Thursday, April 14, 2011

MIA from my kids' history books!

Amy Carmichael. William Carey. David Livingstone. Familiar with these names? Did you study them in your history class when you were in school? If your child is in public school, their historical education will not cover these folks, either. Who are they, anyway? Were they army generals, people who brought about a political revolution, spies, leaders of ancient civilizations, or those who presided over vast changes in the social landscape of their country?

These people and others like them are every bit as important and perhaps more important than many of the people who fill our history books, yet their memories exist in relative obscurity. They are the people who have, in many different contexts around the world, put their safety, security, and sometimes very lives on the line to minister to others in Jesus' name and to be part of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. They are missionaries of the past who now dwell at home with their heavenly Father.

Not only are their stories worthy of our attention, but the life and spiritual lessons that can be drawn from their experiences are breathtaking. It is up to us as parents to introduce these amazing role-models to our children.

There are some great missionary biographies available both online and in stores. Right now, I bet you are thinking, "ZZZZZZZZZ. That will put my kids to sleep, and me, as well." Not true: These incredible stories deliver more excitement, drama, suspense, and interesting characters than even the best episode of The Bachelor, 24, or Law and Order!

If you are enthusiastic and entertained by missionary stories, then likely your kids will be as well. In some cases, they can be even more captivating than series like the Magic Tree House, Harry Potter, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because these stories are about REAL people, REAL dangers, REAL adventures, and REAL heroism! This summer, our family is going to have fun "getting to know" about several missionaries from the past--I hope you will consider doing this with your own family.

Here are some resources I have found to get you started: -- a website showing pictures and presenting brief biographies of many missionaries throughout history.

"Heroes for Young Readers" series (YWAM Publishing) These books are simple with great illustrations and written in rhyme form. They are geared towards children ages five to ten.

"Hero Tales" by Dave and Neta Jackson (Bethany House). Each volume contains 15 key Christian heroes, including a short biography and three extra stories for each hero. This book is aimed at children ages 6 - 12 and is meant to acquaint children (and parents!) with historically important missionaries and also to teach valuable spiritual and life lessons.

"Heroes of the Faith" (Barbour Publishing) Written by various authors, this series contains biographies of various missionaries as well as other men and women not thought of as "traditional" missionaries, like Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and C.S. Lewis.

"Men and Women of Faith Series" (Bethany House) This excellent collection of books is geared toward older readers--7th grade to adult.

"Trailblazer Series" If your child likes action, suspense, adventure, and a thrilling plot line, these books are terrific! They are geared for children ages eight to thirteen and are perfect for children to read to themselves.

Of course, there are a number of individual missionary biographies, too many to list here (such as "Through the Gates of Splendor" by Elizabeth Elliot).

I suggest you borrow or purchase a book about a missionary and dive into it with your kids. The books by themselves are wonderful, but they additionally provide so much in the way of jump-starting conversations about taking risks for our faith, trusting in God to provide, keeping an eternal perspective, and many other topics. They may even ignite a spark within our children's own hearts to serve the world on God's behalf someday.

Our kids need some new heroes--let's give them some that are worthy of their interest and respect. Here's to great reading, great life lessons, and a great awakening to the importance of taking the gospel of Christ to then ends of the earth!

"God had an only Son and he made him a missionary."--David Livingstone

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pinatas, Origami, and Heroes

As I wrote in my last post, it has dawned on me that my children need heroes beyond those featured 24/7 in the mass media and social networks. Certainly there are many people, in many capacities, who qualify as heroes. Those who put their lives on the line, such as police officers and firemen, as well as those serving in the military, are heroes. People who foster and adopt children from abuse and neglect are heroes. If I may be so bold, I think moms of young children are heroes for just surviving each day. I could go on and on...

The heroes I want to focus on right now are those who have invested their lives in spreading the gospel to the nations, especially missionaries living on the foreign mission fields. These include both past and present missionaries. So, the question has become, "How do I teach my children about these great people of God?" This post will be about current, living missionaries, and then I'll tackle the subject of missionaries from the past in my next post.

I began making some first attempts at teaching my daughters (ages 5 and 7) about missionaries when they were about three. It occurred to me that in order to understand the magnitude of what these missionaries are doing, they must have an understanding of God's love for the world. I talk to my children about how God is not just the God of Coppell (our little suburb) he is the God of the whole world! He created every person on the earth, and it is his desire that persons from every nation, tribe, people and language bow down around the throne of God in heaven(Rev. 7:9).

We look at a world map and I will ask them, "does God just love people on one side of the world?" "Does God just love people who have skin like us or speak the same language as us?" They shout, "No, Mommy!" I will then ask them, "who does God love?" "Everyone in the whole world!" Does God desire that everyone in the world know about his son Jesus and that he is their Savior?" "Yes, Mommy, yes!" Ok, I don't always get an enthusiastic response, sometimes they roll their eyes. But regularly reminding them of these truths does seem to get through sometimes.

I explain about the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children (all the children of the world...)" I tell them that their are people who have devoted their lives to loving little children all over the world because they are important to Jesus, he loves them, and wants them to know about Him.

We try to pray for missionaries that we know. As the Mission-Minded Child states, "We need to remember that the prayers of a child--even our children--can change lives and impact nations." Their pictures are posted near our world map so we can remember to pray. We also pray for missionaries and residents of countries that are currently in particular turmoil--such as Libya. I remind my girls that anytime there is a country with uncertainty, upheaval, and unrest, God is moving and it is important to pray that through this trial, many will come to see and know Christ.

We have tried to have a few missionaries over to our home when they are in America on furlough. There is no substitute for sitting face-to-face with people who are living in different cultures among different peoples and serving them while sharing the love of Jesus Christ. My girls' eyes grow wide when they hear about all the exotic foods (squirrel stomach?) and exciting adventures that these missionary families have. Our family gets to see others model first-hand what it means to be truly sold-out to Christ and live a life fully committed to him.

Ann Dunagan shares that they often have missionaries stay in their homes for a few nights. Their older children clean their rooms and wash their sheets and agree to sleep on the floor in their little brothers' room (with a smile!) in order to make room for the visiting missionaries. Her children have all kinds of stories: "When people from Africa or India come over, they usually think my bedroom is like a royal guesthouse! It reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for and how much I usually take for granted. Sometimes our visitors have never seen dishwasher, or a grocery store....International guests have stood watching in amazement through an entire washing machine cycle--when the lid was up!"

So, find out from your church who some of your missionaries are, and start teaching your kids about them, supporting them through prayer, mail, and e-mail, and consider welcoming them into your home (for a few hours or a few days) when they are visiting the States. Other ideas to engage your children in learning about missionaries serving in different cultures:
  • put together a world map puzzle
  • let your children dress in international costumes
  • try to eat with chopsticks
  • listen to international music
  • buy a pinata and have a Mexican-themed party
  • learn to draw a few Chinese characters
  • learn to draw the flag of the country of a missionary you support
  • check out a library book on origami are and experiment with Japanese paper-folding
  • collect international postage stamps send a quick and encouraging e-mail to a missionary. (better yet, send a handwritten letter or small care package!)
  • visit a local travel agency (or one on the Internet) and browse through international travel packages
  • visit the children's section of your local library and check out several books about a particular country
  • watch a TV show or special about another country

(*excerpted from "The Mission-Minded Child")

The world is full of great role models for our children, if we will just look for them (because they are not going to be featured on Entertainment Tonight, People magazine, the Drudge Report, or Facebook. I know, I've looked ;). Missionaries are a particularly valuable role model for my children, because my heart's desire is that Mika and Macy will grow up to be equipped to whole-heartedly fulfill God's call on their lives, whether across town or across the globe.