by Mary Lou Bishop
Hosting a Junior Missionary Retreat for fourth through sixth graders can be a memorable way to increase your student’s understanding of a mission trip. The retreat can be designed to fit a variety of circumstances depending on the church. Retreats that we have planned have really given the children a vision for the mission field not only abroad but locally as well.
Our church is quite small, so to make the numbers a little larder we have the children bring a friend for a reduced rate. Fifteen children would be the smallest number that would work effectively as you need at least three groups of five children. You can have as many groups as you need, keeping in mind you will need that many counselors to commit to stay with the children over night.
Each child and counselor is provided with a bound booklet. The booklet is made to help the children on their journey. It is important that the schedule is tight to keep the children focused on their mission. Even after having this event for the last nine years, we are still fine tuning it to fit our situation. In the front of every booklet are security check cards and the four stages of cultural shock cards.
The country is selected by connecting with members of our congregation who had gone to a mission field through our church’s Work and Witness program, or we focus on a country where we will have missionaries visiting our church during the program. One year, a couple in our church was adopting a child from Nepal. We provided them with about one to two hundred dollars to buy native trinkets from Nepal that could be used in during our retreat in the market.
We usually plan the retreat during January or February. It is usually a slower time of the year for our church, so we are able to gain a lot of volunteer support and it becomes a whole church undertaking as opposed to competing with other events during the year.
Through setup, planning and the actual night of the event everyone in our church is included. Our congregation is small, and this event really becomes a whole church effort. Anyone can help!
The 24-hour trip
The passengers must arrive by 5:30 PM and be checked in. They must have their “passports” filled in with all their information and a roll of dimes (fine money) to receive their tickets.
They weigh their luggage, which must weigh less than thirteen pounds (including their sleeping bags, overnight stuff, Bible and so forth), or they are fined for each pound they are over. They proceed to the scanning area where they are scanned and their luggage is checked. They go to the nurses station to make sure that their vacinations are in order. The nurse will give them a “shot” and some “malaria pills” for their protection. Then they wait with their luggage in the waiting area until the plane is read to board.
On the plane they will receive a sack lunch. The stewardess shows them all the safety information that is usually shared on a flight and then passes out lunches and drinks.
When they get off the plane they proceed through customs. Customs includes going through their luggage looking for contraband – Bibles – that are not allowed in the country.
The passengers then pick up their luggage and continue to their hotels. After check-in and receiving a room number (areas taped out on the floor), they make their beds.
They then gather with their teams to make a flag, choose a name, choose a Bible verse to go along with their team motto and prepare a skit. The teams present their team names, mottos, verses, skit and flag to an adult mission board. Points are given for creativity, neatness and appropriateness of their presentations. While the mission board calculates the results, the teams experience their first cultural snack.
The teams begin memorizing the security codes and practice speaking the language of the country. Throughout the night, money from the country being highlighted will be given to the junior missionaries for memorizing, listening, being good missionaries and so forth.
Later in the evening the money will be used to purchase trinkets from the market. Then the missionary gives an overview of the country – its government, language, scenery, schools and so forth – all the information that is important to know about a country you are going to do ministry in. The final points for the presentations are then announced at the end of the session.
The evening will close with devotions in teams with the adult counselor. While the passengers are getting ready for bed, the counselors can catch up on the point system for each of the individuals on their team as well as calculate the team points.
The next day begins with a wake-up call and breakfast from the country. Classes on the culture, language and crafts begin right after breakfast. These activities can be changed for the number of kids and teams participating. Any time that there are “down times,” children can be memorizing the security codes and language.
A mission training could be part of the classes given in the morning session. But as always the schedule can be flexible to your needs. Mission training was the class where the missionary would tell about his or her call to the mission’s field. Since we did not always have a missionary, we asked a lay person who had been on a mission trip. We also asked someone who had a testimony of being called to ministry.
We improvise wherever we need to. For the music section, we have used Skype with missionaries in the country and they taught us a song that they sung at summer camp. It was really an effective way to use technology to help bring kids right into the culture of the country.
For lunch, a menu is printed with a list of all the food that will be served, but it is written in the language of the country. There is a blank by each entry. The child will write a one by all the things that are in the first course, two by all the things in the second course and a three by all the things that are in the third course. So it is important that they learn the language or they will not get their utensils first. This can be a little chaotic with a large group, so your waiters and waitresses will need to be on their toes.
The mission’s speaker will tell about his or her work in the country and the children will have the opportunity to have a question and answer time. After the missionary speaks, the teams participate in a scavenger hunt where they children find “trash” and make a display which promotes missions and/or their theme Bible verse. A mission board of adults will judge them during afternoon snack and winners will be announced after that. The first team will visit the market first and the other teams follow in turn. We always make sure there are enough prizes from the country that each child can take home a souvenir to pray for that country.
The culmination of the retreat is Communion with the pastor. The children start this time by having a Bible study using the thinking and thanking section of their booklet. We encourage the children to spread out until they are in their own space. When they feel they are ready, they can participate in communion with the pastor. We encourage the children to really connect with God. This is always the most spiritual part of the weekend.
The hunger banquet is usually the climax of the experience. Children receive just a small bowl of chicken broth and rice for dinner. They are challenged not to eat until the next morning, when at Sunday school, a breakfast will be provided.
The retreat for the children could be planned in conjunction with a mission’s weekend for the church. Missionary speakers and the impact that their experiences can have on whole families could radically change how your families view missions.
Junior Missionary Retreat was introduced to the author through the children’s ministry at Denver First Church of the Nazarene. The Children’s Director at the time was Liz VonSeggan. Liz and her husband Dale are the founders of One Way Street.
Mary Lou Bishop works in the finance department of the International Network of Children’s Ministry. She has a BA in Religious Education from Rockmont College and a BA in Elementary Education from Kearney State College. Mary Lou also has a Masters of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction. She is a preschool teacher at a local church. Mary Lou is a lifelong Coloradoan and lives just outside of Castle Rock, CO.