10-year-old Austin comes home from school and talks about a new boy from India.
The boy says he believes in a lot of different gods. Austin informed him – tiny chest out, smirk on his face – that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you won't go to heaven. His mother is appalled at his brazenness: “Honey, that’s not how we teach people about Jesus.”
18-year-old Amber believes she is being called to be a missionary, but she’s not sure what to do with that. She consumes books and documentaries about faraway lands with great spiritual and physical needs. Her eyes well. Her heart breaks.
6-year-old Dustin walks hand-in-hand with his mother down the street and notices a girl his age, curled up and dirty, clinging to her dad and dog on the sidewalk. They have a sign that says “Anything helps.”
Mom, what do I do?
As a child, God started cultivating in me His heart for the world through Feed the Children infomercials. Watching stories of children without food, homes or parents, my 10-year-old heart yearned to do something to help. I believe that’s how He led me to where I am today – in an organization that serves the world in His Name.
But I am not an unusual story. This is how many believers begin their journey into missions.
Children are in a special place where their hearts are soft and they long to make a difference. Teaching kids to care for the world may seem overwhelming, but simple faith steps can shape your child’s life.
Here are 6 ways you can inspire your kids to see the world like a missionary.
1. Learn and experience as a family.
Education and information are the primary ways any of us are changed. We do not know to be compassionate about a certain epidemic until we read about it in the newspaper. Kids are no different.
Read with your children about other cultures. This can start from toddlerhood, and continue through teenage years. (Recommendations for teen reading are Take Your Best Shot, Do Hard Things and Kisses from Katie.) Exposing kids to new foods, international music, or documentaries and talking about it afterward is a simple way to start.
Cru's ministry, MK2MK, has more hands-on experiences for the whole family. Teach your elementary-aged children about the “10/40 window” – an area of the globe with the greatest socioeconomic need and least access to the gospel message – with an activity involving pennies and raisins. Or take the Simplicity Challenge with your teenagers, and learn about the people of the world who do not have hot water or a bed to sleep on everyday.
2. Learn from those around you.
A more personal way to learn is having a face to accompany the experience. Is there someone you know from a different country or cultural background? Whether it is a fellow church member, a family from your child’s school, or a neighbor, befriending them can influence your family.
Have this person or family over for dinner. Ask about their background, their language and how their culture is similar to or different from ours. What are their favorite traditions? What do people most need?
Not only is this a great way for your family to learn, but it’s an opportunity to experience fellowship and minister with your children.
3. Pray broadly.
After you’ve learned more about other cultures and nations, praying for them regularly is a good way to keep them in mind.
Cru staff member Holly Hoppe uses the guide Window to the World to teach her kids about different countries, what life is like there and how to pray.
“There are pictures of children who live in each country, which my kids love,” Holly says. “And using the Bible.Is app on my phone, we listen to Scripture in the language that is spoken there. They always giggle at that part. Then we pray together for that country.”
4. Pray specifically.
In the same way getting to know someone from abroad can have a greater influence than simply learning about a culture, praying for someone by name can affect you and your child – and the one you’re praying for!
If you support a missionary or sponsor a child through an organization like World Vision or Compassion International, pray with your child for them daily. If you’re looking for someone to pray for specifically and correspond with, contact Brenda.Friesen@cru.org to be matched with a missionary family with Cru.
5. Let them go!
When your child sees a need, chances are they’ll want to respond. When your 6-year-old hears that some children cannot afford Christmas presents, she may want to send them one. If your teenager realizes they can change a life on the other side of the globe, he may want to go there.
Trust God with your family and walk alongside them as they take steps of faith. Know that He is the one who has a plan for their heart.
6. Put the gospel first.
The most important aspect of cultivating a missional heart in your child is encouraging their relationship with their heavenly Father. As a kid, I had a humanitarian heart. But it wasn’t until I learned about Jesus that I was driven to love the way He did.
Get involved in a church where your kids can learn. Befriend other Christian families. Read the Bible with them. (My favorite children’s Bible can be ordered here.)
And pray for them. Your children need God more than anything else.