Just after my third child, in a little over three years, was born I felt so overwhelmed I couldn’t think straight. It was then that I began begging Jesus to teach me how to raise my children so they would walk with Him forever.
I was terrified they would walk away from Him one day.
The Lord took my husband and I on quite a journey as He taught us and led us. Following is one of those experiences. It became an important plumb line as I raised my own children – but also as He led me to lead several different Children’s Ministries.
Joe, my husband, was on staff with Open Doors with Brother Andrew when our children were in early elementary school. As part of Joe’s ministry, we were part of a team sent to take Bibles into China. While in Hong Kong, we met a family who had only recently escaped from China.
The mother of the family told us the story of her family while her eldest surviving son translated for her. In the mid-1960’s during the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard had come to their home and wrenched their four children from the home. The Red Guard had set up a bench in front of their home and made the four children, ages 11, 10, 6 and 3, sit on the bench. They called all the neighbors to come watch what was about to take place.
Then the soldiers went from child to child asking if he loved Jesus. When the child responded, “Yes, I love Jesus,” the soldier would hit the child in the face, knocking him to the ground. The soldiers went to each child several times, but the oldest, Steven, got beaten over and over because he refused to renounce Jesus.
Finally the soldiers turned from the children to attack the parents. Stephen crawled into their home and lay down on his mat. Daniel, the 10-year-old followed him in and knelt beside him.
“Don’t tell mama but I’m dying Daniel I’m dying.” The 11–year-old declared.
Just then Mama came and knelt beside her son her head had been shaved. “Mama, mama, I’m dying. Mama, I’m dying. Mama, you have to forgive them. Mama, you have to forgive them.” Then lifting his hand toward heaven, he cried out, “I see Jesus, Mama. I see Jesus.” And he was gone.
I looked at this woman who had just told me the story of her eleven year old son whom she had watched be beaten to death and there was a peace on her face. “Mama, how do you raise a child so that at the age of 11, he will not renounce Jesus, though he be beaten to death?” I quietly asked.
She looked me in the eye and she said, “There are three things you must do.”
“From the time your child is born, you must teach him that he must never renounce Jesus nor another Christian. Your life might be dependent on that other believer.”
“Secondly, you must pray sacrificially for your children. That means you are praying so much for your children that you are giving up things you want to do for yourself because you are praying for your children.”
I will never forget the little chuckle she gave before she continued, “Thirdly, and this is hardest for you in the West. You must let your children suffer. They will never grow strong if they don’t suffer. If there is nothing natural that causes suffering in their life, then create a reason for them to suffer.”
I was so excited when I got home. These sounded like such good sound principles to follow. I could hardly wait to share these principles with my friends. The first person with whom I shared was a close friend and she wept as I shared Mama’s story.
When I was finished, my friend looked at me and said, “But Wanda, if my children suffer, then I will suffer and I don’t want to suffer.
It was one of those “ah-ha” moments of life.
How much of our parenting, how much of our nurturing of children is about what makes ME feel good rather than what the child really needs?
This made me realize that as adults we must constantly look at what each child’s real need is. We must be careful to not do what makes us feel good, nor what makes him feel good today, but is harmful for his future.
As I pray over and work on the Sunday Plus Curriculum, as I train ministries to walk through life with children this is always on my heart.