When shaping missional kids, experience gives way to knowledge

The TEXAN recently caught up with IMB missions catalyst and Zambia missionary Lori McDaniel for insight into shaping mission-minded kids, how to help them develop a global perspective, and the common mistakes parents make in steering their children toward missions.

TEXAN: Tell our readers a little about your missions background.
MCDANIEL: It’s funny how people assume that because I’m so involved in global missions that I’ve always been that way. As mission catalyst with IMB, it does overflow out of my heart. But for most of my life, that was not the case. I grew up learning about missions, but to me it was always something other people did. I didn’t see myself as being a missionary. Even when my husband returned from a two-week trip to Ukraine and said he believed maybe God was calling our family to missions I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.  I’m not missionary material.” I resisted it for two years, until I also felt God leading us to live overseas.

It wasn’t long until we were boarding a plane with our preschoolers and moving to Africa. It was the hardest and the best thing, all at the same time. After living in Zambia for four years, we took the mission principles we learned, and returned to plant a church in the States that would have a missional DNA.

TEXAN: Your three children were young when you and your husband served as IMB missionaries to Africa. How did you invite your children to participate with you in missions on the field?
MCDANIEL: Our kids loved living in Africa. They didn’t just tag along; we did missions as a family. They sat listening as we told stories to our African friends. If we helped with hunger relief they carried their small bag of food to distribute. They walked dusty paths to visit the village chief, talked with people at the well drawing water, got their hands dirty packing mud between sticks to help build a mud church wall; whatever it was they were just part of it.

What “stuck” wasn’t something they could articulate. Living with different people, with a different language, and different religion gave them a global worldview. It became so much a part of who they are that my daughter is now studying to move overseas and engages different nationalities in her apartment; my son’s college roommate is Muslim; and my 15-year-old has more stamps in his passport than the typical teen.

TEXAN: How did you teach your children that missions wasn’t just for adults?
MCDANIEL: Being “on mission” is a way of life. Living on mission is caught more than taught, kind of like a little girl feeding her baby doll a bottle. She imitates her mom. Our kids wanted to imitate what we did, so we let them.  We had to remember, too, that just like the body of Christ our kids were each different. So their expression of living on mission would look different. One of our sons is a natural teacher and could share a Bible story with other kids without any help.  His little brother, at the age of four, wanted to teach, too, but didn’t have quite the oratory skills. So we would say a sentence, and then he would repeat it “teaching” the village kids. Our daughter wanted to participate but was more scared. However, we would find her eating an African meal with a few other girls, and they would share stories together and sing songs.

TEXAN: How can parents of young children set the stage for their kids to care about the world and have a heart for the nations?
MCDANIEL: Children make mental memories of people in their world and how to interact with them at a very young age. Our two oldest children were ages 5 and 3 when we moved to Africa. They had to learn a new culture. However, for our child that was born in Africa, different cultures were normal to him. 

I would say that creating awareness opportunities is a great start. Read about different peoples and different religions, or learn a different language. But don’t stop there. Experience gives life to knowledge. Intentionally make friends with people from other nations who live in your community. Invite them to your home. Living your own life as a mom or dad sets the stage for you children to have a heart for the nations.  I would also say, go on a short-term mission trip. Your kids will miss you of course, but they will also be very intrigued about the stories you have to tell. And you will be changed, which will spill over into your children.

TEXAN: For the parent of a teen who is inwardly-focused, how can the parent work with the child to broaden his perspective to love and serve others?
MCDANIEL: This is a harder question to answer. I’ve had three teens, and it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all. In a non-judgmental way, take your teenagers on a short-term mission trip in the States or somewhere else. Do it together. Let them see other teenagers in different life situations. I wouldn’t preach it, but let the experiences preach. Trust is huge in this situation. As parents we might want to say, “Don’t you appreciate what you have so much more now?”  Instead, trust that God will use the experience in time.  And if living life on mission is new to you as a parent, say it. Be honest with your teens about your own heart process and journey of God working in you. Let them see the change taking place by modeling it.

TEXAN: What are some practical tips for parents traveling overseas with children on a mission trip?
MCDANIEL: I’m all about kids traveling overseas. I’m also all about kids being very much a part of the training process. When we have kids at our church go overseas, they learn to present the story of creation to Christ just like adults. We practice eating some of the foods, learn about the culture, and learn to respect differences in the cultures. We even discuss culture shock and feelings they might experience once they arrive.

Our kids continue to travel overseas. When they were young, we had them take journals. Our 4- year-old took one too. We had them write what they did during the day, things they learned, or even draw a picture. Once we returned home, we would share these together as a family.

TEXAN: What are some common mistakes parents make in trying to steer their child toward missions?
MCDANIEL: First of all, the most common mistake parents make is not steering their children at all toward living on mission. I believe that discipleship should include learning to have a heart for what God has a heart for–the nations.

Another mistake is when parents themselves are not living on mission. Often we think of “missions” as a program to be taught or something we do for two weeks if we can afford it. Missions, then, becomes compartmentalized and irrelevant to daily life. God is on mission. He sent Jesus. Jesus sent the church. I am part of God’s mission. That is what parents should be teaching and modeling for their children.

TEXAN: What’s the first thing you’d tell a missions newbie about molding a missions-minded child?
MCDANIEL: Learn to tell the stories of the Bible to your children in such a way that they see the Bible as one narrative. This helps them to understand that there is a grand story, and it’s made up of smaller stories. All through the Bible, whether it’s Abraham becoming the father of many nations or David cutting off Goliath’s head so “all the nations will know there is a God,” all the stories fit together. Whether it’s Joseph whom God sent to help Egypt or Jesus whom God sent to redeem the world, God is a sending God. When they understand that they are part of God’s story, they begin to see themselves as being “sent.” They will begin to dream about what they will become when they grow up or where they might live. Paint pictures of how they could be a teacher who lives in China or a businessman who lives in India or an engineer who lives in Indonesia. Wherever they are as believers, and whatever job they have, they are sent too.  

TEXAN: What are your top five resources for parents wanting to raise missions-minded kids?
MCDANIEL: My number one resource is a world map! I know it’s basic, but we have all kinds. We put pins in them, draw on them, put stickers on them, play games and more. Christian “Heroes Then and Now” biographies or “Heroes for Young Readers” biographies–each of these tells the stories of missionaries that even I, as an adult, love. Our kids loved reading them.

My third favorite resource is Kids on Mission (kidsonmission.org). They do a great job highlighting missionaries and people groups around the world in a fun way that kids love and understand. Their material is easy to use at home or in church.  Also, “You Can Change the World” by Daphne Spraggett is a great book about different countries, peoples and how to pray for them. Weavefamily.org is a website to help parents integrate missions into your family.  One of my favorite new books is “Missional Mom” by Helen Lee. “Missional” is a word that gets tacked onto a lot of things. Helen Lee does a great job helping moms to be intentional about living on mission and helping their kids to do the same. 

Lori McDaniel serves as global mission catalyst for IMB. She and her husband, Mike, have three children: Jordan (21), Caleb (20), and Josh (15). In 2001, the McDaniels planted Grace Point Church in Bentonville, Ark., where Mike currently serves as pastor. Their church has been a part of planting churches in West Africa since 2006.

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