We were doing it again. Decorating this chocolate cake, the sour cream chocolate cake, the one I’ve made at least two hundred times. The icing was still what I would call wet, and it was the right moment to put on the sprinkles and M&Ms so they would stick in place. My boys were very apt at decorating with M&Ms, and they didn’t seem to mind that this cake wasn’t for them. It was for our dear French friend, Jean-Yves. Jean-Yves loves my chocolate cake; it always makes him smile. And if ever he needed to smile, it was that day, his 40th birthday, the day when he was fired from his job. So my boys and I baked and decorated and prayed.
When my husband, Paul, and I first moved to France as church planting global workers, we knew that we wanted ministry to be a family affair. We didn’t want our kids to grow up watching us “do” ministry while they sat on the sidelines. Maybe you, too, long to get your kids involved in ministry. It doesn’t take much—just a lot of prayers, a little creativity, and perhaps a bag of M&Ms.
Pray. I pray for ideas, I pray for my children, I pray with my boys for those to whom we want to reach out, and I always pray that the Lord will let my children make friends with children whose parents are open to the Gospel. Christopher has seen God bring friends his age into our neighborhood after months of heart-felt prayer. He’s also heard me share my faith with Rachad’s mom and Gaeton’s mom. Andrew’s friendship with Alex has led to both Alex and his mother, Catherine, becoming Christians. How wonderful for my boys to see that God really does answer prayers!
Seize opportunities. As with Jean-Yves’ birthday, preparing homemade goodies to give as gifts is a great way to let kids help in ministry. We started a tradition when Andrew was about three and Christopher a baby which still continues nine years later. Each Christmas we bake and decorate cut-out cookies. Then we put them on bright red paper plates and give them to neighbors, teachers, garbage men, firemen, the egg-lady and other assortments of acquaintances and friends. Something about this simple, yet time-consuming gesture shows these people that we care. Then we pray that Jesus will touch their hearts.
When my boys have friends over for lunch or dinner, we give a brief explanation of why we say a blessing, and then we bow our heads and pray. Last Easter, we organized a pizza party, handed out invitations and had a house full of kids show up to watch the Jesus film and eat pizza. Afterwards, we gave out children’s New Testaments written in comic book form. One young girl asked me, “But why did they kill Jesus? He hadn’t done anything wrong!” Never before had she heard of this servant king.
Across the street from our small Evangelical Protestant Church is a retirement home. Throughout the years at different times, the children from Sunday School have gone to sing songs for these elderly people whose minds are infirm, but whose smiles testify to a real joy as they listen to the children’s voices. I think some of these men and women imagine that the angels have come to visit them.
Any chance we get, we let the children use their talents for the Lord. Andrew loves to draw, so he’s helped design different invitations for the church. Christopher, our budding comedian, uses humor to reach out. My boys are not great musicians, but they do play the recorder, so we’ve organized family duets, trios and quartets to play at church and at evangelistic events. Another boy in church is learning the piano and enjoys performing. Several girls play the flute. A young woman in our church who was a professional dancer has choreographed dances to go with praise songs and taught them to the young girls. Last Christmas the boys performed a rap about the Christmas story while the girls acted out a mime. Time and again, the children in church have brought the message of Jesus to unchurched friends and adults who attend special activities.
We encourage Andrew and Christopher to make things for others. For our kids, gifts have been origami, drawings, mazes, carvings, you name it. Even with boys, little handmade gifts are possible. It’s not the polished final product that matters as much as that they’ve learned how important it is to be thoughtful.
In the wintertime, we put together little bags for the homeless who are often begging in front of the grocery store or at stoplights. Instead of money, we offer a bag filled with cereal bars, a gospel of John, and a tract. My boys, who can be quite shy, delight in handing these out to needy souls.
The Kids Korner. Every two years, we return to the States to visit churches and supporters. We prepare a ten-minute slideshow with an accompanying tape that can be shown to churches or to friends on a wall in their living room. And always, we let the kids have a part. Once, the boys recited Bible verses in French, another time they played the recorders as background music. Likewise, for our Christmas prayer letter, I use one of their drawings to decorate the borders. And I include pictures of the kids and try to let them express their feelings in at least one letter a year. Inevitably, I get warm comments from those back home. People love to hear about our children. They may not be able to identify with all of our ministries, but they can understand a lonely little boy at recess and pray for him to make friends.
Family Times Our family devotions have been many things, but mostly they’ve been flexible, according to schedules and ages. I loved those years when my innocent and cuddly boys would immediately fall to their knees at prayer time after we’d read a Bible story. Now that the boys are older, it touches my heart in a different way to see them on their knees before the Lord on Sunday evenings when we write down prayer requests in a booklet that Christopher made at an IT conference and we pray SHORT prayers.
For many years now we’ve reserved one night a week as Family Night, a time we guard jealously—no meetings, no phone calls, nothing except time together to play simple games, eat favorite foods, watch an occasional movie and enjoy an activity with a spiritual lesson. Recently we’ve found, to our great joy, that one of the things our boys enjoy most is just talking about life with us!
Our family life is not one continuous blissful act of ministry. There have been times when our kids have felt we’ve left them out, and times when they’ve struggled with being MKs. Just yesterday, Paul woke one son from a deep slumber and took him to help a single woman in the church who was moving. This child (name withheld to protect privacy) did not react with enthusiasm to our desire for him to learn how to minister when it feels good and when it doesn’t.
Results Catherine and her son Alex have both come to the Lord. But for most of the people we have reached out to, our family must be content to know we are one more link in a chain of love that prayerfully will lead these people to Christ. And we have tangible things to look back on: a booklet filled with answered prayers, a lot of pictures of little boys decorating cookies, videos of children singing at church and quite a few empty bags of M&Ms.