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Six Ways to Help Kids Develop an Interest in Missions

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By Brenda Zook

1

Have a personal mission focus. A mission focus is kind of like a broccoli focus or a read-a-book-instead-of-watching-TV focus. It greatly depends on…the parents. You want your kiddos to love broccoli? You've gotta eat it! You want your sons to love reading books? No point in just talking about it, you have to read. In front of them. Prioritize reading. Take them to the library, read aloud to them, make time for reading…oh, I digress…but not really. If you want missions to be important in your family, missions should be important to you. If you say mission work is important but skip the missions focus Sundays at your church. If you toss the mission report letters in the trash unopened. If you make a major contribution to the building fund and throw a fiver in the missions offering, your kids are going to get the message you are modeling, not the one you talk about. So, the first, best way to raise kids with a heart for what God is doing around the world and in your community is to develop a heart for what God is doing around the world and in your community. No, that's not a repetitive typo. Reread. You want them to have it, you have to have it. If you don't, ask God to give you a heart like his. God is always willing to do more in our lives than what we are willing to have him do. So, ask…and hang on for the ride.

2

Meet missionaries regularly. Connect. In your home, in your church. Whenever your church hosts missionaries, be present. Learn to know them by name; learn to know their kids by name. Discover their interests; learn to know them as individuals not "The Missionaries." This is the way we discovered that missionary kids are, more than anything else, just kids (Missionary parents too, for that matter!). They face many similar challenges but in different locations. Kids are always losing their teeth or their pets. Kids want to do the same things your kids want to do—play with the newest Lego set, learn to play a musical instrument, read a new book, learn to ride bike. We had the delight of teaching missionary kids from two different families the joy of tree climbing!

I think it is valuable to occasionally send a card or letter or small care package to someone you are learning to know. Facebook and e-mail are great, but a hard copy of a letter in hand is worth two on the screen, in my opinion! I know that receiving real mail is an event at our house, and when mail bearing exotic looking stamps has traveled halfway around the world to arrive in our metal box, it stays visible for a long time on the table, on the bulletin board, or taped to the wall beside the desk. It's a big deal. And in this way, a missionary moves from being an unknown super-Christian to a real flesh and blood person with unique interests, distinctive handwriting and a certain way of "talking" on paper. I think kids identify more with missionaries and with the concept of missions when they realize that real people are involved in real places. That's one reason we decided to...

3

Create a prayer map. We incorporated this activity into the beginning of our home school day. We created little markers for various missionaries we knew through our church and conference and placed them on "their" country on a world map in our school room. When we heard that families were home for furlough or an extended visit, we moved their names back to their passport country…but only for a little while. Over time I became keenly aware of the fluid nature of "home" for these families. If I could use one word to characterize what we saw over and over again, it would be "transition," a word we take very seriously at our house. Saying goodbye is an intense and continual part of their lives. Even when they weren't leaving, co-workers were deciding not to return to their focus country. Or, short term workers who had perhaps even lived in their home were leaving. Again. Grandparents spent a week or three visiting, and then…another good-bye. We often prayed for kids entering new school situations or getting rid of beloved "stuff.” We prayed for peace and we prayed for parents to have patience. Missionaries became real families that we "knew," and we felt personally responsible when we heard that something had gone well.

4

Keep track of those newsletters! I know we are in the digital age, but many missionaries still send out a newsletter update printed on paper. What do you do with those newsletters? I purchased a large three-ring binder and filled it with pocket folders. On the lower half of the pocket, I tape a picture of the missionary/family, one per pocket. Each time we receive a newsletter, we file it in the pocket, always the newest on top. We had a season of life where we kept that notebook open in our main living area, and each day we turned a page and prayed for a different family based on the information in the current update. This was a way that these names and facts became connected with faces and places for our kids, so that when the missionaries did show up in person at church or at Conference in the summer, our kids had a head start in "knowing" them.

5

Follow missionary blogs. In recent years, we've been diligently following a number of missionary blogs during our home school mornings. We try to read from a variety of sources each week, but I'll be honest…we have our favorites; generally, the ones with the most frequent posts (There have been days when my son wanted me to e-mail someone and tell them to update their blog NOW!) We have thoroughly enjoyed seeing pictures of family adventures and events from around the world. We know that many of our friends are writing from sensitive areas where they can't report all of the details of their work, but we can read between the lines and again, when something happens, we have a tendency to feel that we had something to do with it because we have been praying.

6

Did I mention pray? I know I have incorporated this obvious tip with many of the above suggestions, but I think it is the core of a mission focus that is available to anyone. Some families will visit a foreign country or have missionaries stay in their homes while they are on furlough. Some families will contribute financially in a substantial way. But everyone can pray. Everyone. We've prayed for runaway street kids and asked God to comfort a friend whose pet had died.

So I end as I began…to help your family develop a mission focus, you must develop your own mission focus! Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I think one way of understanding this verse is that wherever you have invested yourself – time, money, interest, focus – that's where your heart will be. So, if you want to strengthen your heart for missions, the heart of your children for missions, then you need to seriously invest in missions. Make it a priority to pray for these people who are doing the work of the Kingdom in places where you may never visit. I have found that when I hear news from say, Thailand, or North Africa or Ecuador, I have a keen interest because my heart is already there. I know people living, walking, eating sticky rice, wading through knee deep flooding, trekking across barren hillsides and raising their families in those places. I love these people God has brought into my life who are laying down their lives for the sake of his Kingdom. And I hope my son is learning to love them too.


Brenda Zook lives with Max on Hickory Lane in Belleville PA. Their last bird in the nest, youngest son James, is entering 7th grade and the older boys are launched and married; one delightful grandson brings her joy! Brenda enjoys perennial, herb, and vegetable gardening but always welcomes the frost. The motto "Be where your feet are" challenges her to live fully in the present. She is especially fond of M&M's and guacamole. (Not combined!) She finds pleasure in preparing food, reading, problem solving, teaching, and writing. She leans hard on God's faithfulness. You can follow her blog at www.brendazook.weebly.com