started to understand the pain experienced by a closely knit community separated by disaster. Back in September 2005, we sympathized with New Orleans as we watched footage of lives literally washed away by flood waters, but it was three years later on that tour that our family began to develop a heart for the people. “Many of the people lost everything they had,” ten year-old Elaina remembers. “We have way more than we need.” That day in New Orleans our perspective changed as seeds of compassion were watered by run-off from a devastating flood. We stopped complaining about the little things and our attitude turned to thankfulness. Suddenly, there was more room in our hearts for others because we were less concerned about ourselves.
During the week our missions team had a variety of opportunities to spread mercy throughout a hurting community. One day, we visited a lovely woman named Sheila. We arrived intending to put the finishing touches on her home – painting walls and trim and installing landscaping. Sheila, however, had other plans for us. While we were working, she began telling us her story. Sheila’s home had been destroyed by Katrina. Like many others, she waited an excessive amount of time for insurance funds to rebuild. Sheila lived in a FEMA trailer while she waited. After more than a year, she needed only a final inspection to move into her new home. A few days before the scheduled inspection, Sheila’s neighbor’s home burned down. She lost her neighbor and half of her new home in that fire. Soon after, Sheila was diagnosed with cancer. She told us that there was an investigation regarding the unusually high number of people that developed cancer after living in these trailers. Despite her circumstances, Sheila’s joy was more evident than her pain. She explained that it was her faith that carried her through the most difficult times, and that she was trusting God for the future. So our family learned about perseverance, faith and trust. Newt Gingrich said that “perseverance is the hard work that you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” That’s what we learned about faith by spending the day with Sheila – the deeper faith runs, the longer it perseveres. It was fascinating that after all she has been through, she was more interested in sharing her testimony with us than with getting her home finished.
One of the most valuable treasures that my children brought home from New Orleans was an appreciation for our covenant community. Most of our 21-member team was unacquainted prior to preparing for the trip. During our missions week, the team worked, worshipped, laughed, ate, prayed, sang, cooked, and cried together. The experience gave new meaning to the phrase, “family of God.” My husband and I watched as our children happily made sandwiches, washed dishes and received loving guidance from other adults in our church. Elaina said, “My favorite part was being together with the people from our church, interacting with them. We didn’t truly know the people like we do now. It was a great idea to have us working, and making breakfast and dinner together. It was a lot of fun.” When we pulled out of our church parking lot the morning we left Delaware, we were a group of 21 people who are members of the same church. We returned as members of the body, a team, and nearly one year later, we remain a team.
Taking children along in ministry provides endless opportunities to demonstrate the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 27:37-38 says, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He went on to say (v.39), “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” By taking our children to New Orleans, we wanted to teach them that mercy matters, to live out the heart of God as they love their fellow man. My children learned far more than can be documented in a single article, but it is written forever on their hearts. We went to New Orleans to minister to people in need, but somehow we brought back more than we were able to give. A picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps our New Orleans video will give you an even better understanding of the blessings of planting seeds of mercy ministry into the hearts of our children.
Written By: Dawn Long