-by Charissa Fee
A blast of cold December air assaulted us as doors from John Glenn International Airport opened to the passenger pick-up loop. Just as we saw her dad and two brothers waving widely to us from the car, nine-year-old Sis asked, “So where do we go next, Mom?” Honestly, I was hoping she meant for dinner, because I had no energy to cook, but I knew that Sis was ready to see more of the world and the precious people God has placed in it.
It all started a few years ago as we noticed our neighborhood began to change. Tall marigolds, the celebrated flower of Nepal, took over the front flower beds of every other house on our street, our school highlighted Diwali celebrations in the classroom and the neighborhood kids started calling me “English Lady” when they would play in the backyard. The nations were not only across the ocean as we read in our missions magazines, but also in the house next door!
Our family began looking for ways that we could live on mission and be faithful with opportunities to share the Gospel with the nations that were now just steps away. We had many failed attempts (oh, the infamous Pumpkin Pie night-- a story for another day!), but we forged forward with international friendships as best we could and brought our children along with us for the learning. Covid-19 certainly slowed us down, but in October, we helped a women’s mission team from Louisiana host a discipleship event for a refugee church at Summit Baptist Church, in Pataskala.
Sis, our laid-back middle child, rolls with our attempts effortlessly. She will graciously eat curry too spicy for most adult American palettes, dance to the rhythm of a praise chorus in any language and, though she would never be considered extroverted, seems to make friends wherever we go. So, when I was invited to attend a refugee Christmas event in Dallas-Fort Worth with an International church-planting friend, I asked Sis to tag along. It was our first “Mom and Me Missions Trip.” I had great ideas of it being an investment in our relationship and an investment in her developing faith, but little did I know that it would also be an investment in my walk with Jesus. Here’s what I learned:
Kids Make You Brave
The night before we left, I fretted about airports, transportation, leaving my husband and sons at home (They are fully capable of surviving without me, but you know how the mind works before a mission trip!), and of course, the matter of spending a weekend with hundreds of people that didn’t speak, eat, dress or look like me. Sis, however, didn’t sleep because she was just so excited. She didn’t think hours or days in advance, she was just excited for a plane ride and time with mom. She trusted me to get her there, keep her fed, and bring her home safely, so there was no need to worry. Oh, how my heart needed that same trust in God my Father! There were countless ways in which God had graciously orchestrated this opportunity for us, that there was no doubt He would faithfully see us (and those boys at home with a freezer full of frozen pizza) through this weekend! My daughter's faith in me strengthened my faith as we went on mission.
When we met up with the rest of the mission team (a combination of families, retirees, pastors and youth) our first task was canvasing the 780-unit apartment complex. The residents were 90% refugees, many of whom had been in the States less than 6 months. I don’t know about you, but knocking on strangers’ doors is not a hobby of mine. Once again, the kids made us brave. Throughout the afternoon, with the help of Sis and her southern friends, we picked up an international band of fearless assistants that guided us through their complex and boldly knocked (albeit rather persistently and sometimes melodically) at doors along the way. The refugee children could tell us, with some accuracy, what nationality lived in each unit, before they answered the door. Then, when a door opened, they boldly told, instead of inviting, the family to come to our movie night in the complex and the Christmas party in the park the following afternoon. When given the chance, I would fumble my words, speak too quickly or too slowly or too loudly, but the kids didn’t falter--we were inviting people to a party, after all! We were sharing good news, why be shy about that?
Kids Slow You Down (...in a good way)
Everyone knows that when traveling with kids, the traveling will be slow. I’m not bragging, but my family once turned a 9-hour-road-trip home from the beach into a 12-hour saga! As adults, we insist that delays are bad. However, over the weekend, Sis’ presence made me slow down in a number of ways that made the trip much more impactful. When we arrived at the refugee apartment complex, I thought we should jump right in and start the work of canvassing buildings--we had a lot of ground to cover! Sis doddled through the courtyard and observed the homes with window boxes, asked where the playground and basketball courts were and noticed the gardens and a variety of unique cars in the lot. She realized that we were entering people’s homes and showed great care to get to know their world. Instead of diligently attending to the tasks of setting up a big screen movie night, testing sound and popping popcorn, she asked if she could just play a bit with the local kids. She was valuing relationships over the results of the day. She saw people, not projects. Because of this, we met a young mother from Afghanistan with two young daughters. The mother sent out her 3-year-old to play with us and get a bag of popcorn. This led to an opportunity to build a relationship with the father when he came home from work to invite his family to the Christmas party. The next day the whole family attended and heard the Gospel for the very first time!
On mission trips, adults tend to put on a “Martha heart” and cram as many mission-tasks as we can in a short period of time. When traveling with kids, we have to slow down, take care of ourselves, break bread with others and be more present in our surroundings. I’m so thankful for the moments of fellowship, introductions and exploring that I experienced with my daughter.
Kids Loosen You Up
There were approximately 600-700 refugees at the Sunday afternoon Christmas program at the park, from 24 nations! Traditional worship songs were presented by refugee churches in their own languages-- Swahili, Congo, Burmese, Nepalese. My daughter delighted in the variety of music styles and unabashedly clapped and danced along. Revelation 6 says that there will be a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands, shouting, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Without a doubt, God wants his children to delight in His praise from many nations. I didn’t know the melody and I couldn’t decipher a word of the language, but at that moment, I could rejoice with brothers and sisters in Christ, like my daughter. And let me tell you, my Baptist dancing may not have been pretty and my clapping was most certainly out of time, but it was joyful!
Repeatedly over the weekend, Sis recentered my focus to moments that mattered. She didn't see the broken glass or dirty fingernails; she saw playgrounds and new friends. She didn’t worry about cell phone recordings or sound system; she heard a beat and danced along. She didn’t see mismatched, inauthentic costumes, a scuffed up baby doll and old jar candles; she saw the nativity story acted out and precious gifts presented to the baby King of Kings. Adults would have had dress rehearsals and production meetings, but the kids got right to the heart of our message.
Kids Make You Forgetful
Our flight home was a bit turbulent thanks to the December chill settling in Ohio, but Sis was talking a mile-a-minute recounting the trip. She talked about new friends and the rhymes they made in the popcorn line, about meeting the actual teenager who played Mary in the play and the 550 people that came through our line to receive a new fleece blanket as a Christmas gift. Sis couldn't wait to tell her brothers about the silly games we played in the hotel, the stories from our airport shuttle driver, facts about Dallas and every detail of the lovely weather. She remembers new food and music from around the world. She doesn’t remember the hard parts, the smells, the broken glass, the long days, the closed restaurants and the late meals. Not once has she recalled the messes and work. She doesn't know about family budget or busy schedules. So, in her mind, the only question is “So where do we go next, Mom?”
It’s no coincidence that as I reflected on our trip, my Bible reading took me to Matthew 18 when Jesus reminds us that being great in His kingdom isn’t about perfectly planned worship services, professional music or polished events, but rather child-like, humble, Father-dependent faith. The Kingdom is about faith that our Father God will provide for all our needs, love so pure for others that we are willing to go and share the urgent Gospel message where He calls us, and contagious joy in our salvation! I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with Sis and I guess that now our prayer is, “So where do we go next, God?”