One of the deepest joys of parenting is planting seeds that will one day blossom and grow. Children have their whole lives ahead of them. We play a huge role in shaping their dreams. Kids want to know that they can make a difference in the world. As one friend put it, they need to start thinking now about how to "add value" to their communities, rather than waiting for a lucky break.
My favorite way to plant seeds is by reading. Stories are a wonderful medium for bonding. Snuggled together on the couch, we can travel the whole world, meeting people from other cultures and seeing places unlike our own. We can travel back in time and experience history in living color.
Mary Slessor. Mary dared to go where no white man had gone before. With God's help she single-handedly transformed a region and brought peace between warring tribes. It was the perfect story to inspire my own courageous and stubborn 7-year-old. She announced this week that she plans to be a missionary, too, and will bring an end to modern-day slavery.
I was not much older than Emma when I caught the vision for world missions. Sitting in the church basement, eating African stew with my fingers, I watched a slide show of life in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and heard stories about the need for missionaries. I distinctly remember thinking, "Unlike all these grown-ups in the room, who have jobs and houses and obligations in the U.S. to keep them from going, I'm available. I don't have other plans. I could be a missionary." That evening in the church basement has been shaping the choices I've made ever since. It has given me the courage to walk the "road less traveled" time and time again.
Our kids need heroes (and I don't mean the overpaid, self-centered kind who have extraordinary talents). They need to know that the world is bigger than themselves. They need to know the big challenges facing their generation: human trafficking, abortion-on-demand, poverty, pollution, deficit spending, alcoholism and other addictions. And they need to know that every single person can make a difference—if he or she is willing to dream. Missionary biographies are one of the best ways I know to capture their young imaginations with a vision of brave and selfless service in the name of Jesus.
Not sure where to start? I've created a page listing some of our all-time favorite children's books. Click here or on the "Best Kids Books" link in the side column of my blog. Not all the books are missionary stories, but many of them will take you around the world, introducing your kids to cultures unlike their own. At the very least, the cultural sensitivity they develop will go a long way toward helping them get along with their peers in our increasingly multi-cultural world.