A family mission trip inspires giving

The driver’s game of chicken with an oncoming car had caused both Susan and Hannah to grow wide-eyed and white-knuckled in the back seat. Half-praying, half-talking to herself, Susan thought, “What have I done to my family? This is dangerous. Lord, is this where you want us to be? Maybe we’ve made a mistake.” Just then Hannah nudged her, laughing and singing, “Hey mom, hakuna matata! It means no worries, for the rest of your days!” 


No worries, indeed. In many ways, this crazy cab ride sums up a lot about the giving experience that Susan Peterson and her husband, Todd, are having with their children, Hannah (15) and Zach (13). While most American kids have only heard the phrase “hakuna matata” in a Disney movie, Hannah and Zach have experienced it firsthand. And although their adventures in giving have not always been entirely worry-free, they all agree that the joy they’ve experienced has freed them in a much deeper way. Giving hands-on together as a family has helped them overcome the materialism that sinks most American families today … even if the journey has been a wild ride at times.

So how does a suburban family from just north of Atlanta end up trekking through slums on the other side of the world? For the Petersons, it all started as a quest to get away. After years of moving around with Todd’s demanding career as a pro football player, Susan envisioned a quiet sabbatical abroad. But they soon realized that God had a different plan. Susan says, “For the first time, we felt called to engage in work on international soil with indigenous leaders.”


So the Petersons traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, which served as their base for the next six weeks. The culture shock that they encountered was an eye-opener for Todd and Susan. From stifling buses and bizarre foods and insects, to serving and sleeping in less than sanitary conditions, Todd and Susan’s patience was put to the test. Todd says, “It was humbling to be confronted with the reality of how other people live in ways that I’d never even imagined.”

But the experience was much different for their children. Susan explains, “It was incredible to watch our kids at seven and nine have an easier time of it than we did. Where we were a bit uncomfortable walking into a township, a slum, they never were. They would just run in and immediately go to play with
the kids.”


The highlight of their adventure was meeting two of their sponsor children, Karen in Nairobi, and Lawi in Yala. Compassion International helped arrange the trips and provided a translator to help them navigate the linguistic and cultural barriers.

Susan says, “The first family we visited was Karen’s, and they lived right outside of Nairobi in very open urban poverty. It was a terrifying situation. They insisted on giving us gifts. It was humbling to see how generous they were to us.”

Then they traveled by bush plane to meet Lawi at his remote home in Yala land. Even though the ministry had told Lawi’s family not to prepare any food, the Petersons were greeted by the delicious smell of fresh roasted chicken and toasted sesame seeds when they arrived at the mud hut. Then Lawi’s dad presented them with an entire bushel of bananas. It was all the bananas that are produced by a banana tree in a whole year. Astonished at the generosity of Lawi’s family, Susan says, “We were out-given that day, for sure.”


Since this first trip seven years ago, the Petersons have been back to Africa five times. Now Hannah plans to go with one of her friends on her first mission there without her family. She is eager to explore what her own wild ride in giving will be. After all, this is one family that has learned to say, “hakuna matata,” while trusting God for it all.

You feel like you need the newest thing, but that could pay for several months of things that they truly need in Africa.
— Hannah