AMBATO, Ecuador (BP)–Tommy Hutchison, 17, admits he sometimes goes on youth mission trips to get away from his family.
Tommy didn’t think he’d ever go on an international mission trip with his family. But that’s exactly what happened recently, thanks to International World Changers (IWC), a Southern Baptist program that mobilizes teens and college students for mission projects around the world.
In July, Tommy and his family — parents Amy and Thomas “Hutch” Hutchison and two younger siblings, 15-year-old Joel and 12-year-old Danielle — participated in the first IWC Family Project in rural Ambato, Ecuador. The Hutchisons, who attend Far Hills Community Church in Dayton, Ohio, were one of 12 families from five states who participated in the project.
During the weeklong trip, the families shared the Gospel 8,280 times. More than 280 people prayed to accept Christ as Savior.
After presenting an evangelistic drama to indigenous Quichua people in the village, Tommy experienced — for the first time — leading someone to Christ. His father watched proudly as Tommy prayed with several Quichua who surrounded him to learn more about the drama and Gospel tracts they received.
“Tommy got to be with people who accepted Christ,” the elder Hutchison said. “It’s a great feeling knowing God is using your family to grow His Kingdom.”
Talking with his family later in the week, Tommy shared that he was humbled by the experience — and that he realized the value of working together as a family.
“We had fun ministering as a family,” he said. “I learned ministry can be more than fun — it can be incredible!”
For the past 10 years, International World Changers has offered student mission trips for Southern Baptist youth and college students around the globe. After years of requests from churches for family-oriented mission projects, the group worked with Southern Baptist missionaries to develop a trip especially for families.
Kelly Davis, IWC director based at the International Mission Board, said Ecuador is a good place for families to minister to other families. It’s also a safe and inexpensive environment where families can minister together.
Amy Hutchison, the mother, watched her family grow throughout the week — finding new strengths in themselves and each other.
“I am so proud of these guys this week,” she said. “Tommy has been a leader. Joel is walking up to strangers to talk about God. Danielle has been flexible. They have all walked into a totally new environment and are enjoying doing things together.”
Families spent their days visiting schools, food markets, community centers and city plazas. They taught English, distributed evangelistic tracts, made “salvation bracelets” and prayed with Quichua people of Ecuador.
Amy Hutchison worked side by side with her 12-year-old daughter, Danielle, who was the youngest volunteer to participate in the project. It was Danielle’s first overseas mission trip.
“I didn’t get nervous working with my Mom,” Danielle said. “It’s good to know your parents are there if you need them.”
In the busy Ambato food market, the Hutchisons walked together handing out tracts. Working with a translator, they taught local merchants how to make salvation bracelets and what each colored bead illustrates about sin, Christ’s sacrifice and salvation.
After the experience, Thomas Hutchison is encouraging Christian families to replace their typical vacation with a mission trip.
“Make it a priority,” he said. “Trips like this help you focus on what is important in life.”
Also on the trip were Christine Lefler and her 16-year-old daughter, Lauren. The two were rarely apart while working in the village.
“I am absolutely convinced that families that serve together stay together,” said Christine Lefler, a member of Creekside Church in Centennial, Colo. “They bond in new ways with each other.”
Lauren, who has worked with her mother before on U.S. mission projects, agreed.
“Going on mission trips with my Mom has been the coolest thing ever because it has really grown our relationship,” she said. “Even when times get tough back at home, I remember the times we had on mission trips.”
Ministry projects help bring families closer together, said Richard Ross, professor of youth ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Ross, worship leader for the week in Ecuador, co-founded the “True Love Waits” faith-based abstinence campaign for young people.
“Growing research would indicate that among the most powerful experiences a teenager can have is doing ministry side by side with his or her parent,” Ross said. “In my own experience across three decades of youth ministry, I would say a mission trip experience shared by a parent and teenager might lead to more spiritual growth than months — or even years — of church programs.”
Since the families returned home, Bible studies among the Quichua in Ambato have already started to grow, said missionary Ruby Dickerson. She and her husband, Fletcher, have been working among the Quichua for the past four years.
“It’s such a blessing to have people coming in to see lives change, that it’s worth the work that we do,” Dickerson said. “And it opens doors for ministry that we couldn’t open without them. It would take us weeks to go into schools and do what was done this week.”
Next year the International World Changers Family Project will return to Ambato June 17-24. The project goal is to reach more Quichua families using Bible clubs, children and youth ministry, sports, school programs and servant evangelism. Registration begins Sept. 1 for the 2006 project. Information can be found at http://thetask.org.