STCH MINISTRIES’ MISSION of “Honoring God, reaching children and families with His love and truth, and enabling others to join us” spurred the international ministry expansion to the Dominican Republic and the development of unique family mission trips in 2005.
God began guiding our thoughts and fledgling efforts as we envisioned the impact on families and children on an international mission trip. How could children and families share God’s love and experience together the joy of serving others? What if families could have the chance to get their eyes off of the American “bubble” of material values and priorities? Could a mission trip impact a family system with more lasting values?
Family mission trips were not common. After all, what could a child do on mission realistically? The logistics were daunting—family housing, good food, translators, transportation, plus hands-on
activities for children—to name a few. Although we did not have all the answers, we began with a faith step. Not a cloud by day, nor a pillar by night, but just as clearly, God led the way.
We began to see God’s fingerprints all over the process, beginning with a partnership with the Quisqueyana Baptist Church (IBQ) and Pastor Rudy, a relationship whose roots extended more than 70 years into the past. Their passion for reaching children and families matched STCH Ministries’ mission and purpose. Pastor Rudy soon led us to our gifted Dominican ministry partners, among them, Rebeca Dinzey to direct the children’s ministries, then Russell Jerez to direct construction projects. With the growth of our sponsorship program, the medical needs of the children became a priority—just as Dr. Francisco finished medical school in Cuba and was looking for a job. God led to orphanages and schools with incredible needs. Despite grossly insufficient resources like a chicken coop or a lean-to perched on the side of a gorge, their love for Jesus motivated their passion for teaching children.
American churches, families and individuals soon responded to God’s call. First Baptist Church in Kenedy and Trinity Baptist Church in Kerrville were among the first family mission teams. Fifteen years later, some of the original parents are now grandparents and the former children are now married with children of their own who continue to serve.
Recently we visited with them and several other long-term mission participants and asked them about the experiences that impacted them. We asked how God spoke to them and what the results have been in their lives back home.
Many shared the relationship-building effect on their individual families. Jennifer Ebell from University Baptist Church in Houston reported, “Family vacations are often about persons doing their own things. On a family mission trip, we are working together towards a common goal—serving others. As our family shared a room and a bathroom for a week, we had to depend on each other. It helped us to connect with each other as we shared our experiences.”
A common theme reported by several was the quality time spent with families from their own church. “Most of us attend different services, or are involved in different ministries or Bible classes and we don’t really get to know each other. It was an awesome opportunity to build and strengthen those relationships.” The Houston CityRise participants added, “It is amazing how much closer we grew to other CityRise church families that were serving on the trip with us. Bonds were forged doing life together and serving during the week that cannot be created in other environments.” They also enjoyed seeing their children bond as older kids looked after younger kids and the parents worked together as one team.
The priority of relationships was emphasized even during the work projects. One participant remembered, “We were building a train for the orphanage in Santiago. In this case, we had to find a
way to lift our heavy wooden train over a 10-foot wall, and we were challenged to get this accomplished. Russell Jerez took me aside and reminded me that although the task was important, the most important goal was relationships and allowing even the children to have a part. This insight has changed the way I work on a team to serve God no matter where I am.”
Rynie Badenhorst agreed, “Construction was not just about getting the projects (benches) done. We were encouraged to involve the smaller kids and to give them a chance to try some of the tasks. This changed my whole outlook from getting it done as soon as possible to taking time to notice others, teach them, involve them and encourage them. This did loads for my son’s confidence and sense of accomplishment.” Rynie went on to say, “An added bonus about going on consecutive years was finding the benches we built the year before now being used in the Higuey orphanage. All the kids signed the benches on the bottom last year and they felt a sense of achievement finding the benches they built being put to good use.”
Many commented on the relationships developed with sponsored children. Every trip prioritized a time for each sponsoring family to spend with their child. The relationships deepen and grow over the years. The STCH Ministries model of investing in children to develop their God-given potential and become future Christian leaders is an inspiring process in which to
participate. The sponsored child becomes a part of the mission trip family and both eagerly await the next opportunity to be together.
The joy of serving others was a common theme. “For our kids, the most important thing was realizing that serving others can be a joyful and fun experience,” the Shung family wrote. Other comments were, “We came to serve, but were blessed by their service to us. We think we sacrifice and give up certain things to come, but these Dominican Christians show us what a heart of service really looks like.”
Most participants recognized the planning of ministries and logistics by STCH Ministries’ staff as a significant factor in successful family mission trips. “The trip is convenient and accessible in terms of travel, doable ministries that are family-focused. The proposed schedule for the trip included an opportunity to help with light or heavy construction projects, VBS, medical outreach, sewing and sports for kids. We would also spend time at an orphanage, deliver food, visit with families in need and get a little time to explore the city of Santo Domingo.”
Some linked serving to careful planning. “I learned that serving God needs to be strategic—our ability to involve everyone, even the children, was due to careful planning.” Others shared, “The trips are so well-planned that it takes responsibility for the logistics away and lets us focus on using our gifts and doing the ministries without worrying about tools, transportation, translation. Food is safe and tastes good.” Families also appreciated the housing, “Each family received a room assignment which was named after one of the fruits of the spirit. Our room had two bunk beds for the kids and a queen bed for the parents including A/C and an ensuite bathroom.”
Parents expressed varied reasons for bringing their children on a mission trip. Exposure to the larger world, international travel, the awareness of different cultures and the ability to relate to another culture, were coupled with the opportunity to practice Spanish.
Parents desired to impress on their children that their suburban American life was not the norm. “We wanted our kids to see how others live and appreciate what they have.” Others elaborated, “You can hear about poverty from others, and read the statistics but there is no comparison to the impact on our empathy meter when actually seeing it, eating together in a home with heavy cardboard walls, curtain doorways, and dirt floors and discovering our common love for Jesus.”
The Vickery family from Kenedy reported, “The trip completely changed our home. The way they welcomed us into their homes, dressed in their very best, honored to host us, in spite of dirt floors, and not enough dishes for everyone to eat at the same time. We came home and decided that our home would be a sanctuary where people are welcome to eat, stay and share our love for Jesus with them.”
When asked about the trips, children’s responses included a wide range of perspectives, depending on their ages. Younger children commented, “The best part was playing with all the kids. It helped me not be afraid; I could interact even with a different language.” Others stated, “I learned Spanish!” and, “We could share what we know about God with others through our skits.” While some talked about their experience with serving a tangible need, “I liked serving others when we delivered groceries. I remember a little girl who was disabled. She sang for us. She was so joyful some Americans visited her.”
Older high schoolers mentioned, “It affects how I reach out to others in my school, church, neighborhood who are from other cultures—makes it less intimidating, more comfortable.” Others shared, “I learned appreciation for my own blessings and am challenged to be joyful without depending on material needs being met.” Some left with questions, “It confronts me with the question, ‘What do I do next? How does God want me to live when I get home?”
Without exception, every family shared on the spiritual impact of the trip. Worshiping together and singing familiar hymns in two languages was a powerful experience. Comments included, “I felt a sense of awe, and glimpsed eternity.” “A different language but same God.” One family shared how it truly changed their lives, “Our first Mission Trip had such an impact on our kids that our two daughters asked to be baptized when we returned home to Houston. It felt like a lot of the ‘gospel puzzle’ came together for our kids on this trip.”
For others, the most valuable activity on the mission trip was the morning worship time on the roof overlooking the city. “It was an opportunity to recalibrate—get my priorities refocused on God’s
values and our purpose on earth.”
Raising children and building a family on a solid foundation of faith and Christian values is often a daunting, confusing, and fearful responsibility. A STCH Ministries family mission trip offers
a unique opportunity to help parents reinforce the training in “the way they should go,” as Proverbs states. “We highly recommend families make the time so they can create the room to expand their Christian walk, especially for their kids,” stated one father. Charles Kemp concluded, “Sixteen years later, I see the results in my children’s lives that mission trips have helped to create—a servant heart toward God and others.”
For more information about STCH Ministries International and family mission trips visit, www.STCHM.org/International.