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Nurturing a Giving Heart

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When our daughters, Hope and Hannah, were just two and four, we decided to be intentional about involving them in service opportunities, both through our church and family mission endeavors. We thought it was important that they not only hear us talk about missions but also see their parents involved in Christian service and participate in age-appropriate service opportunities.

Hope, our oldest child, was always open to visiting the elderly parishioners with her dad, a pastor. She would provide handmade cards and drawings and sing them simple songs she learned at church. Hannah, our youngest and somewhat reserved daughter, did not especially like to visit people, so she contributed by helping me bake bread for those in need.

This was the beginning of our hands-on family mission opportunities. Our girls were given the chance to let us know what they did and did not enjoy about our mission services. Now that Hope is in college and Hannah is approaching college, I look back and see how they have grown through these experiences.

For one thing, they have learned more about their parents! Hope and Hannah have seen us sacrifice financially in order to spend money on missions. Knowing that our limited income is spent on helping the cause of Christ has increased their appreciation of who we are as individuals and children of God. Once, I came home with a bag of clothes from a thrift store and was delighted to have found good deals for the family, which saved us a lot of money. Hope said proudly, “I like that you care more about what’s inside you than outside on you!”

They also learned the value of giving. Both girls have generous hearts and respect money, treating it as something to help us live, not the reason to live. When Hope was in second grade, she would come home very hungry after school each day. Having given her ice cream money for the afternoon snack, I was puzzled. “Well, Mom,” she explained, “there is this really poor girl who never gets ice cream at school or at home, so I give her mine. I know we have ice cream here.”

Important day-to-day skills have been learned by the girls as well. Hannah has learned about leadership and has been able to overcome her shyness. She now leads the worship for children’s groups. Recently, at a church-sponsored mission’s trip to Miami, she volunteered to lead various children’s events in large groups. Hope has learned about the organizational skills it takes for planning and preparing food for many people while we served in Belize.

They have learned to appreciate life by seeing how wealthy we are in comparison to those we serve, both in the United States and in other countries. They have seen that while we drive old cars, live in a small home and wear used clothing, we really are rich! We have good health care, running water, electricity and lots of food. We can go to church freely, worship as we wish, have opportunities for education and have no fear of being tortured for our beliefs. We have much to appreciate and be grateful for!

Sharing the love of Jesus Christ does not always mean people will accept the gospel. Sometimes it means being ridiculed or rejected. Through this the girls have learned to respect another person’s opinion, even if it is not their own. As Christians, we must befriend, listen, care and serve, in order to have an open door for witness.

Our girls have learned that even the smallest act, done in the name of Jesus, is big. Hannah once served tea at a local soup kitchen that our church helps run. One man kept asking her for more tea. He seemed to have a bottomless pit! But each time she gladly refilled his mug and never complained about having to make more. One day much later, he came back and told me what a good day it had been because my daughter had given him so much tea.

Hannah and Hope understood that serving as a family makes us closer. They also learned that even though their mom and dad are at times strict and over-protective, we try to love people with the love of God. We are not perfect, but a work in progress. Those experiences have been some of the richest I will ever have in life. Watching them play hand bells with the Mayan Indians, seeing them swing orphanage children on old tires and play soccer with the poor and less fortunate children, are all etched in my heart.

Most of all, Hope and Hannah have learned that God loves them and those they serve. We could have spent our money on buying them fancy shoes, designer clothing, a big house with a pool (O.K., maybe a small house with an inflatable pool), but that would not have taught them the most fundamental lesson of all: that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son.

Since God loved me that much, then as a parent, do I not have the responsibility to give my children the gift of knowing God’s love through my actions and through mission opportunities?

Family missions is a basic building block for your family.

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