Before too long we will be celebrating the birthday of one of our children. We look forward to birthdays in the Halcomb household for several reasons, including the ones that most people enjoy: We celebrate each other and with each other, we get to play with family and friends, and we give gifts to the birthday boy/girl. But there's another reason that we enjoy birthdays in our family: We get to be missional!
As is the case with many American children, our kids have more toys than they need. Birthday parties tend to compound this problem. So, beginning with our daughter's third birthday, my wife and I decided that we would begin being missional by, instead of asking those coming to the birthday party to bring presents for the child, they would help us do mission work locally. Now, I'm not saying that we forbid our kids from receiving gifts on his/her birthday or that we, as parents, don't even give gifts--we do. But what I am saying is that on a day where most of the focus is on one of our kids, we also want our kids to make the most of that opportunity to help others. It is really nothing more than teaching kids at a young age to use what they have to make a difference for God's Kingdom in our local context.
So, for example, on our daughter's third birthday, the invitations asked guests to bring school supplies for a local school that desperately needed them and had children who needed them. After the party, I took our daughter to the school and she, a mere 3-year old gave the principal 3 loaded gift bags of school supplies. The principal welled up with tears and embraced our daughter with a big hug, and gave her very encouraging words. In recent years we have also had guests bring animal food/toys, etc., to the party for the local animal shelter, basketballs/baseballs and sports equipment for an inner-city YMCA, board games and toys for children of African refugee families, and this year blankets, sheets, and bedding materials for a local rescue mission/homeless shelter. Every time we go, we have the children give these gifts! We do all of this missionally, in the name of Jesus. It is a great way for a family to practice together making the most of opportunities and what they have, leveraging it for God's Kingdom. Give it a try! Your kids will learn how fulfilling it is to serve and give.
Another way that we are missional as a family, which is closely related to this, is by helping families during the holidays by participating in programs like the Heifer Project. The Heifer Project aims to end poverty and hunger and one of the ways it does so is by allowing folks to purchase and donate animals (such as chickens, cows, etc.) to families in other parts of the world that rely on them for sustainability. At Christmastime, for example, we have made donations in the names of family members and they have always been grateful. Our interaction with the Heifer Project has been a positive one and we'd encourage others to participate.
A third way that we are missional as a family is through sponsoring families and children in need. My wife and I have both worked very closely with one child sponsorship program, which we helped start, and have been involved with Compassion International for over a decade now. Two Ethiopia organizations we've really come to love are Transformation Love and EmbracingHope Ethiopia. We currently sponsor a few children through these ministries. Our kids really enjoy learning about Ethiopia (we have adopted and are adopting again from there) and my wife and I have even been able to meet our sponsored family in person.
Related to the previous paragraph, another way to be missional as a family is to sponsor families in the mission field. These ministers can be local or non-local (overseas). On our refrigerator door right now we have a few photos of missionaries that we think about and can pray for. We sponsor one missional family whose goal is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in India.
Another way to be missional as a family, which not every family will likely be able to participate in, is through one's family business. When I launched the Conversational Koine Institute one of my goals was to leverage the educational process itself for those who need education. One way that I do that is to give a portion of the tuition that comes into CKI to a ministry that aims to do this. It has been wonderful, even in my first year of business, to be able to offer financial gifts to missionaries and ministers who seek to bring education and educational opportunities to those who traditionally have not had access to them. This is but another way to begin being missional as a family.
There are other ways that my family serves and shares in order to advance the Kingdom of God but these are five very concrete, practical ways. I share them because often times families are eager to be missional but lack the know-how to do so. Thinking about the upcoming birthday also got me thinking that these things might encourage others to be missional, whether in the same or different ways. Regardless, I think it is a great thing for Christian families to be showing their children how to be Kingdom-minded, Kingdom-aware, and missional at a young age. What neat and encouraging things does your family do to be missional?