Serving together with my family has been a privilege and a blessing. It is like getting a glimpse of heaven that keeps me wanting more. It also makes me want others to experience that blessing, especially my kids.
My husband and I have always wanted to instill the values of serving others and giving back to the community in our children, as it is something that has played an important role in our own lives. When our three children were young, we looked for opportunities to volunteer as a family. We hoped to encourage a lifestyle of volunteerism so they would ultimately choose to serve on their own. Five years ago, we finally found a program that would allow our children to volunteer with us.
Family Promise of San Gabriel Valley
Our church had begun to support a ministry that served homeless families. The program, Family Promise, utilizes over a dozen participating churches that take turns hosting three to four families for dinner and sleeping overnight. We began by simply bringing dinner and eating with the families.
There are multiple children in this program (since it specifically focuses on families). This meant that our children became integral and active volunteers. Our church emphasizes kingdom hospitality and we frequently discuss what it looks like for us to be hospitable people.
As I watched my kids playing, I realized that by doing what comes naturally to them — playing — they were normalizing an otherwise alienating and isolating experience for the children in the program. It is important for children to play and have fun during this difficult time of housing instability. Our kids were doing important work — showing kingdom hospitality to these children and being a blessing to their families.
As I watched my kids playing, I realized that by doing what comes naturally to them — playing — they were normalizing an otherwise alienating and isolating experience for the children in the program.
Over time, our family decided to become more involved with Family Promise, serving as program coordinators for our church. My husband and I worked as a team to fulfill these duties. These new responsibilities enabled my husband to use skills that he didn’t have the opportunity to use at home or work. He is great at coordinating and organizing, abilities that were necessary for the program to run smoothly. We divided the duties based on our individual strengths.
As a result of our increased involvement, our children were also enlisted to do more. In addition to bringing meals and playing with the kids, they joined us for meetings, helped take inventory, set up rooms, cleaned up afterwards — even tested the batteries on toys and made sure the AC was set.
Seeing them willingly volunteer to do these things brought us joy and encouragement that we were guiding them well. At home in the midst of our routines, it is sometimes difficult to recognize their character development and growth. Serving together helped us find a common purpose and changed the way we viewed our children. We were able to catch a glimpse of God working in their lives as they served Him.
At home in the midst of our routines, it is sometimes difficult to recognize their character development and growth.
When I asked what they thought about our involvement with Family Promise, they looked at me like it was obvious. They said they liked eating dinner and playing with the other kids.
Staying overnight at the church was also a treat for them. Overnight host spots were some of the hardest positions to fill because adults struggle with the discomfort of sleeping on the floor at the church. The kids would have loved to stay every night if possible. They didn’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to stay at the church! They liked working with the other volunteers, and setting up the rooms and returning them back to their normal states. They didn’t even mind getting up extra early to volunteer or sacrificing their other activities to participate in this ministry. It became a natural part of our family life.
Adventures in Life Ministry
Serving together has also given me and my 13-year-old son a shared interest. With the exceptions of Family Promise, youth group, and food, it is often difficult to engage him in anything.
So when I asked him if he would be interested in going on a mission trip to Mexico, and he answered, “Sure,” I jumped at the chance. I clarified that while we were there, we might not have Wi-Fi, and that we would be roughing it. And he might need to get some shots. He still said yes without hesitation, so I signed us up for a seven-day medical mission trip to Oaxaca with an organization called Adventures in Life Ministry.
We were stationed in the beautiful coastal city of Puerto Escondido and commuted two hours to a remote mountain village called Piedras Negras.
I was amazed by the resilient people of Piedras Negras. There were only about a thousand people in a village with no paved roads, staffed medical clinics, or clean water sources. Several generations of family members lived together in small homes with dirt floors and outhouses. Chickens, turkeys, dogs, donkeys, and cows milled around, looking for food. Students played soccer on a field at the middle school with no shoes on.
There was one small market in the village. They had a poor economy because there was so little work. They saw no future beyond surviving the day-to-day. It is still hard for me to process those circumstances. Yet the people seemed content and did not complain about their situation. They were appreciative of our presence and willingness to bring resources to them.
Even though we didn’t have medical expertise and couldn’t speak Spanish, they welcomed us, especially my son, with open arms. We were willing to help in any way we could, and I learned that simply being present for people spoke volumes because it showed that we cared. This experience also increased my respect for my son. All the things I would nag him about at home became non-issues on the trip. I watched him show up each morning on time, ready to roll with a positive attitude. He ate what was put before him without a single complaint (and he really enjoyed it). He was extremely helpful and a great teammate.
All the things I would nag my son about at home became non-issues on the trip.
I felt especially blessed to see my son work as a full-fledged member of the team. He helped the photographers print out pictures for the people who were waiting for their medical care. Many of them had never seen or received a family photo or a photo of themselves. He was able to connect cross-culturally with his Rubik’s Cube. All the hours he had spent playing alone in his room with his Rubik’s Cube instead of doing his homework, eating, or sleeping had a purpose after all. He would fiddle with the Cube and people would surround him to watch. He would have someone mix it up and then solve it again like a magician. This entertained and fascinated everyone.
The trip was nothing short of amazing for me. As a stay-at-home soccer mom with a part-time job, my days are filled to the brim. It was a vacation from meal planning and preparation, chauffeuring, organizing, laundering, scheduling, scolding, homework supervising, and the rest of my routine. Instead, my responsibility was to help out wherever needed, be a good guest, and attempt to represent Jesus. I simply needed to be present and be myself, which made me feel as free as a child. I was learning new things and trying delicious local cuisine, meeting hospitable and loving people, and making new friends on our team.
My responsibility was to help out wherever needed, be a good guest, and attempt to represent Jesus.
Since coming home, I have become much more grateful for what I have — especially the luxuries of my life. I know I have far more than I need. I’ve also gained a better perspective of what’s most important: investing in people and experiences, rather than material items. My son has been impacted by the Piedras Negras community as well. He no longer complains about the food at home. He seems more grateful. And he’s become interested in trying new activities. He even volunteered to help the children’s pastor at our church this summer.
God had heard my prayers regarding my son. I am looking forward to the day when he steps into his full potential, and am thankful that we now share a closer connection. I can see the light in his eyes when he talks about our trip. He says he is excited to return next year. Serving together brought out the best in him and also in me. God has blessed us with the privilege of serving Him together and we are excited to continue serving Him as a family.
I am looking forward to the day when he steps into his full potential, and am thankful that we now share a closer connection.
By Tina Lau Dunn
Photography by Aaron Huang
Tina Lau Dunn is a mom (aka chauffeur and cook) to three school aged kids. She is also a social worker with Kingdom Causes Alhambra/Monterey Park helping families in or on the verge of housing instability with referrals and resources through local church communities or other nonprofit organizations. When not shuttling kids to practices or games, she likes to run, bake, volunteer, and hike with her husband.
AARON HUANG was born in a Christian family, but never had an “aha” moment. Traveling and nature photography help him experience the beauty of God’s creation and remind him of his own insignificance and God’s grandeur. Find him on Instagram @heyeyron.