Children have such big hearts. Their compassion wells up quickly and when stirred, they can hold so lightly to the things of this world. I have a lot to relearn from them, but I also have a lot to teach them.
If I had to summarize "missions" I would probably stray a bit from Wikipedia's definition, "that which is designed to form a viable indigenous church-planting and world changing movement." I look at missions in a broader sense and on a more personal level. Missions requires the willingness to step out of our comfort zone, surrender all to the advancement of the gospel, and engage both individuals and the culture at large by drawing them to a closer, personal relationship with the Triune God.
Missions doesn't just take place overseas. It doesn't have to wait for a certain age or financial circumstance. Missions should have a place in each Christian's life.
With a background in missions, I have an especially tender spot for teaching my children about the topic, both past and present, domestic and international. Here are a few of the things we have done in our home to instill an interest in missions:
Songs -- both contemporary and hymns. Many songs have stirring mission's messages. Not just to stir an emotional response, but to spark conversation, prompt prayers, and bring some self examination. Some of my favorites: Please Don't Send Me to Africa (Just a fun song, but has some serious challenges to our "comfortable" thinking as well); What if I Gave All; Rescuing the Perishing
Missionary/Christian Biographies -- Each day at the close of our Bible time we read at least a few pages from a biography. These have grown my own faith and brought about many sincere discussions from my kids. We have read about George Muller, Amy Carmichael, Nate Saint, various martyrs, Missionary Stories with the Millers, and many others. Next on our list is Through Gates of Splendor.
Get involved financially -- You may have heard the "pray, give, and go" teaching of missions involvement, and kids can easily find ways to participate in the first two. I try to be careful, because I don't want them begging others for money, and I don't want to pay them without reason just so they have some to give. They collect change off sidewalks, tithe any money they do receive, and often get creative in ways of making money. They also more generously look through their belongings when they realize someone less fortunate could really benefit from their parting with an item.
- Their motivation swells when they have a focus of their giving. Child sponsorships, specific missionary needs, local pregnancy centers, ministry projects (like Sonlight's one verse project), etc. With the economy as it is, many missionaries are in a difficult place right now, and struggling through it thousands of miles away from their support network. If you need more ideas for places to give feel free to contact me.
Find local service projects -- we have participated in Feed My Starving Children, perfect for any child aged five and up. This time of year child assistance groups need help buying, wrapping, and distributing presents (Angel Tree is just one of many nation wide programs with this type of ministry).
Carry tracts around -- many websites offer free tracts if you want to give this a try before you put money into it. I like to keep a few in my purse for those "chance" meetings. Even if I don't pull them out as often as I would like, just having them there is a reminder to me what my conversation should be about.
Take the $5 challenge -- Pastors and churches have occasionally done something like this. Give each family member $5 and challenge them to advance the cause of the gospel with it. They cannot just give it away though. They can use it to buy something for a ministry use or ingredients or supplies for some type of project to share the Good News. Even just bake some cookies and bring them to some neighbors with a meaningful Christmas card would work well this time of year. It is amazing what kids can come up with given this type of challenge.
Do a unit study on missions -- if you want a formal teaching time on missions, Christmas seems to me the perfect time for that. The FREE download, Teaching Kids to Have a Heart for the World, includes multiple volumes with 500 pages of information you could use in your homeschool.
PRAY -- the easiest and perhaps the most significant act any individual can participate in for the cause of missions. Don't know where to start? Many mission organizations have prayer tips for missions and missionaries. For some practical help check out Operation Mobilization, Wycliffe , or any other mission's website for concrete ways to pray as well as missionaries and projects around the world if you are not familiar with any personally. Pray for local ministries, international ministries, and for your own family's missions involvement.
Make a journal or notebook -- These can provide visual prayer tools as well as learning records. My kids have prayer cards that our church gave us for all their church plants around the world. They look almost like baseball cards with a picture on the front and stats about the church and pastor on the back. I would love to make more of these with our various missionaries, child sponsorships, and even family members that we want to pray for. Anything that brings this larger than life topic down to child size will do wonderfully.
Instilling an eternal perspective in our children's outlook will carry into adulthood and will accomplish more of lasting value even than much of the academics that we must teach.
Can we really afford not to spend time teaching about missions?