Your intentions are the best. You want your kids to appreciate diversity, interact with people from other cultures, and be willing to sample food they didn't access through a drive-up window. There's just one problem: The family budget won't cover a mission trip this summer.
Not to worry, says Donna Thomas, whose international ministry has taken her to 79 countries—often with her sons, and now her grandchildren, by her side. Author of two books that help parents raise mission-minded kids, Donna insists that families can travel to faraway places and still sleep in their own beds at night. The success of such adventures hinges on preparation, with lots of discussions around the dinner table. Kids need to have a healthy curiosity about the world and not shy away from people simply because they look or dress differently. "Talking about the Lord's practice of intentionally reaching out to persons from different social, professional, and ethnic backgrounds is a good place to start," says Donna. That, plus a friendly smile, can break down all sorts of barriers.
She suggests five "field trips" that enable children to experience diversity, practice hospitality, and learn a thing or two about geography.
Browse the Mall
Stop by the mall, wander the shops, and ask your kids to read the labels on their favorite products. Where were those running shoes made? How about that cell phone? What country sent those neat superhero action figures? Make a list of "countries of origin," and when you get home, find the countries on the map.
Eat at an Ethnic Restaurant
Thai? Italian? Mexican? Chinese? Greek? Choose a family-owned eatery—not a franchise—located in an ethnic neighborhood and patronized by locals. Encourage your children to ask questions of the wait staff about the menu, the décor, and the language they hear. "Don't worry if they sound impertinent when they ask, 'Why do you wear that funny hat?'" says Donna. "Kids are kids, and people rarely are offended by them."
Take in an International Festival
Sometimes supported by churches as fundraisers, international festivals offer total cultural immersion. At a Greek festival, your family will snack on wonderful pastries; the Irish will teach you to line dance; and the Germans will entice you with brat, kraut, and an oom-pah band. If the sponsoring church is open for tours, you might be able to duck into the sanctuary and take note of the architecture, stained-glass windows, and religious icons.