I’m not one to be doling out parenting advice at all. Over the years we’ve, by the grace of the Lord alone, done a few things right but we’ve also made some monumental errors. No two kids are alike. No two families are alike. No two set of circumstances even come close to comparing. Personalities are vastly different. Sin struggles are varied and many. There are more days that I feel crazy as a parent than I feel sane.
So hear me when I say I’m not bragging here. The lists of triumphs are there, but behind every victory is a million I’m sorry’s, a thousand mess up’s and hours and hours and hours of pleading with the Lord.
But there is one piece I’m extremely thankful we did, as parents. It was a bit scary the first time but has proved abundantly worth it. And of course, we don’t know the end of our children’s story but we do know, for now, that what we see in them because of this is worth the scary!
It began when our oldest was 13. No wait, it probably started before that. If I rewind the rolodex in my mind I’m thinking that it started when our kids were around 5, 3 and 2. Or at least that’s the story I’m going with.
It all started with getting our first sponsor child through Compassion. Like many churches do, we had the table with packets holding photos of the most beautiful little faces. Of course, after hearing about it our oldest simply knew the right thing to do was choose the packet and make this child’s life better.
We took time, though, to explain it a little more. We didn’t pick a child that particular day but we went home and talked about what we could give up as a family in order to help a child. While $30 a month wasn’t a ton, the learning opportunities were abundant. We wanted our kids to know that giving to others means sacrificing of themselves. Because we aren’t simply called to give out of our abundance (ie. parents bank account) but we’re called to give sacrificially. We wanted them to be a part of this in a real way. And of course, thirty bucks being auto withdrawn from our bank account had very little impact on their lives – if that’s how we would have gone about it.
So we talked with them and offered suggestions as to what they could give up that might equal $30 a month. We settled on juice. At 5, 3 and 2 juice was a luxury item. Those boxes of apple juice were something my kids loved and yet, we decided together, that giving up juice in order to help a child was something we were all willing to do.
The next week at church we let the boys choose a child together. I can’t even handle this process because how do you choose one and leave the others? It’s too much for my heart so I was happy to let them do it.
They chose a small boy right about their age. They chose him because he was wearing pink shoes. They definitely felt that giving up juice was worth it in order to get this boy out of his sisters shoes! We laugh about it now. But for whatever reason, it’s who they were drawn to and who we supported.
I just want to own the fact that we were the worlds worst sponsor family ever. Yes, we gave up the juice, and yes we sent the money, but we only sent a letter to this child once when it was new and novel. Then we just sort of forgot.
We would get a reminder that his birthday was coming and so I’d check the box that allowed for an extra donation so that he could get a birthday gift, but we never went out of our way for personal connection with this boy. When I look back now I’m sad about it. But also, we were learning and it’s part of our journey.
Fast forward a few years to when we learned about the Joshua Project. Through their website we signed up to receive an email once a week. This email held the name of one unreached people group along with statistics on where they live, how many people belong to this group, what obstacles there were to ministering to them, and how few of them knew Jesus.
Each week we would read through the email together, giggle at the name of some of the people groups (which I’m sure we weren’t even saying correctly!) and write it up on a chalkboard in the boys room. Each night for the following week we would pray for this unreached people group, as well as the other groups that were already on the board.
It’s a small thing, but it’s also huge! Our kids eyes were opened to groups of people they would never hear about otherwise. We were all shown how many people there are in the world who have never heard of Jesus and maybe never will. We prayed that people would be brave enough to go to these tribes and nations. We prayed that one day maybe we would be the ones brave enough.
I think these conversations about people around the world are what planted the seeds in our children to even care. How would they know what existed around the world if we weren’t talking about it? How would they know that people needed to go and spread the gospel if they thought everyone lived just like them? How would they fight being entitled simply because we live in such a rich nation, without grasping that this here – this is not ‘normal’.
So, at 13 our oldest boarded a plane and left us for 5 weeks. He jet-setted across the ocean to be part of a youth outreach mission called Impact Ireland. It was made slightly easier by the fact that we have family in Ireland but still, he was 13 and he was out of our clutches for 5 weeks.
But what he learned that summer was more than we could ever teach him. He learned about service work and how yucky it can be and yet joy can be found there. He learned about street evangelism. He learned about setting aside what may be considered “uncool” and diving into that skit in the park because children are watching and listening to the gospel being presented. He learned about feeling oh-so-tired. He got to know older teens whose life had been transformed by Christ and he got to hear them share their stories and watch people be moved by it. He was young, yes. But he learned big things.
Our next boy went when he was 14 and he did it a little different. He moved right in with a family we didn’t know. He spent his time being someone else’s child and learning from them. He served, he prayed, he heard words from street kids that he still to this day won’t repeat to me because they’re so bad. I got messages from his new mom saying how impressed they were with him – his willingness to serve, to ‘take it’ when things got tough, and the maturity they saw in him as he reached out to a rough culture.
These things mean so much more than playing video games all summer.
This past summer we had the opportunity to go and serve in Mexico as a family and I was blown away by our kids response both during and after. It’s currently the only place they want to go – ever, and the conversation of family vacation will never exist because it will only and forever be Mexico. (at least for now!)
Our oldest boy, now 18, just hopped a plane a few days ago to head back for 2 months to serve. We couldn’t be more pleased.
I’ve heard parents say they can’t imagine their kids leaving. I’ve heard the worry in their voice about heading to unknown lands.
As a parent, I can honestly say there is nowhere I’d rather my kids be than giving up the comforts of home to serve the Lord. I haven’t for one second wished he wasn’t going. I haven’t for one second wish he’d be back. Do I miss his goofy antics around the house? Of course. But there is little worry of what if’s. What about university? What about money? What about the danger of an area? What about fires that are raging nearby? What about hurricanes and earthquakes? What about it?
Following the Lord is never a promised easy road but it is one of assurance. We know it’s where our boy is supposed to be and we’re so thankful.
Christian Mama’s and Dad’s, I urge us to introduce missions to our kids early and often in ways that we can – even when they’re small. Talk to them endlessly about the world and its people and the love that God has for all of it! Teach them about first world privilege and riches and what it means in light of scripture. Teach them daily about what giving of themselves sacrificially actually looks like.
Yes, it might mean that one day they’re going to move away from us. But shouldn’t that be a place of rejoicing, not mourning? When we teach our kids that other people matter, it shouldn’t shock us when they want to do big things for people. Nothing has made my Mama heart happier! Whether it’s contributing to IJM, taking on a sponsor child of their own through Casa de Luz, or going and being hands that serve and a voice that shares Jesus love – it’s worth it!