“Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. ”
How do we teach our children to help others? How do we create a generation with servants’ hearts? How do we radicalize the next generation for God now? The answer is simple, teach them to serve now.
Somewhere along the line in my childhood I learned the Bible verse I quoted above (Proverbs 22:6). I don’t remember where or why it was taught to me but it definitely has programmed itself into my memory through all of these years. I’ve always understood the meaning but it never consciously made a significant impact until recently.
In 2010, Thomas and I were involved with a Sunday School class that began a monthly mission in downtown Jacksonville where we gave out sandwiches and waters to the homeless. Our goal was to not only meet there temporary physical need of hunger (that need is easily met by the homeless shelter that offers lunch just a couple of blocks away) but to also be able to offer a friendly smile, a conversation, and a prayer to people that society often shrugs off, avoids, or simply ignores. To help them, in a small way, to realize that they matter, that we see them, to simply acknowledge their humanity. Typically, we would leave our then two year old daughter, Natalie, with a friend. One Saturday, our babysitter was unavailable so we made the decision to bring her with us. This was the moment that the concept of family missions was born inside of me.
Natalie was your typical two year old. I jokingly say that she had the attention span of a goldfish. She would quickly move from one activity to another, no one thing keeping her attention for more than a few minutes. We started that day by having her help pass out water and it ended with her playing in the fountain at the park. I became frustrated at the constant corralling I had to do to keep her out of trouble and near me. I found that I was unable to help others the way that I wanted. I was busy chasing my child. I did notice something that day though, the people that waited in line for water or a sandwich would light up when they saw her. Many of them stopped to talk to her and to me. It seemed to make their day that this little child was there interacting with them. It was that day that we decided to include our toddler in all future PB&J missions (as we called it). This continued for a little over a year until the program finally ended due to burn out among our group.
For a long time after we started including Natalie in our monthly trips downtown if you asked her what you do when you go downtown her answer was always “help people.” I knew that I wanted to be able to continue to work with her (and now her little sister) in ministering to others in any capacity that came our way so that she would always want to “help people.”
I have had the burning desire to continue with “family missions” for quite a while but have not yet found a new outlet to pour my family into. Natalie is now 5 and has a 19 month old little sister, Kristen. Thomas recently went on a mission trip to Haiti and came back changed. His experiences have changed me as well.
It was earlier this week that Proverbs 22:6 again came to mind. This time it was accompanied by the idea that I recently Tweeted. “How to radically change the next generation for God? Start when they are young and serve along side your children in family missions.”
It doesn’t matter if your child is a toddler or a teenager there are activities that you can be involved in to teach your children to have a servant’s heart. Activities that will teach them that everyone matters no matter their situation. The imagination is your limit on what you can do with your children. I can promise you that it will change them. It will change them in ways that will never leave them no matter where their lives take them. We live in a selfish world. It’s time to reverse that trend and start teaching the next generation to reach out of their comfort zone, out of their bubble and help the one next to them.