by Ashley Keller
I watched as my five-year-old innocently chatted with an older man that could only be described as creepy – to anyone but a five-year-old.
It was a peaceful afternoon. We were at the market. The colorful produce of Africa surrounded us. The sun glinted off her hair, immortalizing the moment and her childlike beauty.
She happily chatted with him. I don’t remember what she was talking about because inside my head, a voice was screaming, “NO!!!”
I know who he is.
I know who these men on the corner sell at night. And yes, I mean who.
I don’t want him to even know my daughter exists. I want to grab her and stuff her back in the car and never leave home again.
Before I can act, I’m restrained by the desire to teach my daughter to love Africa and its people. Where do I draw the line between loving the hurting and protecting my kids?
I tell her God loves Africa.
I tell her He’s sent us here to deliver His good news. How can we do that if we never leave home and never chat with folks in the marketplace?
Photo Credit: Steve Evers
The Challenges of Parenting in a Hurting Place
Our kids are big enough now to notice the vast difference between life in the US and life in Zambia. They see the poorest and sickest and ask incredibly difficult questions.
Monica, at 5, is a little thinker and sees the beauty and the filth. She wants to rationalize. She wants to understand. I want to explain.
I want to help her love these incredible people and to have heart-felt compassion for the lost and hurting. And that should be no problem because we’re missionaries, right? We’ve got this whole Africa-thing figured out. A long time ago. No problem.
We have never been so challenged as parents.
In the missionary-career world we talk about “raising third culture kids”, “cultural assimilation”, boarding school vs local, indigenous schools, learning the language, protecting our children, and preparing them to be independent should they choose to return to the mother ship without us when they’re grown.
All those are certainly realities we face as we live and serve overseas.
However, I think one of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered is giving our children a love and appreciation for the people we serve… wherever they may be. Teaching them that service is a pleasure, giving is good, and sacrifice is beautiful.
We teach them to love Africa because Christ loves us and gave himself… for Africa.
But what on earth does that look like?
“Mom, why doesn’t that man have legs? Or food?” Gulp.
“We need to pray for that girl so her sores (AIDS) can be healed. God will heal her, right, Mom?!” Gulp.
“Why does that boy wear pants with holes? Where’s his dad?” Gulp, gulp.
“Mom, does God love Africa?”
1. Stretching Their Wings
Until recently our kids had limited and controlled interaction with the harsher aspects of the world outside our home. We held their hand, we explained. We served, they watched.
Now that they are bigger we are carefully and anxiously stretching their wings and giving them opportunities to reach out in their own creative ways.
But it’s scary.
Letting Monica talk to the creepy, crazy guy at the market and spread child-like love in her wake is scary.
Watching Frederick give his trade-mark bear hug to a little girl dying of AIDS is enough to bring me to my knees. I wish he didn’t have to see it. I’m glad he barely understands it.
Photo Credit: Ashley Keller
But more than that, I’m thankful that God is making all of this easy on me.
My kids love people. They don’t care if they’re scarred, scary, diseased, bald, or creepy. Not yet. Kids get it: “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.”
2. Starting Slowly, Doing Things That Come Naturally
We’re starting slowly with them, mainly doing things they enjoy. Things that come somewhat naturally for them.
Close to home we have Stanley, a deaf, Zambian friend who helps around our Mission House. The kids are slowly learning a little sign language so that they can convince him to help them with their chores and adventurous endeavors (figures, right?). I’m surprised to see that they interact almost intuitively with him!
I’ve also started taking them along to do Bible lessons and play therapy at a school for disabled children. They weren’t sold on the idea until they realized this was all about love and fun.
They’re becoming more involved in Bemba-speaking environments. I’m getting them to exercise their Bemba in the market and street. Hopefully soon they’ll be more fluent. But for now they’re learning the importance of communicating in someone else’s language.
I also encourage them to watch for needs as we go about our day to day life.
Of course, that sometimes backfires… “Mom, why is that guy still begging on the corner? Doesn’t he want to get a job??” Another lesson for another day, my girl…..
3. On Our Knees
I don’t know if we’re doing it “the right way.” I’m still not sure if they’ll be scarred for life. But believe you me, I am down on my knees pleading with God to work in their lives and give them love for service, compassion for the horrific, and a heart for the lost.
I know many families around the world are striving to develop Christ-like hearts in the children. Let’s pray together toward that end- a generation that cares for others because Christ gave Himself for all of us.
Ashley KellerITMI partner, Ashley Keller lives a missionary-life in Kabwe, Zambia with her husband Timothy and their three hyper-active children. She enjoys adventure, playing with her kids (especially when that can double with adventure), pretending she’s a kitchen scientist, and finding natural, simple ways of living. Ashley blogs about her experiences and ministry at www.KellersC23.com/blog.