Most of us are familiar with The Great Commission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19). But what does this look like in the life of a child?
A disciple, even a young one, not only prays and reads the Bible, but is engaged with God’s mission within the local community and around the world. Discipleship is a holistic task.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends have opportunity to take this call seriously, making ourselves available to God and investing in the lives of the children around us. With resources at our virtual fingertips, we can serve God together as families and in intergenerational mentoring relationships, deepening our faith, and opening the door to the world around us.
Families are using resources offered by the local church, community agencies, and international mission and development organizations to learn about following Jesus by “doing” together. Let’s “go” and see what some of them are up to.
Following God by loving our neighbours
The entire Janzen family volunteers with The Dwelling Place’s annual soccer camp in a densely populated area of Kitchener, Ont. The camp is one of the church’s responses to the high need for family and children’s community events in this gateway neighbourhood for new Canadians. Some 90 children attend, of which more than 60 percent were not born in Canada.
“It’s pretty cool to watch our girls take on leadership and serve,” says father Rich. This is the first year both his daughters, 13-year-old Hannah and 11-year-old Katie, will be taking part in a leadership capacity. “They give input, have ideas, and are fully engaged.”
“The girls could choose to stay home,” says mother Jen, “but they want to participate in camp and serve the community this way.”
“This camp is not about getting the kids to be better soccer players, but about the kids feeling loved and valued, and we encourage our young coaches to strive to love in this way,” says senior pastor Ingrid Reichard.
“I’ve always thought of camp as helping the community,” says Hannah. “But lately I’ve been thinking this is also about following God. This is about serving the community and loving my neighbours.”
“Our Christian faith is part of all of our life. We are living out our faith together,” says Rich. “God is the builder and he uses many diverse people to build his kingdom, including kids.”
Tithing time as well as money
Rose Nickel’s service at Camp Crossroads began some 20 years ago when daughter Heather invited her to volunteer at camp. She’s served as head cook each summer ever since. “It’s real neat to go and be a fly on the wall; watch your children and grandchildren make spiritual connections, raise their hands in worship,” says Rose. “It’s a blessing. I come home exhausted, but I’m always surprised at how blessed I am.”
Camp service continues to be a family affair. Rose’s husband Rob has served on the board for seven years, and their granddaughters, 14-year-old Lexxi and 10-year-old Phoenix attend as a junior staffer and a camper. Phoenix hopes to use her gifts as an artist to volunteer in the craft hut at camp in the future.
“A child can’t inherit their parent’s faith. They have to experience it themself. Anything I can do to aid them in that discovery is worthwhile,” says Rose.
“Camp ministry has helped me live out my faith by allowing me to model for our kids that every person needs to give,” she says. “Tithing is not just about money; it’s about giving your efforts, gifts, and talents. Our kids learn what they see.”
Working locally for students in Uganda
Twelve-year-old Elena Rempel jumped at the chance to turn seed money into a blessing for Mennonite Central Committee’s Global Family. Last year, when her Niverville, Man.,church offered 10 grants of $100 to multiply for a charity of choice, Elena chose to bless the program’s community-based education for the Ik people of Uganda by raising funds through the sale of handmade candles.
“A blessing can be many things,” says mother Laura. “It is when a need is filled. Food can be a blessing, as can warm clothes, school supplies, clean water. It all depends on the need. To create a blessing is to create an act of caring, an act that gives hope, and an act of good will. To create a blessing is discipleship in action.”
“We decided to use the money to make beeswax candles because sometimes you just can’t deny the coincidence when a 25-pound chunk of wax shows up on your back step, just in time. We sold the candles along with collecting spare change and raised over $600,” says mother Laura.
“Elena has taught me about going forward and doing what you feel called to do,” says Laura. “It’s wonderful seeing Elena bring her heart to the forefront of her life and seeing the impact of the individual and the impact of the church. We thank God for the opportunity.”
Until recently, the Ik had no schools. The funds the Rempel’s raised will purchase school supplies, food, clothing, soap, pens, pencils, sleeping mats, uniforms, and shoes as needed. “We did this because we knew it was the right thing to do,” says Elena.
For more opportunities through MCC visit http://globalfamily.mcc.org/
Putting needs into perspective
Ingrid Shrimer and her two children, 18-year-old Jordan and 20-year-old Amanda, didn’t simply sign up for a work project. They set out to be helpful, to learn, and to deepen their own prayer lives.
Together with several other family teams from St. Ann’s (Ont.) Community Church, they travelled to Mexico to encourage their church missionaries, Rob and Anne Thiessen. The 10-day trip with MB Mission over the March break “was a fellowship trip, not a work trip,” says Ingrid. “We went to encourage the people there and let them know that we are praying for them. The people were touched that we came.”
Ingrid’s time in Mexico made her keenly aware of the need to scale down her earthly belongings, to simplify life, and free up her time. This trip confirmed that she can live with much less and still be comfortable, happy, and free to do what God wants her to do. “I want to teach that to my kids,” say Ingrid. “To be happy with less and available to God.”
“I don’t want to live for myself,” says Amanda. “I want to depend on God, open myself up to others, pray more, hear God’s voice, and be bolder in sharing my faith. I want to be aware of other’s needs, not just my own.”
“This trip has given me a different perspective on prayer and about praying for everything. It created a desire in me to go deeper in my friendships,” says Jordan. “I think I want to return one day. Rob, our missionary, spoke with me about using my time here in Canada to read, study, and prepare myself for future mission work. Maybe I can return as an apprentice to him.”
For more opportunities through MB Mission visit: http://www.mbmission.org/index.php
As these parents and their children follow Jesus together, their acts of discipleship engage habits and thought-patterns, not only behaviours. How are you “going” in intergenerational community?
Children are growing as disciples of Jesus if they:
√Are beginning to understand, according to their level of development, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are able to tell you what it means.
√ Are beginning to comprehend God’s great care and love, and are learning to recognize their immeasurable value in the Creator’s eyes. They feel a growing love for God.
√ Are learning about their spiritual gifts, and have opportunities to joyfully use those gifts.
√ Have a deepening love for the Word of God. They own a Bible and know how to read it. They are able to memorize Scripture verses and are becoming familiar with God’s “master story” as recorded in the Bible.
√ Have an ongoing, personal relationship with an adult who disciples, shepherds, and mentors them.
√ Are becoming disciple makers, and feel more and more comfortable telling others about Jesus.
√ Are learning how to be authentic worshippers. They find joy in praising God and wonder at his creation and character.
√ Are developing the spiritual disciplines of prayer and sacrificial giving.
√ Are learning to have a positive attitude toward correction and discipline given in love.
√ Display growing amounts of love, joy, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness,
self-control, kindness, patience, and peace. They find more and more ways to avoid negative peer pressure.
√ Are developing compassion for others and have a growing heart for God’s world. They are becoming more generous and kind toward others.
The Canadian conference board of Christian education produced a series of tools for churches called Description of a Growing Disciple, available from Kindred Productions. Laura Kalmar, then children’s pastor at Bakerview, adapted the resource for children’s ministry, creating Description of a Discipled Child.