One of the biggest needs for missionaries is to have hearts that value and seek to understand the people whom they are trying to serve and teach about God. Often that empathetic heart has been nurtured over the years by the parents of the missionary. Many missionaries are the children of people who themselves loved teaching people around the world.
You don’t have to be a missionary yourself to raise children who have a heart for missions. There are actually a lot of fun things you can do in your home to begin developing empathetic hearts in your children. One of them we stumbled upon for an entirely different reason.
When our daughter was very young, she went through a stage many children experience. Often kids become enamored of three or four foods and want them at every meal. In order to broaden our daughter’s palate, we introduced International Night which we held every Friday night for several months. Looking back, I think it also helped our daughter develop the ease she has in adapting to other cultures and her love for all people.
The concept is relatively simple to implement, although if you have tons of time and money you can expand it greatly. We began by saying we were starting a new tradition of International Night. We picked Friday night, because at that point in time, it was a night which wouldn’t have many conflicts. We invited my parents to join us to give it an additional festive air and give me a couple of extra hands in the kitchen if I needed them.
The week before, I would pick a country to feature that Friday. I tried to rotate continents so we had more variety. The country was kept secret from everyone else in the family. I went online and found simple recipes from the country that were slightly different from what we ate, but had some of the ingredients our daughter preferred. (Don’t start out with fried octopus if you don’t have adventurous eaters.) Since it was a special night, I made sure to include a dessert, too. As time progressed, I actually found I could pick recipes that were increasingly out of the norm from our regular diet and everyone would at least try them.
A word of warning here. Unless you normally cook a wide variety of ethnic cuisines, you will probably have to hunt down some spices or an occasional unusual ingredient. Most large cities have international food stores and even some specializing in one country. I bought the smallest container possible in case our family decided it hated a particular spice and then passed the extra on to a family who would use it.
Once the dinner was ready, we sat down with a world map placemat at the table while we tasted the dishes. I would give clues about the country and our daughter would have to guess until she figured it out. Often everyone would start guessing and after a few weeks I could make the clues increasingly difficult.
If you have the resources, we enjoyed playing music from the country and talking about everything we knew about the country and its people. Often, we would share stories of missionaries or other people we knew who lived there. I would show photos and we would talk about what it would be like to travel there. Ironically, over the years we have actually been able to visit some of the countries we used.
The night doesn’t have to be “preachy” although I think it is valid to add a missions aspect to it. Your primary goal is to teach your children to look past cultural differences to the person inside. Teaching an appreciation for a culture does not include endorsing religions other than Christianity. With older children it could mean briefly discussion what those religions teach and why they vary from God’s Words. Remember, a missionary’s goal is to convert people to Christianity, not to destroy their culture.
It is a difficult concept for anyone – how to challenge a culture’s religious beliefs and not destroy, but appreciate the other cultural differences not addressed in the Bible. Frankly, it is a discussion international mission groups have constantly. You can begin preparing your children by teaching them to appreciate things like food and music, even if they never become something they seek to enjoy on a regular basis. You can teach them to love all people as people God loves and wants in Heaven. The best news is your family can have fun while you are learning. So get searching for recipes and enjoy International Night at your house.