I love this time of year, the season of Advent, as we remember and celebrate that the Light of the World has come. We remember that in this most common event of giving birth, we were given the most magnificent gift and the greatest treasure to ever be found: in Jesus, God has become flesh and taken his place among us. How interesting that the coming of our Savior and the greatest story ever told began with a birth and the raising of a child. There are so many ways God could’ve entered our world but he chose instead to start as a child.
Like Mary, we as parents are charged with the responsibility of raising our children. We parents know this task well, but it’s not an easy one. Life is a blur of feedings, diaper changes, and cleaning up messes when they’re young. Then as they get older you find yourself running them from one school event to another. In our situation, God has called us to a foreign land, and so we raise our children here. The way God has chosen to come near us and live among us has had a major impact on how we approach ministry; we live among the people we serve, and we live with them.
Our children have played a big part in this by becoming some of the regular village kids. They squat nearby as they watch a man build his canoe. They go out to the mango trees to collect mangoes and play ball. They gather in the crowded cooking hut with all the other village kids to eat a plate of rice and sour mango salad (only to return home and eat another meal with us). In the mornings, Matimu goes to the local school where all the other kids from northern Nosy Mitsio go to learn. And as one of the students, he will go with the rest of his class to pay his respects to the family that recently lost two babies.
Our kids are a part of life here. Since we’ve been back, people are thrilled to see David and how much he’s grown since they last saw him as a baby. Everybody is very proud of him and say, “He’s strong! He’s really a child of Nosy Mitsio!” And people enjoy seeing Matimu go to school and comment on how good it is to see him free to run and play with the other kids.
All of this seems great, but I admit I have reservations about raising our children in this life here. I wonder if we will be able to educate them well enough. How will they keep up with technology that’s second-nature to kids in America? Will they be able to have proper social interactions with other people in other places? And what about all the activities they’re missing out on: sports teams, music, boy scouts, etc.? Or what about the dangers we’re exposing them to? I wish I had easy answers to these questions, but I don’t. I just have to trust God that the life he’s called us to is the life that’s best for our children as well, and not worry about the rest.
A s we’re here on the mission field, it’s easy to give all our efforts and attention to those we’ve come to serve; we do it almost by default. We spend time and connect with the people here, we learn how they view the world so that we can effectively present the gospel, and we seek God in this work – that our work would be his work. It’s no small thing for our children to walk alongside us in these efforts, but it’s not enough. When raising our children on the mission field, we need to give them more.
Even though our kids are here with us, watching and observing the things we do, we still need to take the time to point them to God. Surprisingly enough, that’s easy for me to forget. That just as we try to pray with people about all sorts of situations and declare His truths to them, we need to do the same with our children. And this is not something that should happen only now and then, and we cannot expect this to be accomplished at a church service or even during formal Bible lessons. It happens in the everyday life experiences where we as parents take every opportunity to teach and train them about who God is. After all, Jesus didn’t just teach in the synagogues. He taught on boats and mountains, in fields, towns, and the paths in between. So we must also teach our children in the same way, wherever we are, if we want their lives to be given to God’s service and not just something they do on Sundays.
In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 it says:
This is something I’ve been very challenged about lately. I’m a very task-oriented person and can get so caught up in the mission God’s set before us that I forget our children are a part of that mission. We are in fact raising disciples in our own home, and yet my tunnel vision has too often kept me from seeing that. As a wife and mother on the mission field, I know I’m not alone in the tug-of-war between ministry and family. There can be a constant feeling of guilt when one gets more attention than the other. But this time around, I’ve been reminded that whether I’m talking about Jesus to a friend in the village or talking about Jesus to my children, it’s all part of his mission and we follow as he leads in every opportunity given.
I t’s with a lighter heart that I’ve resettled on Nosy Mitsio, knowing that’s it’s okay to take the time needed to be intentional in raising our children. A house that serves and loves the Lord will reflect into the community. So that our children will not only be a part of life here, but that they can be a part of bringing life wherever they go.
Matimu is older now and processing a lot more this time around. He wants to know why the people do spirit possession ceremonies and why the kids at school fight a lot. Homeschooling is also well underway, and he’s learning about all sorts of other topics. And so I stop and take time with him. We talk about these things at the table and we talk as we walk to other villages. We talk about what God has to say about these things and how we should respond.
It’s in these moments throughout the day of intentionally pointing our children back to God that I’m reminded of my heart’s greatest desire for our kids: that they will one day, filled with God’s Spirit, become his servants and ambassadors into the world. Andrew Murray states it perfectly in his book, How to Raise Children for Christ:
In this season, as we think on our hopes and dreams for our children, both young and old, let us look to our Savior. As a child he entered our world under the care of a woman who trusted the Lord in the task appointed to her: “Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant.” (Luke 1:38). God reminds us in this beautiful event that raising a child is, in fact, no ordinary task at all. We serve the Lord when we point our children to the Savior. We serve God as we talk about him when we’re at home or away, when we lie down and when we rise, when we talk about him in the car or at the table, or when helping our kids with their homework. So let us, like Mary, seek God as we faithfully discharge the duties he’s given us, that like Mary, we would raise our children to be God’s servants and send them out into the world as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom.
Lora, Adam, Matimu, and David
P.S. We’re happy to let you know that our teammates, the Orners, are expecting another child! Please pray for Beka, that the Lord gives her the strength she needs for each day, and for their preparations to give birth in South Africa. You can view our prayer request page for more areas we’d like you to pray about, including upcoming ministry opportunities.
You can find an edited/formatted version of this article, together with a short story from our recent short-term homeschooling teacher, on AIM Europe’s website here: http://eu.aimint.org/childrenmay2018/