As parents, we want our kids to learn about the world, be exposed to other cultures and build cross-cultural friendships. It’s healthy for our kids to appreciate the uniqueness of other cultures and countries as well as to build a greater appreciation of our own country. Christian parents have an even bigger job on top of this: nurturing in our kids a love for others and a desire to see people from all over the world follow Jesus.
This is a big job and it can be difficult to know how to start but helping your kids grow their interest and love for the nations can be fun. Your children’s natural curiosity should be an encouragement and you just might find your own interest growing alongside theirs. Below are nine ideas to help you begin growing your kids’ interest in the world and its people and begin to grow in them a heart for missions. I have written it more with grade school aged and younger kids in mind since that is where my kids are age-wise.
Put up a map in your house. I LOVE maps. My beautiful wife, Katie, was no doubt thrilled to know that our marriage included a box of old National Geographic maps! I have been excited to see that our boys (ages 6 and 3) also LOVE maps. We have had a big world map up for most of the past few years and my boys love asking about different countries. It is a great opportunity to share what I know or to learn about a new place. It has been interesting to see their interest in specific countries develop. My oldest son, for a long time, was obsessed with Russia, now Papua New Guinea is the house favorite. Putting up a map in your house is an easy way to open the door to conversations about different countries allowing you and your kids to learn together. Plus, maps looks super cool and will definitely make your wall look way more awesome!
Use the book Operation World. Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone, and now by Jason Mandryk is a classic in many homes and now also a handy website. If you haven’t heard of it, it contains a survey of every country in the world including basic facts and also facts about the spread of the Gospel in that country, challenges and specific prayer requests. This is a great companion to your new world map because when your kids ask you about Moldova or Sierra Leone and you are coming up blank, you have this great resource to go to. And you can begin praying for these countries and their people.
Pray for other countries and people groups. This is a biggie and prayer for people around the world is one of the most powerful things we can do. I am a firm believer that when you begin praying for God to work in the lives of others around the world that he also works in your own heart, growing your love and concern for others. One night a week, our kids can each pick a country and we learn a little about it and pray for the people in that country together. My boys look forward to this prayer night every week and I pray that God will continue to work in their lives to grow this desire to pray for others. The Joshua Project website is another great resource for learning about all the different people groups in the world, plus it has a picture for each group which kids (and adults) will like.
Eat out at a restaurant that serves international cuisine. If your kids are young, you may be feeling that deep uneasiness in the pit of your stomach right now as you think about eating out with your kids. Sometimes eating out with kids is great and terrible all at once. On the one hand, you don’t have to cook dinner, while on the other hand your children’s crazy dinnertime routines are on display for all the see. My parents still talk about when I threw broccoli on the wall of a fancy restaurant. Good times! In any event, taking your family out to eat at an international restaurant is a fun and easy way to introduce your kids to new cultures.
Invite international students over for holidays. If you live near a university or college, chances are good that there are some international students in your community. These students are far from home and experiencing the normal challenges of studying at a university on top of the challenges of navigating a new culture. The sad truth is that many international students spend 4-5 years in the United States and are never invited into an American home! Inviting international students into your home for holidays, or any time, will be a great welcome and experience for these students as we share our cultural traditions with them and will let your kids interact with people from other cultures. If this type of opportunity interests you, check out International Students Incorporated, an international student ministry.
Invite missionaries over for dinner. If you try to catch your church’s missionaries when they are home, you may only get a couple of minutes with them at church. Inviting a missionary over for dinner can be a great way to get to know them and their ministry and a great way for your kids to learn about missionary work and the place where the missionary serves. You will find that kids have lots of questions, and often ask the ones that parents want to ask but are afraid to! Or, if your kids are quiet, prompt them ahead of time to ask a question of the visiting missionaries before they can leave the dinner table. The additional bonus of this is that it will be a big encouragement to the missionaries also, when we were missionaries we always enjoyed this type of interaction when we were home.
Get to know a family at your child’s school. Chances are your kids go to school with kids from other cultures. School social events and activities can be an easy way to begin a friendship with another family. Praying and looking for opportunities to connect with another family can be a great way to make new friends, learn about another culture and help your kids appreciate other classmates. Depending on the family, this may be an encouragement and also help the other family, especially if the parents are new to the US and are unfamiliar with our culture, school system, etc.
Look for volunteer opportunities to do with your kids. There are many great ways to serve in your community and many you can do as a family. Some of the ways to serve may involve internationals living in your community such as helping refugee families settle in the US or finding an ESL class to help out with. Nurturing a heart for service in your kids can do amazing things in transforming their worldview and the way they see and engage the world around them.
Pray for and support missionaries. God has given his church the mission to tell the whole world about Jesus. Involve your kids in praying for missionaries you know. Not only will this grow their interest in missions but it will help them understand that while God calls us to join him in this work, it is he who changes hearts and lives and we are dependent on him. Prayer is one of the best ways to join with your missionaries in the mission. If you are able to, you can support missionaries financially too. This can be a great example to kids of using the resources God has given us to help advance his Kingdom. With direct deposit, it may not be obvious to kids that your family is supporting a missionary so having a photo of the missionary or a prayer card on the fridge is great. We have the photos of the missionaries we pray for and support in our kids’ Bible so we are reminded to pray together for them regularly.
In some ways, our world is getting smaller. TV and the internet have brought the world to our screens and our kids will see a lot of this as they grow. However, it can still be so easy to stay in our comfort zones and keep those of other cultures at a distance. As the world changes, we have a great opportunity to help our kids grow in their love for others, appreciation of different cultures, and passion for God’s global mission.
I hope these suggestions give you some good ideas. If you think of any others, please share them in the comments section or on the Facebook page!
As mentioned above, Operation World is a great book. There are several other versions including a shorter version, Pray for the World, and a version for kids, Window on the World. I have heard that an update to the kids version may be coming out in 2018.
Kids on Mission is a website run by the Southern Baptist International Missions Board. It releases new downloadable materials every quarter which feature videos, stories, projects and parent guides for different regions of the world.