Post by Kevin Squires, Senior Advocacy Director SPOILER ALERT: It is hard to be a parent. Perhaps even more so…it is hard to be a parent raising kids in a Christian home that happens to be smack dab in the middle of a not-so-Christian culture. So, what do we teach our kids? How do we teach them not to do bad things, while simultaneously teaching them to love people who do? How do we teach a 3-year-old boy that when another child chucks a matchbox car and hits him in the arm that he shouldn’t retaliate by launching a monster truck at the kid’s head? Oh, the joys and perils of parenting!
Early on, my wife and I stuck to teaching the basic lessons of the Bible…you know, love God and love others. But, as my life and career continued to center around missions, I found it difficult to train my children to have a missions-focused heart. At dinner, I tried the go-to threats that “children in Africa are starving to death, so you better eat your broccoli!” However, deep down inside, I could name hundreds of children whom I had met in Africa that wouldn’t eat broccoli if it were the last thing on earth! Reality is, threats like that never work. To get to a child’s heart, we have to find ways to speak to their heart.
A couple years ago, the moment arrived…and I almost missed it! It was a Friday in the middle of a beautiful autumn day in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains. That morning, I spoke at a local Christian high school on the poverty crisis in the Third World and how Christians are called to love, care, and serve those in need. I told story after story of children who were emotionally scarred, ignored, and often abandoned. Then, I followed those stories up with stories of hope, where churches united to care for these kids who were left for dead. I tell you this because in the back of the room, crawling under the pews (playing with the infamous monster truck) and ignoring everything I was talking about, sat my three-year-old son, Grant. We’ll come back to this.
After school that day, my wife and I took Grant to a local farm that was hosting a Kid’s Day. They had hayrides, corn mazes, and strange games that only mountain people would understand. But the highlight was getting to pick out your pumpkin at the HUGE pumpkin patch. There were literally thousands to choose from! Of course, my wife and I turned it into a contest for who could find the “perfect pumpkin.” But, then there was Grant, who meticulously searched through what appeared to be each and every pumpkin in the patch. Finally, as it was beginning to get dark, he held one up! My wife and I looked down at the pumpkin and our jaws dropped! It was the worst pumpkin in the patch! It was scarred, and clearly had been purposely ignored and abandoned by every person who had visited the patch that season. We tried to convince him that there were better pumpkins out there, but he refused to listen. Then, as if Grant was channeling the inner wisdom of King Solomon, he simply said, “Dad, at school today you said we are supposed to love the ones that are scarred and ignored.” Then he paused. “Dad, this one is perfect.”
When a child’s heart opens, there is nothing that can get in the way of seeds being planted. Whether we think they are listening, or simply playing with monster trucks, the message of Christ can find its way into the smallest of cracks.
That autumn day, in the middle of a pumpkin patch, my three-year-old son taught me a great lesson. And in the end, my wife and I lost the contest…Grant found the “perfect pumpkin.”
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40