|Photo Credit: Scott Ritterbush
Tom and I went to Unashamed last Saturday, a conference on the persecuted church sponsored by Voice of the Martyrs. Seven hundred people were there. One of the first things I noticed as I entered the sanctuary was the large number of children and youth scattered throughout the audience. The little girl behind me was no older than seven. I felt a little nervous. Oh, this could be pretty intense for them! I thought. I'm not sure their parents should have brought them!
We found our places and the program began. The speakers were outstanding. One of them, Gracia Burnham, told how she and her husband had been kidnapped in the Philippines in 2001 and held hostage for over a year before he was killed and she was freed. Others shared about men, women and children who are facing persecution right now in various places around the world. We saw two or three sobering videos.
Then Russell Stendal shared a story. He was four when his dad bought a book about Columbia to read to him for a bedtime story. His dad must not have had the time to look it over very well because when he got it home and began to read it to his little boy he realized that it didn't present the fluffy, tourist version of life in the mountains of Columbia; instead it showed the poverty and desperation of the lives of the people. He tried to rush through the book but his son wouldn't let him.
When they were finally finished Russell asked his dad several questions and, as he got ready to crawl into bed that night, he knelt by his bed to pray. "Lord, please let my family go to Columbia to help the people there."
Four years later the family was serving as missionaries in Columbia. That was 50 years ago, and that's where Russell and his family still minister.
Who knows how many of the children and teens who attended that VOM conference were sensing God's call on their lives to be missionaries. How many of them, I wonder, will be prayer warriors for the persecuted church because at Unashamed they heard the stories and developed a passion to pray.
We had dinner with friends the next day. Lisa is a nurse, caring for children with serious longterm health issues. There's not one thing about her job that I would be able to do. "I've been caring for people for a very long time," she told me. "It helps that my mom always worked in nursing homes and took me along with her."
BINGO! That's it. Like Lisa, exposed to nursing by a mom who loved being a nurse, the children at Unashamed were there with parents who are world Christians. They do not shelter their kids from the harsh realities that were shared, but live their lives out of hearts of love for God and compassion for His people. It was probably as natural for those parents to take their kids to a conference on the persecuted church as it is to teach them to eat vegetables.
In the way that a child learns to eat broccoli because the parents love it, present it to them in interesting and delicious ways, and expect their kids will love it too, we should also expose them to God's heart for the world. They will be prepared, then, when He calls them to pray for those who suffer for the sake of the gospel or to serve among them.