I reside in a city where an oft revered, oft reviled organization has its headquarters. Even people in Zambia, upon hearing where we live, make this comment: “Isn’t that where Focus on the Family is?”
I’ve been thinking about families a lot lately. Occasionally looking for the perfect one. Or looking for ingredients that need to be in the mix to produce one. My quest has been fruitless. Every time I think I’m on the right track, someone describes failures, heartache, disappointment in that family—often the report coming from an individual within the family.
Threats to the family proliferate: a culture of self-centeredness, consumerism, secularism, unhealthy media offerings and much more. After even superficial study of families living centuries ago, I discover pressure—with different names and faces—has been common through the ages. Perhaps in reaction to more modern threats, many Christian families are involved in what I call “circling the wagons,” a term of the American old west where traveling pioneers would circle their wagons for protection from enemies; they did this for protection, for defense, getting ready for an attack.
I observe that many families—with the best of intentions—seek to protect their children from the onslaught of all they consider unholy, or unhealthy at the very least. Some parents discourage their children from having close friends outside the parameters of their own belief system. Unless a movie or television program is explicitly Christian or at least has a Christian theme, it is not allowed. While insistence that “Christmas Eve is only for us,” or “Don’t invite ‘those others’ to the party” is perhaps intended to teach the importance of the nuclear family, it also emphasizes the us-and-them gap.
Here’s what might be an uncomfortable question for Christian families: are we raising our children to believe that involvement in God’s broader Kingdom is part of His plan, that it is the norm to leave the nest, seek to be well educated (in the manual trades as well as in academia), work hard and live their lives for God’s glory and for the benefit of people outside the family circle? Susanna Wesley’s influence produced adults who changed the world with her encouragement and training. One biographer writes, “(she) managed her household, raised and educated more than a dozen children…”
Amy Carmichael left the comfort and safety of her Christian home in Northern Ireland and even with a lifelong debilitating disease “that made her whole body weak and achy, often putting her in bed for weeks on end,” she served in India for 56 years without furlough back to family and friends in Ireland. The organization she founded in India would become a place of sanctuary for more than one thousand children who would otherwise have faced a bleak future. Amy Carmichael died in India and asked that no stone be put over her grave; instead, the children she had cared for put a bird bath over it with the single inscription “Amma”, which means mother in the Tamil language. She left her mother to become mother to many.
If we do not live in an area—usually urban—where our children are naturally exposed to diversity of race, beliefs and lifestyles, parents can use creativity and energy to find people and events where God’s greater world can be seen. Perhaps it’s a Chinese New Year celebration, or Kwanza festivals in December, or museum displays of African art. Or, as one family I know has chosen, placing their young children in a pre-school where playing on the swings with refugee children from Nepal removes the “they’re different” attitude from an early age. While mission trips are commendable, they provide only an in-and-out experience whereas daily exposure seeps into the souls of our children.
It’s time for us to focus on families around the world, loving and preparing our own children through early “natural” exposure so they can one day take their places in corners of the world where they can carry on Kingdom work not only with our blessing, but with our vocal encouragement. This will probably mean that cuddling our grandbabies will be only a sporadic experience as they live in the Middle East, inner city Philadelphia, China, Manila slums or Zambia, but isn’t that what we meant in our heart of hearts when we dedicated our own babies to God? Perhaps we need more Hannahs to prepare more Samuels.