One of our highest goals for our children was for them to experience Christianity in at least one other culture, preferably a third world country. Because it was a priority, we made it happen.
Three of our girls–then ages 12, 13, and 15–went with me to Russia in January of 1999. For three weeks we visited orphanages and held children, carried boxes of food and 20-pound bags of flour and rice to shelters, and shared the story of Jesus in schools, orphanages, and churches.
One night our translator invited six of us to her apartment for dinner. Anastasia met us at our hotel in the afternoon twilight. From there we walked, then rode the subway, and finally followed her down a maze of streets until we stopped at a neighborhood outdoor market where she purchased a can of meat and a few potatoes. Then we continued walking to her apartment building.
Once inside, we climbed the stairs to her tiny little residence, shed our multiple outer layers, and began helping her prepare dinner. Several of us peeled potatoes while Anastasia handed out simple plates and cups. She moved her small table away from the wall to make room for our group, moving the other sparse furniture back against the walls. Then she opened the can of meat, poured it into the pot of potatoes to complete our meal.
As we sat crowded around her small table I remember being grateful for so much: for this sweet young woman who so patiently guided us each day on our journeys and translated for us, for our fellowship as believers which tasted a bit like I imagined heaven, but mostly I was thankful that my girls were experiencing what it looked like to be a Christian in another country.
Haiti, China, and Estonia also welcomed our children, one for two months in very primitive conditions in a rural area of China and another in communist-block housing for a year. American Christianity is not the purest form of our faith … being clouded and sometimes compromised by our prosperity and love of comfort. Opening our children’s eyes to other cultures and to a global vision of God’s love for all gave our kids a greater understanding of God and His work throughout the world.
Our journey through this parenting series has sought to encourage you to coach and train your children to love God and others, to wisely builde their character, and to find their true identity in Christ. All three of these hallmarks of the Christian faith are leveraged in the last goal/task of raising children: releasing your child to fulfill the Master’s mission for his life.
The concept of mission means “being sent” on an important task or assignment. Training your child to be purposeful about his life, to evaluate how he is stewarding his talents, gifts, abilities, experiences, and passion is one of the most important ways that you will guide and shape your child’s life.
Mission is all about purpose, significance, and meaning in life. The opposite is futility, emptiness, and eventual despair. Every child, by middle school, begins to ask the questions why am I here, what can I contribute, how can my life matter? Even if he isn’t asking you, your child is wondering about his value in this big world.
Every parent, every child, every person is designed by God for a mission. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship literally means a “work of art.” Your child’s life is a one-of-a-kind exquisite masterpiece.
He is not just your “work of art,” a product of human conception. Your child is divinely handcrafted with heavenly fingerprints and eternal ingenuity. His life is hard wired with a spiritual DNA, made in His image, to ignite good works God prepared beforehand uniquely for your child to execute.
Just as we did with our children by taking them on mission trips, so it is your job as a parent to guide your child in understanding more of what God is doing worldwide, which broadens their concept of purpose and mission in life. As they near the last two years of high school, you can start helping your child to dream big and find ways to develop specific talents and skills through classes, vocational school or the best college for his interests.
You know better than any other human how your child works, what he likes and doesn’t like, what she’s good at and what isn’t her thing. You are an important stakeholder in this mission decision.
Because we were created to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), even your young children can begin to understand this concept as you talk about showing Jesus to others every day by our words and our actions. We talked often about representing Jesus at school, in their jobs, and with our neighbors. Having a mission doesn’t mean your child has to move to Africa and start an orphanage, but it could.
God has made your child in specific ways for His specific plans. Maybe your son will be a teacher, a banker, a pastor, and a husband. Maybe your daughter will be a doctor, a retail store manager, or a wife and mom. But it’s your responsibility to remind your child that he doesn’t get to decide on his own. He gets to steward the gifts and desires that God has put inside of him for God’s already-determined purposes.
But if that feels a tad overwhelming that’s okay! It’s a big faith adventure. Here are a few starters on helping your child discover a God-given mission.
1. Pray for discernment to see and identify your child’s gifts, abilities, passions, and burdens…his “missional DNA” as they begin to emerge. As we’ve noted, you are the one who recognizes those better than any other; you are not the one who instilled these into your child. Ask the Creator for insight into His creation.
2. Start a diary for you to enter ideas and observations. Jot down little notes here and there as you see strengths and interests blossom in your child.
3. Affirm and encourage him often when you see your child operating in the sweet spot of his gifts and wiring. Positive affirmation is especially important in the awkward years of adolescence when your teen needs an outsider to speak truth to him. Don’t be surprised if he has difficulty believing it.
4. Applaud your child’s initiative.
5. Take advantage of aptitude testing services as children move into their middle teens and beyond. Your child’s school guidance counselor might even have access free options. And you can find a multitude of testing options online.
6. Invite your child to dream. Ask her this question: If you could do anything in the world and couldn’t fail, what would you do and why? Keep this a regular point of conversation. At the appropriate time read her this quote:
“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible,
What a pity we plan only things that we can do by ourselves.”
7. Encourage and affirm every step of faith, large or small.
8. Teach your children how to process failures. Don’t be too quick to rescue them either. Failure is often one of the best tutors in each of our lives.
9. Don’t let their dreams scare you! Our oldest son is our child who spent a year in Estonia. When he came home from college during his junior year to tell us he wanted to go live in Estonia for a year and introduce students to Jesus Christ, we had to get a map out to see where it was on the planet! Many conversations and months later, we found ourselves at the airport as he and five other friends boarded a flight across the globe without a return ticket.
It was a life-changing experience for everyone, including us and his siblings left behind who watched and prayed and were challenged by his experience. (You may be surprised to learn that parents are the number one reason college graduates don’t go into the ministry … “Christian parents” block their kids from going. Personally, standing between what God wants and our child doesn’t sound like a good place to be!)
10. Pray with and for your child that he will fulfill God’s mission for his life.
11. Read Matthew 28:19-20. Note the context of this passage. Jesus gave His great commission as He spoke His last words to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
12. Assign one of your children to read and give a book report to the family on Katie Davis Majors’ book Daring to Hope. Our son who spent a year in Estonia just took his 14-year-old daughter to Uganda with Compassion International and visited Katie’s ministry and school. He is requiring all four of his daughters to read Katie’s books, including her first, Kisses for Katie. Mom/Dad…tighten your seat belts, this is quite a story by a remarkable young lady.
Even though all of our children went on multiple international mission trips, none is living overseas as missionaries. But all of them are on mission today in their jobs, in their homes with their families, in their neighborhoods, and in their churches. Ministry and mission start at home no matter where you live.
And who knows the future plans God may have for our six and their families! Only the King knows. Ours is to hold our children loosely, at all ages, and trust God that He loves them more than we do, and that His plans are perfect and good.
Plan a date with your husband, even if it’s an after-the-kids are-in-bed living room date with two cups of decaf. Find even 30 minutes to talk about these questions and how you can help identify and define God’s mission for each of your kids.
1. Discuss this Ethiopian proverb: “The feet take a person where one’s heart is.”
2. Do any of your children have any dreams that scare you? If so, talk about why. Pray for your child that she would always hear God’s voice above any other and have the courage to follow it. Pray that you would be willing to accept and encourage the mission that God is calling her to.
3. If your children are too young to read Katie Davis Majors’ books, use your evening date with your husband to read one of her books together. Take turns reading aloud perhaps.
4. Begin naming specific strengths, preferences, and likes in each of your children.
5. Schedule a regular date night with your spouse to sharpen your inventory of your child’s life. Discuss how you can better develop your child’s gifts, talents, and passions as her parents.