Field trips in a ministry like El Crucero are tricky endeavors.
When gathering children off of the streets for church is a common practice, how do you carry children away from their neighborhood without running the risk of being considered a kidnapper?
…and yet, how do you get permission from parents you never see and who never engage with the ministry?
How do you trust a permission slip when it is illegible and generally incomplete? … when there is no emergency contact number? …when it looks like the child filled it out?
And what do you say to the 4th grader begging to bring along her 2-year-old sister because she serves as the baby’s primary caregiver and won’t be allowed to go unless she can bring her little charge with her.
…or to the family of siblings who matter-of-factly declare they are not available to go on the field trip because it falls on “wash day,” and they are expected to go to the laundromat and help their mom with the week’s dirty clothes.
How do you decide how many children to expect/prepare for when you never know who is going to show up at the appointed time? Will there be enough drivers to transport everyone? Will we have enough adult supervision? Will there be enough food, enough goody bags, enough seats?
Or, on the contrary, will there be enough children? Will they remember to come at this unusual time? Will their parents decide to postpone wash day or let to their oldest ones leave the babies at home? Will we plan and buy and anticipate only to be disappointed…or, even worse, to BE a disappointment?
And what about the risks? What if someone gets hurt? How will we let her family know? And won’t we be held personally liable? If something goes wrong, might it not destroy the ministry? Is a field trip really worth all this risk?
For the first year of El Crucero, such questions made outings and field trips seem like an impossibility to me. But slowly, as we got to know the children better, I began to dream. Couldn’t we take a few of the older children to the movie theater? None of them had ever been before. Might I not have a tea party for the girls at my house and serve them on my best china and make them feel like princesses? Oh, wouldn’t the boys love to go bowling or to their first baseball game or to play laser tag at the mall?
We began small, but over the past 2 years we’ve grown bolder in planning such outings. At first, we would only take out groups of 4 or 5 kids, but later we began to bring entire small groups of up to 13 boys or girls at a time.
We made up our own permission slip and would often follow kids home to get a parent’s signature. We knew such slips didn’t give us any real legal protection, but we decided that making sure the parents knew where their children were and had given permission for them to go was good enough. The special opportunity to build and strengthen relationships in the group combined with the joy of watching how exuberantly our young friends enjoyed these new experiences proved to be well worth all of the risks.
Eventually, we have begun to use such outings as incentives. We keep “star boards.” Children earn their way to participate in the next small group outing by earning a pre-established number of stars. Stars are awarded for showing up for church, memorizing bible verses, remembering to bring a bible, and reading the bible at home during the week.
Amazingly, using outings as incentives has proven to be extraordinarily effective. Not only have the children been showing us how responsible they can be; but, quite unexpectedly, the participation in trips has grown exponentially. And the star boards give us frequent opportunity to explain and demonstrate grace.
Do you also minister to children in an impoverished community? I’d love to hear about what has worked and not worked in your group. Let’s share stories!