I am burdened for so many things for my children. There are many ways in which I want to invest in my children, and so much that I want to teach them. I want my children to understand and live out the greatest command that Jesus gave to us - to love God with our everything, and to love people as much as ourselves. (Luke 10:27) I understand all of life can be filtered through obedience of that command, and I want my children to see that as well. I also want them to be impacted by the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and desire to share Jesus - whether that means in their back yard or to the ends of the earth. I long for my children to have compassionate hearts, and to see people the way that Jesus sees people. While, I believe that living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will help shape my childrens' hearts in phenomenal ways for the world, I do not think that every family has to move across the world to accomplish the same thing.
Making a choice to intentionally live missionally comes from the work that God has done in my own heart. Anything that we want to pass onto our children must first begin in our own heart. We cannot pass on that which we do not possess. God really began burdening my heart for missions and for intentionally sharing His gospel when we began walking through the process of adoption. There was something about walking through that process and getting such a unique and beautiful portrait of the gospel in that journey. I just want to share that with the world! It's not entirely a new desire, when I was a little girl, I soaked up missionary stories, and when I was a freshman in college I seriously considered teaching in the Ivory Coast. (I guess my heart knew even then that Africa would become very special to me.) I even remember emailing my parents about this desire. I may have scared them a bit! And honestly what held me back? Fear. Fear of the unknown. I didn't really know that much about the world or the needs of the world or even God's love for the world. I knew about my backyard, but not much beyond that. That was for other people, not someone so ordinary and timid as me.
But I want something different for my children.
I want to raise my children with a heart for the nations. I desire for my children to grow up and give up their entire lives for the gospel. I want them to love people - all kinds of people, not just the ones that look like them. I want them to really know that every human being is fashioned in the very image of God. I want that to impact the way they interact and show Jesus' love to people. My prayer is that they would understand that every person that they come in contact with has a soul and will one day be in eternal paradise or eternal damnation, and I want that to matter to them. I even pray that God would use them internationally. Ultimately I want all of my children to give their lives to serving others - to have a sincere heart for the lost, the hungry, the alone, the suffering people of this world, and to share the mercy of Jesus and the gospel with them. I desire for them to see that there is more to life as we know it here in America. In being burdened with this desire, I am trying to intentionally foster a heart for the world in my children. Here are a few of the ideas we have come up with to give kids a heart for the world:
1. Be intentional with how you decorate. This is a simple way to expose kids to the world. Decorate with globes, maps, and art from around the world. It doesn't have to expensive or elaborate. Many of these items can even be found at local thrift stores. Laminate a beautiful world map, take the time to learn about different cultures, countries, and people groups and then locate them on the map. Point out where your church's missionaries live on the globe. Be intentional with not only decorating with items that our "American" in nature - you can easily mix and match. Not only will it bring exposure to your kids, but it will add visual interest and great conversation starters to your home.
2. One of the best ways to influence your kids is through reading. We are a huge fan of books. Reading is absolutely key to impacting our kid's hearts, and there is so many amazing books out there to choose from. I love reading missionary biographies and autobiographies, and I believe they are a great way to introduce kids to missions. A quick google search will pull up many great books that are geared for all different ages. My favorite, as a child, was Amy Carmichael. Her story is absolutely fascinating. Hero Tales is a great place to start as well! Our family is careful to choose books that have all kinds of characters from all over the world, not just blue-eyed, blond-haired Americans. One of our favorite board books for little children is All God's Children: Why We Look Different by Ken Ham.
3. Try ethnic foods. It has been so fun for our family to try recipes and foods from around the world. This has really opened our eyes to various cultures that we otherwise would not have learned about. You can easily find cookbooks or recipes online, or make a conscious effort to experience ethnic restaurants in your area.
4. Pray together for the world. I have seen prayer foster a compassionate heart in my children. A really great book for this is Window On the World. It gives specific needs to pray for for various countries. I think it is wonderful beginning tool to open children's eyes to the world. We also pray for missionaries in other countries. We keep an eye on current events around the world, and we discuss and pray for the needs in our world right now in an age-appropriate way. My children knew about the shooting in Kenya, the bombings in Boston, and the bomb threats in Addis, and they prayed for the families involved.
5. Consider sponsoring a child, or supporting a family on the mission field. There are so many great ministries out there that feature child sponsorship. One of our favorites is Compassion. This gives your family a great opportunity, not only to help a child in need, but to learn about her country, culture, and to intentionally pray as a family for your sponsored child. The same is true for a missionary family. Find a family that you can get behind, and learn about the country they work in, get to know the needs of the people they live with, and focus time each week to pray for that family.
It's never too early to begin fostering kid's hearts for the world. It is amazing to watch compassion grow, and see the difference that perspective brings to our kids' lives. I desire to raise kids who really love people above things - I want them to have a heart for the world. Even children can be used around the world to advance God's kingdom!
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
[This was taken on our first trip to Ethiopia for court. The girl in the middle is the daughter of our adoption friends whom we traveled with. I learned so much from watching these older children on the trip, and I saw so many beautiful character traits in them, that I hope my children also have at that age. Thank you Jennifer for permission to post this photo. It is forever a favorite of mine!]