Teen Missions International has been in the business of preparing and sending students on summer mission trips all over the world since 1970. Based in Merritt Island Florida, students participate in a boot camp prior to leaving the country. This summer TMI sent out 1307 students with 294 team leaders.
In the summer of 2004, TMI started a 4-6 year old program focused on the basic message of salvation and hearing from missionaries from other countries. Having always been intrigued about TMI and thinking it would be really fun for my 6 year old daughter, we signed up.
Mustard Seed Boot Camp lasted 4 days and 3 nights and was co-located with other Boot Camps happening at the same time on Merritt Island. With the addition of the 4-6 year old program, TMI now has something for kids from 4 years old to high school. Mustard Seed is from 4-6 years old, with one or both parents attending. Peanuts is from 7-9 and is a week long, with no parents. PreTeen is from 10-13 and then the Teen program is above that from 14-21.
There were four leaders for Mustard Seeds. Kathy was the overall director and Mustard Seeds was her vision. She also serves as the co-director of TMI overall. She brought her sister Barbara in to do music. Linda was a lady from the Finance department that was the leader of the 'Green' team. Cindy was the leader of the 'Red' team and was on a furlough of sorts from two years in Zambia. Her family (husband, two teenage sons and her) had spent two years doing AIDS Orphans Rescue in Zambia at the TMI base there. They had come back
to the States in April, met contacts to raise additional funds and were getting ready to lead a Zambia team through Boot Camp and taking them back to Zambia with them. At the end of the summer, the students would come back home, leaving Cindy and her husband there. (They are leaving their teenagers home this time)
By far, having a leader who had done cross cultural missions was a major advantage.
The schedule looked something like this:
06.30 - wake up (yeah...)
07.00 - breakfast
08.00 - program time
09.00 - the Obstacle Course (they had a mini one for the little kids)
10.00 - snack/craft
11.00 - program time
12.00 - cleanup
12.30 - lunch
01.30 - quiet time - on a big mat in the center of our program area, with everyone
02.30 - program time
04.00 - swim time - definitely the best time of the day
05.00 - cleanup
06.00 - dinner
07.00 - evening rally
08.00 - lights out
Program time consisted of a variety of things including music, missionary speakers and crafts. Music was done by one leader, most of the time teaching the kids new music from a CD and using hand motions. They really loved it. The music teacher also had an assortment of music instruments from different countries that she rotated among the kids. They loved that too.
TMI has a team called Missionaries to America, which is a group of young people that come to America for an extended period of time, do ministry here, go to Boot Camp and then return to their home countries. Mustard Seeds either heard from an individual MTA or a group of them a few times a day. Sometimes the MTAs would do a puppet show, music or a short talk.
Most of the program time centered on the colors of the wordless book. The kids learned memory verses for each color and then went off and did crafts based on the color and verse. Craft included a wooden cross with different things glued to it, putting together cloth swatches of the wordless book together (these were sent out with the high school teams when they went out) and other various crafts. The kids also decorated cookies that were used by Teen Missions for local ministry around the base, which included firehouses and nursing homes.
Two teams totaling about 25 Mustard Seeds and their parents.
11 families on our team from all over the country including Hawaii and California.
On our team:
7 had prior TMI experiences
- 3 from siblings
- 4 from parents that had been team members/leaders
There were also two grandmothers that had come with their grandsons. They had lots of spunk.
Like its called Boot Camp is pretty tough. No shorts, no reading material other than the Bible, no electronic devices, no snacks, no electricity, no running water. You get a food tray and a bowl and a canteen and cup when you get there. At each meal, you walk up to the dining hall where they give you your food on your tray/bowl, you walk back to the area where you eat and when you are done, you go up to the washing area where you wash all that stuff. Washing entails 4 big bins in a line, the first one to rinse off particles of food, the second one to scrub with soap, the third to rinse off soap and the fourth one to sanitize. You are to eat all your food at every meal. There are outhouses and there are toilets and showers both with no running water. To go to the toilet, you pour a bucket of water down the bowl when you are finished. Used toilet paper goes into another bucket to be thrown away later. (I experienced similar bathroom conditions in the Dominican Republic in 1993). You could bucket shower as well. There was pool time every day as long as there were no thunderstorms. There was a 'rally' every evening, which was a worship and teaching time.
Older kids go through training during Boot Camp with both evangelistic skills such as sharing the Gospel, puppets, etc., as well as work project training such as bricklaying, pouring concrete, etc.
Does it Work?
I had the following questions going into the experience. First, does TMI work in getting kids to be mobilized for mission? Secondly, wouldnÂ?t we be growing kids better in having kids go through the experience with leaders that were connected to them via the local church and throughout the year? TMI does not allow local youth ministry leaders to come with their students. You can, of course, sign up to be a leader of a team. But coming along with a local ministry is not within their context. And finally, would you send your child back?
Since our team had 7 people that had previous TMI experiences, I did an informal survey with them. It was a good mix of people, from those that had been on teams in high school, those that had been on a team and came back as a leader, and those that had siblings go through TMI trips.
For the first question, I think the answer is yes, overall. I went in to the experience wondering how well Boot Camp prepared kids for mission. But I think the actual goal is to use Boot Camp for discipline. Getting kids excited for worldwide missions is probably more a function of the actual mission experience, after they leave Boot Camp. One of our parents who had led teams for 7 or 8 years talked about how a majority of her team members had gone on to be missionaries or in full time ministry. I donÂ?t believe that full time ministry is better than secular work, in fact, I think the compartmentalization is dangerous for the Church. However, I do believe that the observation shows a level of intentionality that is a healthy by product of people living a life on mission.
I spent a few minutes chatting with Bob Bland, the director and founder. I asked him to tell me the overall principle, after doing this for over 30 years. He stated to start something and stick to it. He also talked about I Cor 13 and the idea of putting away childish things when you become an adult. His take was that we all can decide when its time to grow up, and some people simply refuse to. Hopefully, Boot Camp is a time when people choose to grow.
For the second question, I got mixed responses. The big variable here is the local church. In some instances, parents had a great deal of mistrust towards their local church youth ministry. In that case, the question is really invalid. In other cases, parents could see the value in that kind of leadership. One parent did mention that releasing your child happens before you know it.
Thirdly, I would probably send my child back. If I sent my 6 year old back, it would be in a few years, like 8 or 9 for Peanuts. Also, I think 4 might be a little young for Mustard Seeds. We had some 4 year olds that just couldnÂ?t deal.
If a high schooler asked me what I thought of them going to TMI, I would encourage it, with the caveat that the year after, they come back and be a part of what their local church is doing for missions. I believe that we have to encourage kids to be in the context of what the local church is doing for missions whenever we can, because the local church is (or should be) the means by which the essential task gets done.