What’s it like taking your whole family on a summer mission?
We spoke to Fiona Gentle, who has served with her husband and three daughters (aged 14, 12 and 9) on Scripture Union Family Missions (SUFMs) since 2010, first at Tuggerah, then Tanilba Bay. We also spoke to Naomi McGrath, who has been on team for three years at Corrimal SUFM, alongside her husband and four children (aged 8, 11, 14, 15).
Why did you first decide to go on a Scripture Union Family Mission?
Fiona: My husband and I had both had positive experiences of SUFMs in our younger days. We saw mission as an opportunity to serve God in a very focused way and work alongside a team of Christians.
Naomi: The Corrimal SUFM team was desperate for cooks and my husband, Simon, agreed to do it despite not really having much experience with cooking. I went as a kitchen hand. We thought it would be a good way for our family to serve missionally all together and it has been.
What roles do you and your husband usually play on team?
Fiona: Until very recently I have always served in the Pre-school/Kindergarten–Year 2 section as that allowed me to have my own kids with me. In the last two years I have moved to a more administrative role, mostly on the registration desk.
We live and minister in the small town where the mission takes place (we were actually instrumental in having the mission planted there) so it helps to have a local on the registration desk. After registration, I move to the Adult section.
My husband, Anthony, has served in just about every section except the youngest kids. He is currently a leader in the Adult section. Initially, only one of us could hold a leadership role on a section and we would take turns in different years. However, as our kids have grown and needed a little less from us, we have served as leaders on different sections concurrently.
As parents, we also tend to notice some things that others don’t, so I end up doing practical things like washing team shirts and prompting people when the toilets need cleaning. This is a way I can serve the team when there are other ways I can’t (like staying late to lace up tents—by then I am taking the kids home to bed).
Naomi: After one year cooking, we joined the team responsible for running adult activities. My husband and another team member are artists and so they added art classes to the mission schedule. I joined in on the women’s craft afternoons—I ran a clay bead making session, spoke to the women about their lives and shared my testimony with them.
What are some of the blessings of having your children on mission?
Fiona: The blessings come from being a part of a Christian community united in purpose. My girls have grown up watching young adults they admire read the Bible, pray, discuss how theology impacts their world, give up their time to serve God and have lots of fun doing it. There are a lot of influences in our children’s lives—the mission team is a group I can be confident will demonstrate values that align with our family’s. I cannot quantify the blessing that this is in my children’s lives and the eternal impact of these relationships.
The team also really values having families on mission. I think that’s because:
- it makes mission look ‘safe’ and appealing to parents in the community
- parents can connect really naturally with community parents
- it demonstrates to the young adults that you don’t need to stop serving God once you finish uni/get a job/get married
- couples can demonstrate what a godly marriage looks like and provide role models of Christian parenting. Some of the young adults have not grown up in Christian families so it gives them an opportunity to see this ‘lived out’ for a whole week (the good bits and the less good bits!) and reflect on how they might want to live.
The other big blessing is having lots of fun memories. Our kids love missions, they love the fun games and little pranks. It’s great to be out in the sun and the water and singing about Jesus. We have so many good summer memories.
Naomi: For my mother’s heart there is little that’s more joyful to me than seeing my children enjoying Christian community, which happens in a special way on SUFM. Especially seeing my teens being included and loved by the young adults on team, and seeing my teens wanting to spend time with these enthusiastic Christian role models makes my heart sing.
What have been some challenges of taking kids on a mission?
Fiona: A big challenge is balancing the needs of the mission with your family’s needs. Sometimes that means that parents take turns going to ‘team time’ in the evening while the other parent gets the children to sleep. This can make it feel like you're missing out a bit. You need to be prepared to ask for a little bit of help, for example, someone to cover for you while you go and change a baby’s nappy.
As my girls have become older, there are less and less challenges. Now, the girls will all come to ‘team time’ in the evening and are super keen to be involved in all aspects of the mission day—including washing the dishes even though they hate doing that at home!
The biggest challenge for our family is not on mission but the decision to do mission. Anthony, who is a pastor, does not need to take leave from work to attend, but I do. Sometimes giving up a week of annual leave from a stressful job to spend a very busy week doing mission seems like a terrible choice for my own work–life balance. Mission makes me really exhausted physically. But spiritually, it is a real kick-start to my year, which leaves me feeling energised and is a helpful ‘re-set’ to make sure I am focused on God’s priorities and not my own. It’s so worth it!
Naomi: Personally, I don’t love living out of tents. It can be difficult keeping everyone’s clothes clean and dry and making sure everyone gets enough sleep. Our mission schedule is also pretty full so there isn’t a lot of separate family time to fill the kids’ cups with our undivided attention. The first year we attended our kids were expecting a beach mission to involve a lot more beach time! However, since they've changed their expectations, they are happy with the joys of communal meals, other team kids to play with and the extra feral free-range kind of freedom that comes with camping in a large group.
Do you have any final words for parents considering this kind of ministry?
Fiona: Definitely do it!
If it’s your first year and you have younger children, find out if there are other families already serving on the mission and connect with them before you go. They can give you tips about equipment you might need to take with you or ways they fit their family around the team schedule.
It helps to have a little ‘space’ that’s just for your family. I recommend having your own tent or a divided section of a hall to allow you to re-group as a family at the end of the day.
If your kids are all school age just dive right in! The team will be accommodating, and you will all have a blast. The reality is that when you are on a mission there are lots of people who are very willing to help out or watch out for your kids when you need it.
Naomi: It’s important for parents engaging in any ministry to remember that our children are our priority ministry. Sadly, I’ve heard of many grown children of Christians rejecting the faith because they felt disregarded by their parents in their pursuit of ministry. With that caveat, I think SUFM is a great way to serve in mission as a family in a way that is quite unique.
Children can join in the scheduled activities, the communal washing up, the meal prayer times and the interactions with the community. They can listen in on evangelistic conversations, Bible talks and morning devotions. They can be included in skits, dance parties and family games nights. I have found it helps to allow my children some ‘perks’ of being on the team like a daily hot chocolate from the team coffee cart, staying up a little later to play board games or special snacks during siesta time.
Like parenting in general, making mission work requires staying flexible and depending on God for energy and patience.
All of our children love being part of the mission team and activities, despite one of them having quite high generalised anxiety when we first started. The kids have pleaded with us to keep coming back—a request we are delighted to grant!
Find out more about Scripture Union Family Missions in NSW.
This fully revised fun and interactive kids' program teaches children aged 6–11 about running in the most important race, the race of life. Kids will see that by being on Jesus? team they will win the ultimate prize—eternal life!
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