by Tammy Darling
When it comes to vacations many people are no longer content to sit on the beach and work on their tan. They want to do something lasting, something that makes a difference in the lives of others.
A lot of families are looking to their vacation time as a way to reconnect. Purpose driven vacations provide a common experience the family can build on later. Families can go places and do things they wouldn’t normally do. And they’re discovering that purposeful vacations bring joy and lasting satisfaction.
Planning vacations that are emotionally, physically, and spiritually renewing requires a change of perspective. Disney World may be fun, but wouldn’t you rather spend your money on something that will stay in the hearts of your family the rest of their lives? A purpose driven vacation may even provide a path to their future.
Vacation volunteer opportunities can include building homes with Habitat for Humanity, teaching English in China, serving in a Romanian orphanage, or counseling AIDS victims in Africa. The possibilities are extensive and not limited to overseas work; many opportunities exist right here in the United States.
Outside the Box
Once primarily the domain of church groups, short-term mission trips are now also arranged by service organizations intent on reaching out to others.
Wycliffe Associates is one such ministry catering to those desiring to have a vacation with purpose. The vacation of choice for 1,500 Wycliffe Associates volunteers is missions. To accommodate the growing phenomenon, the organization has completed a new 16,000-square-foot Volunteer Mobilization Center in Orlando, Florida, that is being used to mobilize thousands of Americans seeking to use their free time more productively.
Web travel companies such as Travelocity are beginning to offer short-term volunteer opportunity vacations as well. Some areas of interest include children’s issues, poverty, health and safety, community development, animal welfare, and the environment.
Purpose driven vacations are becoming so popular that there’s even a “how-to” book. Hope Lives (Group Publishing, 2008) is based on humanitarian activist Amber van Schooneveld’s experiences.
However, many people resist the idea of serving while on vacation. Who wants to work when there are plenty of projects they could be doing at home? Isn’t the purpose of a vacation to relax? While you may not be lounging around with your feet up, service trips can be rewarding, refreshing, and re-energizing nonetheless.
Purpose driven vacations are especially popular with baby boomers and empty nesters. These groups have come to the point in their lives where they think less about keeping up with the Joneses and more about how to enrich their lives and the lives of others.
Many volunteers who use their vacation time to serve others come back with a renewed sense of purpose. One such woman I know, after taking a short-term mission trip to Africa, has since devoted her time and resources to helping the people of Malawi. Her life is an ongoing testimony to the change a single trip to a small African village had on her.
Purpose driven vacations can result in changed lives all around. Your family will undoubtedly become more compassionate and develop a more loving heart for God and the people he loves. The people you serve will also be changed by your presence.
Facing the reality of the world can be freeing for many American kids caught up in materialism. Never again will they look down on someone who doesn’t wear shoes. Never again will they mock the size or condition of their home.
There’s nothing like a trip to an oppressed area to get kids to realize experientially that not everyone has it as good as they do. I know one teenager who went to Africa and came back a new person. No longer is she caught up in the things most American teens value. Now she is devoting her time and resources to help the poor and oppressed. She realizes she doesn’t have to wait until she’s an adult to make a difference; she’s doing it now.
Purposeful vacations foster spiritual growth. Young and old alike are taught to rely on God each step of the way. Prayer, often neglected on regular vacations, becomes paramount.
These vacations have a tendency to change the way you think. When you read the Scripture about God supplying all your needs, you’ll think a little more about what that entails. When you are tempted to complain about the dishes that need washing, you’ll instead give thanks for the food that was served on them.
Vacations with purpose foster relationships and create memories worth preserving. When you get to know people without clean water, food, schooling, or medical assistance, they are no longer statistics; they’re real people in need of real help.
Two years ago our family joined the ranks of those seeking a purposeful vacation. We partnered with World Vision on their SchoolTools ministry, which provides much-needed school supplies to the poorest regions in the United States (as well as internationally). For weeks we collected donations, purchased supplies, and packed kits, which we then delivered to the Washington, D.C. area storehouse three hours away, where we learned more about the work of World Vision. This year, we were blessed to meet two men who were the recipients of the school supplies we delivered and learned how and where they plan to distribute the kits.
In the future my oldest daughter, nearly 15, hopes to go to Africa. I would like to volunteer at an orphanage. Perhaps one day soon we will combine the two for a truly purpose driven vacation.
Some families are using their vacation time right in their own communities. It has nothing to do with the increasingly popular “staycations” motivated by a need to conserve money. Instead, they are simply using their time off to help others in their own neighborhood.
One doesn’t need to go to another country to have a vacation with purpose. There are plenty of opportunities stateside. Habitat for Humanity, for example, is a great place to start because volunteering for one of their projects doesn’t take a lot of advance planning.
Locally, many opportunities are often overlooked. Many smaller churches need help with Vacation Bible School. Church camps need volunteers. Inner-city missions welcome workers to serve meals, teach classes, and meet other needs.
Contact organizations that connect people with projects needing volunteers. Consider traveling with a mission group. This way everything is already planned; you just follow along.
Take inventory of your family’s skills and interests. You don’t just want to drag the kids along; you want them to be just as excited about the vacation as you are. Get them actively involved in the planning.
No matter the specifics of your vacation, have a special time each day when the family gathers together for Scripture reading and prayer. Give opportunities for each family member to share special moments. This locks in the memories and keeps the whole purpose in focus.
Each purpose driven vacation is another building block strengthening a life of service. By incorporating a short-term volunteer or mission component into your vacation plans, you can turn an ordinary excursion into a deeply meaningful, life-changing travel adventure.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
Looking to Serve?
Teen Mission, USA is both a missions outreach, offering short-term trips, and a teaching/training ministry for young adults.
Christ in Youth (CIY) annually offers short-term mission trips for students as well.
FAME hosts short-term medical mission trips. They need all kinds of help on these trips: “While doctors, nurses, dentists and other medical professionals play an obvious role . . . electricians, teachers, business people, pastors, stay-at-home moms and anybody else with a heart for Christ are needed just as much.”
MASTER Provisions offers ways that churches can work locally to gather clothing and other items to send to economically devastated countries. They also host two short-term mission trips a year.
There are many organizations that focus outreach to specific countries. To find other great missions opportunities that you can support, try going to the National Missionary Convention website and look at their list of exhibitors. Do an online search for an organization’s name to find out more about it.
Wycliffe Associates offer mission vacations, Christian mission trips, and volunteer work abroad.
Habitat for Humanity needs volunteers to help build decent, affordable housing for low-income households.
STEM International (Short-Term Evangelical Missions) Provides trips and training for short-term missions.
People Reaching People focuses on development through economic, educational, and evangelistic missions.
Cross-Cultural Solutions provides opportunities to volunteer abroad in 12 countries, with trips anywhere from 1-12 weeks.