I’ve been making a big mistake with my previous short-term mission trips. I’ve always thought of them more as group experiences rather than individual journeys for each kid.

It’s easy to do when you’ve got 32 college students for a single weekend building a house in Mexico. Or 18 high school students digging wells for a week in Guatemala. There are so many details to organize that if the entire group seems to learn—and make it back home safely—the trip feels like a success.

A few months ago Compassion International invited our family to Brazil because of the Fuller Youth Institute’s partnership in a Step Into My Shoes curriculum geared to help families serve together. Experiencing the trip with my own kids changed everything.

As a parent, I was more tuned in to each of our kids’ unique needs and personalities. As a parent, I paid far more attention to how God worked through each of them as individuals. Even though none of us spoke Portuguese, I watched them communicate in their own ways with the people they were meeting.

Nathan, our 6’2” 15 year-old, quickly connected with Brazilian boys on the soccer field, as well as through playing guitar.

Krista, our leadership-minded 12-year-old, bonded fast with Brazilian girls through volleyball.  

Jessica, our more introverted 9-year-old, connected with smaller groups of kids her age, who loved the way she listened to them (even though she couldn’t understand them) and took pictures (a hobby she loves).

As a mom, my radar was tuned in to their individual approaches to culture and life, how their individual personalities best interacted with others, and how their individual lives were changed.

As a parent, what can you do this school year to help each of your kids be sensitive to how God wants to use them individually to change the world around them? Here are some questions to help you answer that question:

  • What is the top passion of each of my kids?
  • What are my kids’ top skills?
  • What are the free moments in my kids’ week when they might have some time to serve?
  • Which of my kids’ friends might want to join in serving with them? (Friends almost always make service better.)
  • What other adults are close to each of my kids who might also be able to join their service adventures?