The Mission Isn’t Over

As Holly O’Brien and her 11-year-old son Lance discovered, a mission trip can impact you at any age 

Date Posted: 
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ten and older. Orchard Hill Reformed Church was opening its mission trip to Guatemala up to anyone ten and older.

That means Lance could go, thought Holly O’Brien.

Lance is Holly’s 11-year-old son. He had always been good with younger children, and the trip to Guatemala would include working with children at a malnutrition center.

“I saw it as an opportunity to see doors open for a heart to serve more, both on a mission trip and at home,” Holly says.

Offering kids like Lance these opportunities is a priority at Orchard Hill.

“We are really big believers in getting kids involved in what God is doing from the time that they’re born, especially mission,” says Laura Claus, associate pastor of outreach and small groups at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, congregation. “It opens your eyes, seeing a new culture, a new country. It shows them that God is working across countries, across continents. And it’s the same God wherever you go.”

Holly was interested in going on the trip, too. And other church members who had been to the malnutrition center before encouraged her and Lance to go. Orchard Hill has a long-term partnership with the center, and the church has sent groups there for the last few years. Still, the cost held them back—what if they couldn’t raise the money?  

As Holly prayed about it, she realized she needed to trust God. “Either you raise enough money or you don’t. But if you do, you know that’s where God wants you to be.”

So the O’Briens put their trust in God—and God provided.

Lance received a scholarship through the RCA’s Next Generation Missional Engagement Fund, which helps young people experience mission. The O’Briens were amazed when a garage sale they held to raise money for the trip brought in more than $1,000. Friends and family chipped in, too.

Then, last October, Lance and Holly O’Brien journeyed to Guatemala. Just as Holly had hoped, Lance was eager to serve and to soak up a different culture.

“My favorite part was probably playing with the kids,” Lance says. He and a girl his age on their team learned the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish and led the children in singing it. They played soccer with the children: “If you took a ball out, they would right away want to play soccer,” Lance says. They did crafts—when the kids were drawing with shaving cream, they decided to use Lance as their canvas. Lance even grew attached to a few of the kids and spent extra time playing with them in the evenings.

“I know mostly adults think about going on mission trips, but I would encourage anyone who has kids to think about taking them, too,” Holly says. “The kids there were excited to have someone closer to their age to play with.”

Over the course of the trip, Lance grew up a little bit.                    

“He became more independent,” Holly says. “I didn’t expect that, but he needed me less.”

The trip had a big impact on Holly, too.

“We had a little devotional time every morning, where we would stop and just pray for these kids,” Holly says. “That time with God helped me realize that this is not just a humanitarian thing. We weren’t just there to do a job, to get work done. You’re there to meet spiritual needs, not just the physical ones. When I would get caught up in cleaning up after the kids, I had to remind myself to focus on the relationships.”

Now Holly and Lance are back home in Grand Rapids, but they aren’t letting their mission end just because the trip is over.

Holly is reminding herself to “slow down, to stop thinking of my purpose as just to clean up, to do the physical labor. … As moms, we get so busy at home that sometimes we don’t set enough time aside for our relationships and for God. So I’m trying to slow down and take time for those things now.”

Both Lance and Holly continue to lift the children they met in Guatemala up in prayer, and they keep their eyes out for other ways God is calling their family to serve. Lance’s younger brother, who is nine, wasn’t quite old enough to go to Guatemala. But he is already asking about when he can go on a mission trip.

Lance would love to go on another mission trip eventually, too. In the meantime, he’s looking for ways to serve close to home by working with kids—starting with things like helping out in the church nursery. Holly believes God is preparing him for something more through experiences like the Guatemala trip.

“When Lance was two, he had a liver problem, which was really scary, but he pulled through. And then when he was nine, he had to get his appendix out, and it was already bursting, which led to an infection,” Holly says. “But he made it through that, too. So I just think God has something planned for him because he’s still here. We don’t know what yet, but I really believe that.”

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