by Betty Jo Kenney
Because multiple life-roles demand our time as missionaries, it is imperative that we give proper attention to our role as a family person. It is a role we live from birth to death, yet it can still be a “walk-through.”
Because multiple life-roles demand our time as missionaries, it is imperative that we give proper attention to our role as a family person. It is a role we live from birth to death, yet it can still be a "walk-through." Family interests can be obscured by the star billing given to our roles as pastor, nurse, doctor, translator, theologian, printer, typist, evangelist, administrator, builder or student. Or simply by boredom. Or lack of care.
Some missionaries live in remote villages, their families constantly by their side. Others seem forever torn from their families by urban pressures or extensive travel. Yet we all need to note whether we are wisely using the time available to us as "family time."
With the giving of the great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and might (Deut. 6:5-7) > came advice of certain times of the day to use for teaching our children to also love and obey God. These times can become valuable family times.
THE FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
Many missionaries find the early morning time ideal for family devotions. Worshiping God together at home is a happy family time if everyone is really awake. For a family of natural early risers morning is a delightful time for devotions. If the children are only half-awake at breakfast, or a regular late-night work schedule makes it difficult for the parents to be alert in the early hours, family devotions should be at a later time. But if you have children leaving for school, you should share this early family time with them. A first grade teacher in an overseas American school once said to me, "You’d be surprised how many children leave for school without seeing their parents who are still asleep…I mean missionary children!" Even very reliable household help cannot compensate for your attentive presence first thing in the morning.
Whether your devotions are early in the day or later, it is important that it be a time when each one worships. Read Bible portions suitable to the children’s age. One family read through Hurlbut’s large story book of the Bible twice when their children were small.
Minister fathers need to avoid using family devotions as a preaching time. One woman (an MK) told me that if anything would have turned her against God it would have been their family devotions, "because dad always used it as a chance to `get after’ us kids." Real worship should be the goal of this family time.
Let the children have their turns at leading in family prayer. One missionary father pointed out that it is good to let the child’s prayer "stand alone." He said, "If father or mother always feels compelled to pray after the child prays, the child gets the message that his prayer is not strong enough to get the family through the day." A missionary mother and her visiting daughter, now grown, were at a prayer meeting where people were asked to pray spontaneously. When the daughter prayed her mother realized with a shock that she had not heard her daughter pray aloud since she’d heard her "little girl" bedtime prayers. Even though they’d had family devotions every day!
A home we visited more than 20 years ago had such a warm family time just before the children’s bedtime that the memory still evokes happiness. We were three couples visiting after a year’s separation. At one point the father invited us to worship with them before their three children (eight, nine and 10 years old) went to bed. We sang some lilting praise choruses, the father read from the Bible, then gave a brief application of the Word to daily living. Following this, the children and we adults each shared one thing for which we were thankful. After prayer the children quite happily went off to bed as we continued to visit. Even if bedtime is not your devotion time, it should be a prime contender for a regular family time.
After struggling with the tug-of-war bedtime scene for a year or .so, I learned that devoting 30 minutes to a peaceful family time just before bedtime eliminated both the tugs and the war! Once I overheard our children talking in the next room. The seven-yearold asked, "If you had to live with just mommy or daddy alone, which one would you want to live with?" After a long pause, the four-year-old answered, "Well, I don’t know. Daddy plays with us and mommy reads to us!"
Our individual contributions most important in his young eyes were two family times that had naturally evolved in our schedule. While I cooked dinner their daddy played rough and tumble games with them for a few minutes. Then at bedtime I spent about 30 minutes giving them my full attention: bathing, reading stories, getting drinks, answering questions, hearing prayers, and finally, "tucking in." This family time was early enough so they would be in bed before I had to go out for church or other activities. We frequently had guests in the home, but I always gave the children their full "family time." The reward was a peaceful happy bedtime for them and an interruption-free evening for work or relation.
WHEN YOU ARE AT HOME
It has long been well-said that "home is a man’s castle." But how many absolute monarchs are there today? And who wants to be one? Would any missionary enjoy such a role, even at home? I think not. Yet perhaps something needs to be said to missionary ministers about family time in the home.
If you are a pastor, does your wife long for the time, tenderness and care that you give to members of your congregation? You may be the only pastor your wife will have as long as you live! Do your children feel as free to share their burdens with you as the other people in your congregation do? Remember, you are also their pastor. They hear you preach on Sunday, and then they live with you all week. If you preach on Sunday about love, then ignore your family at home, what have they learned about love? If you preach about tolerance, then demand your own way in every choice at home, what have they learned about tolerance? If you preach about forgiveness on Sunday, then in the home neither give nor ask forgiveness, what have they learned about forgiving?
If you are not a pastor, remember that where you attend church, that colleague of yours is your children’s pastor. Uplift him and strengthen him by what you say in the home concerning him. Yo will thereby strengthen your children too.
A good time for family conversation is meal time. It is perhaps the easiest time for everyone to get together on a regular basis. It is a good time to share the hopes and needs of your ministry wit] your family. You can also acquaint the children with distant relatives and churches in your "sending country" by sharing letters from them. It is a good time for the children to share their dreams, or to tell the patents about their activities at school or play.
It is not a good time for correction or punishment. True, table manners must be taught. But this can be done quietly, with only the parent who first notices the need for correction or instruction giving it. It need not become a family issue with both parents, and perhaps older brothers or sisters joining in to overwhelm the young offender.
When the family is at home together, either at meals or "each doing his own thing," if love, respect and giving are freely shared it is a cementing family time.
WHEN YOU ARE OUT FOR A WALK
This time could relate to ordinary travel time (when thou drivest along the road), or a time for planned recreation. Few families travel more than missionaries. Travel can be looked on as an endurance test or obstacle course. Or it can be wisely used as memorable family time. One missionary mother entertained her children by telling them stories during long auto trips. Once when her storybook memories failed she launched into some true tales from her own childhood. From then on, until the children left for college, on every long trip the request came, "Tell us more, mom, about what you did when you were young. You, too, dad." Thus, the childhoods of the two generations were linked. The parent’ became real people in their children’s eyes. A lasting bond was forged.
Other families enjoy singing or playing games as they travel. As the children reach their tens, it is a good time for serious conversation about the great questions of life.
One of the delightful results of taking care to establish family times is that we can readily use the family times to teach our children God’s Word. The best teaching is done in unplanned sessions as we respond with answers from the Bible to their urgent questions or needs.
It is wise to have a regular time for recreation with the family. When the children are toddlers some play time every day with mom and dad, together or separately, is valuable growing experience.
If the parents’ schedule is very tight, a set time for recreation once a week gives the children something to look forward to all week. One father has his three sons list on separate slips of paper the things they like to do with him (play ball, swim, hike, just talk, etc.) Each Friday after school and office hours, dad takes one suggestion from the "family time" box and they all enjoy that day’s fun. When the ideas have all been used they start over. As the boys mature the plans change, but they always know that on Friday afternoon their wishes come first with their busy dad.
At one of the seminars my husband and I taught in the South Pacific, the national superintendent, who also pastored a large church, took three classes. I often wondered how this busy man managed to find the time for all the jobs that he did. And he did them all so well! At the close of the month’s ministry, we were at the airport to leave, when this superintendent’s wife and some other women who had been in my class arrived by bus to see us off. His wife said to us, "My husband wanted to come, but this is the morning that he takes the children to the beach."
How I loved that! And I then knew how this busy man found time to do all that he does. He keeps everything in its proper perspective. He gave one morning a week to his children, and nothing short of disaster was important enough to take him from his children on that morning. Busy pastor-fathers and church executive-fathers, your children don’t want a lot of your time, but they do want to know that there is a time when you will put them first. Schedule a time for your children, and keep that time for them. Train up your children in the way that they should go, and when you are old, they will not depart from it. Giving time to your 1 children is part of that training. It says to them, "I love you and you are important to me."
When families are separated by a parent’s travel, or by the children’s going away to school, regular correspondence (with special surprises for birthdays and holidays) can strengthen the strained family ties. Then the family must give special priority to family times when they are together again.
In missions today we are "assuming all roles to all men, that we might by all means save some" (I Cor. 9:22). When we give proper emphasis to our role as a family person we will not neglect to also save our own children, for whom we are most responsible.
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