Engaging Children in Missions

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

By Krista Frohling

Recently, I was involved in a conversation regarding how to talk about missions with children. It dawned on me that the way Chris and I have done this in our own family started out as any other type of parenting lesson: simple, age-appropriate, and often times, unexpected. As we have grown in our faith and as our three sons – David, Andrew and Johnny – have developed and matured, we have become more intentional in the way we live out our beliefs and in our discussions about the ways God uses His people to bring Him glory.

As with each family, we have our own particular passion toward specific types of mission work and as a result, the way we have shared with our kids has a particular bent. We are also surrounded by a wise community we have been able to learn from and apply actions we see others doing.

Many years ago, I remember being in the car with Jill Dixon and our young kids. I watched her roll down her window when she saw a homeless man holding an Anything Helps sign. She engaged in a conversation with him and then gave him a brown bag she and her kids had packed full of food. Following this example began a wonderful journey for our family of being intentional and looking for ways to show God’s love to those who are overlooked. It has also taught our boys appropriate ways to talk to others and has gotten them excited about giving. They love to make and give away those bags.

(As an aside, it’s also a bit of foreshadowing since Jill Dixon is now the Director of the Men’s Learning Center at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, both a homeless shelter and a 12-month recovery program for men and women desiring to break free from addiction, poverty, homelessness, and crime. It’s also a local ministry we, as a church, support with our money, time, and prayers. It’s an amazing place.)

Another example of learning from my friends is when our play group decided to visit a local nursing home. Shelley Fogg had the brilliant idea to have our youngsters (and us) spend time with some elderly folks who didn’t seem to have many companions. She got in touch with the nursing home and ensured that they could use some friends and we went each month with activities that could be done with toddlers and 80+ year olds. I swear, this is so out of my comfort zone; I admit that I was a reluctant follower. The kiddos went with no reservations and we were able to bless this sweet group of folks who hadn’t seen a child since the last time we’d been there. The kids learned that they could show Jesus’s love just by showing up. I happened to learn that lesson too.

When the boys were young, we decided to partner with Compassion International. We sponsored other boys from Mexico who were around the same ages as our sons. We chose Mexico because we hoped that someday we would be able to visit. We were able to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2008 and it was indeed a life-changing event for all five of us. Being involved, albeit from a distance, in the lives of Angel, Luis, Juan, and Manuel, has been a good lesson to all of us about praying and hoping and learning about the customs of people who live a very different reality. As the prayers have morphed over the years (“I hope they have a brick house” to “Help Luis’s dad find work”) we have learned that God is present through it all, He listens to our prayers, and works in ways we don’t expect.

As a family, we have all had the privilege of walking alongside and learning from Merrill and Teresa Dyck. They have come to our home, shown us pictures of Venezuela and the people they live and work with, and taught us about God’s patient love as well as the evil and persecution that happens in the world. Knowing them as real people and getting to know them in the ups and downs of life has shaped all of us in ways that only being in honest community can.

On Christmas morning, each of our boys receives three gifts. One is a gift given in his name. (I have to admit, this is another idea from Jill and Rich Dixon.) Chris and I go through various “catalogs” from World Vision or Hope International and pick a gift that would be significant to give in the name of each of our kids. Part of a water well to a family in Mexico to Johnny because he’s such a great water drinker. A pair of soccer balls to kids in Peru to David because he loves soccer. A mango tree and its long lasting fruit to Andrew because he loves mangoes and small business ideas. It’s a super fun time for Chris and me to figure out what the boys would resonate with as well as writing out the cards to each of them to explain why we chose that particular item.

Because we have had the experience as a family of living overseas and seeing poverty first-hand, we want to make sure we do not become jaded to the privileges that living our particular life in Santa Barbara brings. We are up-front and specific with the boys about how much money we give (and how the money other people gave allowed us to serve for those years). We want them to know what an important discipline money-giving is and how it is one of the ways God uses us in the lives of others.

Along these lines, we also try to teach them that we have choices in how we spend our money. For example, in our family, we tend to eat large dinners (understatement). Sometimes, however, we have dinners solely comprised of rice and beans. This is a way to remember those living on $2 a day, as well as to remind us to be thankful and that we have a choice in how we spend our money. Because we saved a significant amount by just eating rice and beans, we give the boys the dollars we saved and let them choose where they would like it to go. We have three jars with the names of three organizations taped to them that the boys researched and chose. Instead of just pocketing the savings, the boys get to choose where to send it. It’s a fun exercise to count up the money after a few months and send it off.

We talk to the boys regularly about how they can show God’s love. Sometimes it comes naturally and other times not so much. It seems important to remind them that by nature of following Jesus, we are all missionaries. God uses us wherever we are to further His Kingdom. It’s about obedience as well as enjoyment. When we ask what they want to get involved in, the answers vary: painting pictures, feeding the hungry, teaching English, coaching basketball. In each example and at each stage, we can see the importance of intentional communication and the reminder we are His light. We pray that their light will shine before others and that their good deeds will glorify God. That is what I think of when I think of missions: Let your Light shine!