Is Jesus the Anti-Santa? Kids, Ministry and Super-Sized Sacrifice

I know I wasn’t going to blog this week, but my blogging button got pushed, hard.

First, I saw a video of an absolutely adorable little girl who is “donating” her birthday to raise money for the famine in the Horn of Africa. Right after that, I saw a post on Facebook discussing the best time to relocate “third culture kids”–kids who grow up in countries that are not their own. (My TCK instincts were shouting “Never!”) These topics may sound disconnected, but hang with me for a second.

The little girl in the video is obviously a happy little kid blessed with parents who love her and love God, but watching it hit a nerve in my heart. Her innocent little face, her lack of comprehension about the horrors she was nevertheless expected to interface with, her desire to please her parents by trading birthday presents for food distribution–they were all too familiar.

I remember being in the nursery in the basement of my tiny little church in Northern Wisconsin, waiting for my class’s turn to take the stage for the Christmas pageant. The teacher asked us, if Jesus came to earth and asked us to give him all our toys, would we? I honestly agonized over the question. I thought I would, but what if Jesus wanted to take Honey Bear, the teddy I slept with every night? The thought was scary and made me sad. But was something wrong with me, was I less “good,” because I would hesitate before handing over Honey Bear?

It was Honey Bear I clutched as my family got ready to board the plane for Liberia. (My grandma told me years later that it just about tore her heart out, watching me white-knuckle that teddy as I walked onto the plane.) It turned out to be a darn good thing that I carried Honey Bear on, because all the rest of my toys, including Patty, the homemade Cabbage Patch doll my grandma had made for me, were stolen when the shipping container landed in Freetown, en route to Liberia.

I was consoled with the fact that Patty had probably landed in the arms of a little African girl who didn’t have any toys. I was glad for that girl, but I was still heartbroken. The missionaries banded together and collected wonderful hand-me-down toys for my brother and me, and my grandparents scraped together the money to buy me a real Cabbage Patch doll, but I still asked my dad to look for Patty every time he traveled to Freetown, hoping against hope that he would find a little African girl holding a homemade doll with yellow yarn curls–that he could buy that little girl a different toy, a better toy, and bring Patty home to me.

It pales in comparison to children starving in the Horn of Africa. I know this. But it was still incredibly traumatic to my tender little girl heart. 

Honey Bear was the teddy I brought with me on sleepovers with friends from ELWA, the mission school I attended. During one of those sleepovers, my best friend Nicole and I read a story about a little girl who donated blood to save her baby brother, who had been in a horrible accident. After the blood was donated, she asked how long it would be before she died. Obviously she had misunderstood what was being asked of her, but Nicole and I were convicted, and discussed in muted tones whether we would be as brave, as sacrificial, as she was. I think we were eight.

Nicole and I had a very developed understanding, at a very young age, of what it meant to “take up your cross.” But had we really taken them up, or had simply they been laid on us by people who were bigger than we were, people whose agendas we were powerless against? And were our little souls strong enough to carry the heavy weight “God” had placed on them?

I have reason to believe they were not. Praise God for the healing that has taken place, and pray for the healing yet to occur.

This is a tough subject for me. I want to live a God-honoring life. I want to give sacrificially. And there are definitely times when I’m tempted to sell everything I own and move my family to Haiti, or rural India, or back to Liberia, to help the truly desperate.

And then there are times I look at my sleeping children and think, like hell. Like hell am I going to make them go through what I went through. Let them have birthday parties with lots of fun, frivolous presents, let them lick the frosting off the cupcakes, their little minds untainted by thoughts of famine. Let them grow up in the same little town, attend school dances with girls they’ve known since they were two, and graduate with their football buddies. Let them be kids, for Christ’s sake!

And yet, now that I’m older, I wouldn’t trade those years in Africa for anything. They took a chunk out of me, to be sure, but my world would be so small, my heart’s capacity stunted, I believe, if I had grown up cloistered in my little community. Am I robbing my children of vital experiences that could help them grow, and deepen their walk with Christ?

As Grover from Sesame Street would say, “Oh, I am so confused!”

But here’s what it comes down to for me:

It is one thing to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is another to be crushed under another’s expectations, dragged kicking and screaming to someone else’s Calvary.

It is one thing to suffer because things are hard. It is another to be called selfish when you cry out in pain.

It is one thing for God to be with you in your suffering. It is another for God to be the cause of your suffering, according to your parents, or your teachers, or your mission organization. I mean, seriously? People send their babies off to boarding school so they have more time to advance the Kingdom of God? Someone thought this was a good, God-honoring idea?

Luckily, my parents are wonderful, gracious people who didn’t make the big missionary mistakes. They didn’t lay unreasonable expectations on me (although I certainly managed to absorb them from other sources). They didn’t condemn my feelings, or minimize my grief over everything living in Liberia cost me. And I think my mother would have burned every boarding school on the continent to the ground before letting my brother or me be sent off to one. But there still was a lot of loss, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of pain involved in the missionary kid experience.

Raising kids in a materialistic society has its problems, but trust me, raising kids with an ascetic spirituality has its pitfalls too.

Here’s my question: How do we help our children see the needs in the world, help them develop Christ’s compassion for those who are hurting, without laying weights that function like millstones on their little hearts? What if in demanding that a child gives up her toys, or her homeland, or her family, or her life for “Jesus,” Jesus loses what he really wants from her–her trust, her love, her heart?

I am here to tell you, it does happen. A lot.

What do you think? How do you find this balance with your children? And I really am asking–I need ideas!



28 Responses to Is Jesus the Anti-Santa? Kids, Ministry and Super-Sized Sacrifice

  1. Margot Starbuck November 3, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Great great thoughts.

    I think the answer…no, ONE answer… is: we live it.

    Our fam sponsors a little boy through Compassion International. I pay, we all pray, & I needle them to draw the occasional picture and write the occasional letter. I’d always told them that when they were ready to sponsor their OWN child through Compassion, we’d help them. But I SOOOO didn’t want it to be at my insistence.

    A few weeks ago my daughter, who is 12, really INSISTED that I let her sponsor a child. (She ponies up half of her monthly allowance & I cover the diff) Apparently she’d been asking for awhile, but I was ignoring her because I’d been so worried all along that I’d guilt them into it somehow. I’m a mess.

    When she BEGGED, I realized that she REALLY wanted to do it. And she was old enough to understand what it meant.

    A friend, who’s gathered donations to buy toys/games/sports-stuff for the local poorly-equipped boys & girls club is going to have a game night where she teaches “our” (read: privileged) kids how to play all the games & then they’ll go to the Boys & Girls club and teach the kids there how to play them all. Isn’t that a yummy way to engage kids in service? Genius.

    I say that when they’re little, give them opps to be exposed to folks in need, and folks who are different, and service & trust the Lord to shape their hearts.

    My 2 cents.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      I love the Boys and Girls club idea! Joyful for everyone. And I think what you said about your daughter being old enough to understand what she was doing is SOOO crucial. What originally struck me about the video I watched was that the little girl obviously couldn’t comprehend what was really going on–she was being coached by her parents. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes we demand more of kids than they have to give, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

      I guess I have to remember that giving my kids opportunities to serve is NOT necessarily synonymous with dragging them off to Africa. I tend to be a little black-and-white in that area. 😉

  2. Valerie White November 3, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I think we talk about how the things that are happening in the world. Not in the light of “gloom and doom,” but in the light of God’s transformational work that is happening among His people every day. There are three things that have happened in the world that have struck a particular chord in my boys hearts over the last few years, the earthquakes in Japan and Haiti, and the famine in Africa. Do I ever guilt them into giving up toys or things for these causes? No. I do talk to them about giving a dollar out of their earned money to send, but if they decide not to, it’s okay.

    On a side note, my kids are pastor’s kids. We live in Oregon, and our closest family lives in Colorado. I feel that they give up enough through the consequences of the call that God has placed on my husband and I’s lives. I won’t ask them, guilt them, or push them into giving up anything they are not moved to give up themselves. By giving regular tithe each week, and living in a compassionate, loving way toward others, I am setting the example of a giving heart that will last a lifetime.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      “I think we talk about how the things that are happening in the world. Not in the light of “gloom and doom,” but in the light of God’s transformational work that is happening among His people every day.”

      I love this, Valerie. Framing things in the positive shows kids the needs and the possibilities, without laying the weight of the world on their shoulders.

  3. Tim November 3, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    Margot’s got some great ideas and I like the summary in your response to her, JR: “I guess I have to remember that giving my kids opportunities to serve is NOT necessarily synonymous with dragging them off to Africa.”

    When our kids were very little, they saw us serving around church: caring for young ones in the nursery and teaching Sunday school, setting up chairs and sound equipment in the sanctuary and fellowship hall, serving meals, whatever. When they were really young, there they’d be in car seats right next to the sound booth as we fiddled with the slides and dials during the church service or a wedding. As they got older, they’d help us out (somebody’s got to make sure each table has a bowl of tortilla chips at the annual Mexico Missions dinner!). Our son started serving in the nursery himself in 5th grade; our daughter started helping in preschool Sunday school at about the same age.

    I think they were each in 4th grade when they first came to Mexico with us on the week long youth missions trip. They both spent much of their time running errands and messages, or spreading peanut buter on bread for sack lunches for the teams, or otherwise supporting those who went out into the field. Then a few years later they joined the youth group and were part of the team themselves. When the opportunity soon came for them to serve in some inner city rescue missions (San Fracisco’s Tenderloin district may be familiar to you), they jumped at the chance and continued to return to those ministries even if (at times) they needed to make the trip themselves rather than wait for a team from church to be organized.

    Before they were 18, they started serving overseas (they referred to the Mexico trips as “missions light” and wanted to do something more substantial). My son made his first trip to Viet Nam at 17 and again at 20, latching on to a team from a church about 75 miles away that he had heard about. They served really poor village children, deaf youths, trained local VN churches in VBS ministry philosophy and curricula, and handed out toys and supplies brought from the States. Our daughter took her first trip to Europe to engage in street evangelism when she was 16. The next summer it was Israel (ministry to African children living in foster and orphanage care, cleaning up and doing maintenance at a small Christian college, and studying Holy Land geography and history with lots of Bible study) and eastern Europe (helping with a youth and shildren’s camp), and then the next it was back to Israel (more of the same ministry) and on to Italy (more street evangelism).

    Am I a bit proud of my kids? Sure, although I may have a bit of a bias. But, even more, I am absolutely thrilled to see what God has been doing in their lives as he grows them into the people he wants them to be. They both want to end up serving overseas as a result of their experiences. We’ll see if that’s what God wants too, but wherever they serve they know that God is using them for his kingdom.

    My wife and I did what you identified, JR. We gave our kids opportunities to serve. Something that continues to thrill me in the meantime is seeing them at church here when they come home to visit from college. Each of them heads for the nursery or a Sunday school class to care for little ones. They are the ones who now take the opportunity to serve wherever they are, whether it’s at home or away at college hosting Cru get-togethers in the apartment or leading a Cru Bible study or just offering to load up their car every Sunday to take a load of fellow students to church.

    Parents do well to give their kids opportunities to be faithful in little things so that they will be ready to be faithful in the big things. Which reminds me that all this time it wasn’t really me giving them the opportunity at all. It was God. So glad he’s in charge of his kingdom!


    • Tim November 3, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      I just realized how long that post is. Sorry JR!


    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 11:22 am #

      I love your long comments, Tim. :-) And I love hearing about your kids! I do think I give my kids opportunities to serve, but I think what I would really like is to help them get exposed to other cultures, so they can begin to understand that life in America is not the norm. Maybe it’s time to start doing mission trips, now that my youngest is 5. It’s hard to get much accomplished (besides mothering) with a baby and toddler hanging off your hip!

      • Tim November 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

        “It’s hard to get much accomplished (besides mothering) with a baby and toddler hanging off your hip!”

        I’ve found that it’s hard to get anything done at any time of life, JR! If you’ve got kids that can travel with relatively little prospect of major disaster, then they’re probably ready for a missions trip. Let us know how it goes. I’ll be reading of your trials and travails here in front of my computer screen sitting comfortably with a cup of coffee in hand.


        P.S. Thanks for appreciating what I have to say. I know your posts have done a good job keeping me thinking about my own walk with God.

  4. Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    It just occurred to me that I should link to my friend Michele’s site. She is a lifetime MK who spent the last twenty-ish years teaching at Black Forest Academy in Germany. She does a TON of work with MKs and TCKs–if any readers want some great advice on how to nurture the TCKs in their midst, Michele is the go-to person!

  5. Helen Lee November 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    What a fascinating post, Jenny Rae!

    (I confess that my stomach lurched when I read your story about Honey Bear! My then 8 yr. old son and I have had that conversation, with my basically asking the same question! I told him that the point wasn’t that God was going to take his bear, but that the whole challenge of idolatry was to understand what it meant to put no other gods before God. Anyway…)

    I agree with the wisdom of much that has been said before. And I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all answer. My kids are currently living a pretty typical suburban life. The pressure is high to just do what everyone else does with regards to birthday parties and getting more and more stuff. I asked my kids this year if they would consider doing that same sort of birthday campaign and asking friends to consider donating instead of bringing gifts. The balance point for us was that they receive gifts from each set of grandparents, and one from us, so they are getting three gifts already, which honestly, I think is plenty. The 6 yr. old and the 9 yr. old readily agreed and did not seem at all regretful; they had great parties, fun memories, and presents they were hoping for, just not the mass quantity that usually happens when one has birthday parties. And, most importantly, they had the opportunity to discover what it feels like to make a difference in global problems. A small difference, but a difference nonetheless. I think if these opportunities are presented to kids, but not in a heavy-handed way, the naturally soft hearts of children are often so open to giving to others, and the more we can help them embrace that lifestyle while they are young, the easier I think they can continue into adulthood.

    We’ve taken our boys to homeless shelters, and to serve meals for those in need at our church’s monthly dinner outreach, and each time we do, we feel they learn some important lessons about loving those who are different from them, about understanding not everyone has a place to live or enough food for their table, about building bridges with those in poverty. I think it’s been so good for them to be involved in these experiences, and they will unequivocally tell you they feel similarly. They love being a part of these ministry opportunities.

    Anyway, I am rambling on here, but I don’t think that helping our kids to find ways, however small, to become aware of and help make a difference in problems such as poverty and homelessness and helping them enjoy their childhood are mutually exclusive. And perhaps experiencing a taste of what those who are less fortunate deal with on a regular basis helps them to appreciate their childhood all the more.

    Some random thought…thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughts! (And sorry for the stomach lurch!) You know, I think a lot of it comes down to our view of God, and the way that God is presented to us when we are children. I don’t know how old I was when the infamous Honey Bear question was asked (I’m guessing 4 or 5), but I honestly thought it was possible that God would beam down to earth and ask me to hand over my toys. Teaching kids about idolatry in a way they can comprehend is great–very crucial! But for me, it was compounded by the fact that I actually DID have to give up a lot of things much more important than toys, seemingly at God’s behest. It was confusing. Like many MKs, I felt abandoned, and it was God’s fault, because he had “called” my family.

      But I knew God was good, and that God loved me, so that couldn’t be right, could it? Something was very wrong with the picture I was being presented of what God expected of us (again, remembering that I was being educated by hard-core career missionaries to Africa in the mid-80s, some of whom had already been there for decades), but I couldn’t sort it out. Every culture has its foibles, and while I love the missionary community to death, their tendency to glorify workaholism and blame parenting mistakes on God is a huge problem. Trekking into the bush sounds glamorous to the donors back home, but it loses some of its luster when you think about the six-year-olds crying themselves to sleep on boarding school cots, and consequently receiving lectures from teachers about how selfish they’re being instead of snuggles from parents.

      So, context is HUGE! I agree that getting children involved in service and giving them a happy childhood are hardly mutually exclusive–I’m just still trying to sort out how to do it well, since my experience was extreme. My pendulum still swings hard!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

      P.S. Did I ever tell you that it was through reading your book “The Missional Mom” (which I should go through again–it was very encouraging!) that I found Redbuds? Maybe the difference I was getting at is to be a “missional mom” instead of a “martyr mom.” 😀 Crucial difference!

      • Helen Lee November 4, 2011 at 10:25 am #

        I didn’t know that was how you found Redbuds! We were wondering the other day at our meeting which one of us you knew! =) I’m thankful that you are a part of the group and I love the questions and ideas you are bringing to the table. And are you part of the Evangelical Covenant Church? Love that denomination!

        Everything you are saying raises a very important—and daunting!—point about parenting, about how our actions as much as our words all communicate a theology about who God is, and it’s good for parents to be mindful of what our children might be gleaning about God from what we say or do. The “implicit” theology we are communicating is often even more powerful than the explicit words we say, isn’t it? You have given me much food for thought in your post. I don’t have any easy or pat answers, but then again parenting is never easy or formulaic, right??? =)

        Thanks again for this fascinating discussion!

        • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 4, 2011 at 10:53 am #

          Yep–I actually heard about your book from Caryn’s MommyRev blog (I don’t remember how I found that, but somehow, I did), then I found out about Redbuds from your website, and was completely blown away. :-)

          And yes, I was born and raised a “Covenanter”–Swedish hymns and all–and LOVE my ECC family! I’m SO proud of my denomination, particularly its open-arms approach to all Christ’s followers and firm identification with individuals and communities who are too often marginalized. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my gloriously quirky ECC community!

  6. Jo November 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    A non TCK/MK perspective, Jenny. I grew up in that proverbial hometown, one place all my life with friends from childhood – except one of my best friends went to Africa when her Dad decided to become a medical missionary. My sis and I loved to hear about her adventures from afar – she did have brothers and sisters with her – I doubt she thought she missed out by leaving America! The only complaint I recall: the kids all did miss their parents while at boarding school. At any rate, their family’s example influenced my view of Christian service as something positive that any Christian might decide to do. Later, I married a man who lived overseas with family in diplomatic service, a TCK, but not an MK. Like yours, his family had enviable opportunities for travel and cultural experience, but also very difficult traumatic experiences due to unexpected sudden assignment changes – mostly due to political unrest. However, there was no obvious “ministry” or “carry the cross” aspect to his coping with it – more like a sacrifice he had to make simply because of his parents’ choices and unforeseen events. Treating ministry or Christian work as somehow more virtuous or difficult because one is “sacrificing for Christ” seems quite a burden even for adults, let alone children. Doesn’t life involve enough loss and sacrifice just by virtue of living in a broken world? At home or abroad, rich or poor, suffering is something to be shared as it happens, I think, not something to be organized as a learning opportunity. Real compassion rubs off – the only think Jesus asks of us is to “Follow me”. Maybe that is all we should ask of kids, too.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 4, 2011 at 8:39 am #

      “Treating ministry or Christian work as somehow more virtuous or difficult because one is “sacrificing for Christ” seems quite a burden even for adults, let alone children. Doesn’t life involve enough loss and sacrifice just by virtue of living in a broken world? At home or abroad, rich or poor, suffering is something to be shared as it happens, I think, not something to be organized as a learning opportunity.”

      Oh, that is SO right on, Jo! I’ve never heard it put like that, and will be chewing on your words for a long time. Wherever you live, there will be suffering, and there will be great opportunities. That’s a given. There’s no need to glorify suffering because it happens “for Christ” or engage in emotional self-flaggelation to “be more like Christ.” It may do a good job of purging our feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or making us feel important and holy, but the underlying attitudes are subtly destructive, especially when kids grow up feeling that’s what God expects of them.

      So we can, as you say, faithfully follow Jesus in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, trusting in his goodness instead of our own goodness, strength of will, and stoicism, and apologize to our kids for the mistakes we make along the way.

      Jo, you seriously just rocked my world. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. Sarah Wooten November 4, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Here is the thing: I believe Jesus would not ask a child to give up a teddy bear.

    That is a misplaced (if not well intentioned) question that needs to shut the hell up (pardon my BOLD expression) in our Sunday school classes. Jesus isn’t about sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. God doesn’t need or want a child’s single teddy bear.

    With our kids, we make sure to educate them about the world without guilting them into feeling like they are bad for having every need met. We routinely go through ‘toy purges’ when there is too much stuff, but it is prefaced by a loving conversation that stuff weighs us down, makes us need to pick up more, and there are other children that don’t have any toys that would actually play with these things. If my kids are insanely attached to something, I let them have it because I know that ‘thing’ holds comfort, or hope, or dreams for them. Sometimes I lay things out in the row and say “there are 10 things here. You get to pick 5 to keep and the rest are going to charity.” We’ve done this for so long that my kids get it.

    The thing is, we lived for a year in a two bedroom apartment with our three kids. Our daughter had to share a room with her two stinky little brothers, and because they were still so little, we had to dramatically minimize Riley’s stuff and keep it in the walkin closet in the hallway – that was to keep the boys from destroying her stuff. Riley would go into the closet, close the door and turn the light on and play. It was stuffy, and small, but it the only place she could be alone with her few things. That year was really hard – and I noticed how Riley shrank a little because she had no personal space.

    Fast forward to today.

    Riley now has her own room (yay!) and places to display her things, the dolls and toys that define the margins of her little girl world. She has regained some of her sass and pizazz, and I am grateful.

    Another thing we do is only one or two presents for birthdays and only three presents (to represent gold, frankincense and myrrh) plus a stocking for Christmas. Then, when we give the gifts to the children, we talk about how each gift represents one of the precious gifts that was given to Christ – the gift has meaning and it is neat to see the children light up at the mention of their ‘gold gift’. Again – I am grateful and savor these moments.

    On the whole balance thing, it has taken years. And most of the time, I’m not sure my kids are listening. But every so often, like last week at dinner – I get a glimpse that the values are taking root. My daughter prayed for supper, and then began pouring out all the things she was so grateful for in a remarkably heartfelt way. My spirit said, “YES!”

    I believe that overindulgence is a bad idea. I believe being aware of deprivation as a child and one’s tendency to overindulge is a great start. I believe wisdom and discernment are key players. I believe that God wants us to savor and enjoy this life in these fragile human skins, and that He delights when we do, even if it is in a teddy bear.

    I may be violating all sorts of theology with my thoughts…but it is just where I am, and sometimes, that place is more impressive than others.

    Be blessed Jenny!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

      “Jesus isn’t about sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. God doesn’t need or want a child’s single teddy bear. With our kids, we make sure to educate them about the world without guilting them into feeling like they are bad for having every need met.”

      Ooh, that’s good, Sarah! I think there is an underlying sense of guilt many of us have about having too much when others have so little, and actually, I think that can be a good thing when it leads to redemptive action, not guilt or shame. But projecting that guilt we experience onto our tenderhearted children, who are powerless to do much about it, is counter-productive. Giving up my teddy bear, for instance, would have done NOTHING to advance God’s cause in the world, or ease anyone’s suffering–it would only have made me miserable. A voice in my head is shouting about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, but for now I’m just going to tell it to shut up, and process that later. 😉

      All of these comments have been so helpful. I’m thinking a lot about guilt, and shame, and projection, and powerlessness, and idolatry–not material idolatry, but the kind of idolatry that trusts in our own goodness and sacrificial actions, instead of God’s. I’m feeling another post stirring, but it may not get written until next week.

      • Tim November 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

        I thought of Abraham also, as well as Ezekiel lying on his side for a year (Ezek. 4) and Philip being told to give up a hugely successful ministry (and I mean HUGELY SUCCESSFUL!) in Samaria (Acts 8). Sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice may not be taught in the Bible, but being called by God to sacrifice for purposes we can’t fathom is a repeated event. We later see that there is a reason – the conversion of a high ranking Ethiopian official, in Philip’s case – but the person being asked certainly did not know that up front; they just trusted that God knew what he was doing.

        Does this mean we should ask a child if they are willing to give up something for God? I personally would not even attempt it. I mean it’s one thing to ask a centenarian like Abraham with decades of experience in a relationship with God to sacrifice what is most dear to him. It’s quite another to expect a child to wrap her or his head around the theological significance of the rhetorical question.


        P.S. I bet Philip thought he was going to end up taking the gospel to Ethiopia, now that he had a friend in high places. What a surprise it must have been to see that God wanted him in Azotus rather than appear in the court of Queen Candace.

        • Antoinette Stookey November 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

          “I mean it’s one thing to ask a centenarian like Abraham with decades of experience in a relationship with God to sacrifice what is most dear to him. It’s quite another to expect a child to wrap her or his head around the theological significance of the rhetorical question.”
          I really appreciate that perspective, Tim. I don’t want to turn my children off to God thinking that He is a bully who will take away everything that they love. They need time to build that relationship with Him so they can trust Him when He asks them to make a sacrifice. Time for their hearts to be ready for that. Thank you for writing posting your view. :-)

          • Jenny Rae Armstrong November 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

            I thought that was super-insightful, too! We tend to forget that kids don’t have all the emotional and experiential resources to draw on that we do as adults–even (and maybe especially) really smart, really sensitive kids who seem wise beyond their years, and DO have the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts. They’re still kids, and they need a chance to grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus was 30 before he started his official ministry, and he sure didn’t go to the cross when he was seven!

    • Tim November 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

      Sarah, we did something similar to your practice of laying out ten things and having the kids pick five to keep and five to donate. We called it “keep or toss”. This was when my wife would call the kids (and sometimes me too) together in front of a pile of toys (or books or clothes or whatever) and say, “Let’s play keep or toss.” The kids would groan. Then she’d hold up a toy and say, “Keep or toss?” If the kids insisted they were still playing with it, it went in the keep pile. If not, it went in the toss pile. The toss pile got donated and the keep pile went into closets and drawers, so not only did this clear out some things it also meant the rest got picked up and put away.


      • Sarah Wooten November 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

        Keeprtoss. Sounds like it could be a hashtag. :-)

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    Instead, it is added toward your Upromise college savings account.

  9. Stephanie January 27, 2018 at 9:39 am #

    I just found this post Jenny (from your link on the Redbud post). Really interesting insight. It’s helpful to hear your perspective. I’ve struggled with what it looks like to teach my kids to authentically take up their cross.


  1. Missionary Kid-Palooza! New Resources for TCKs on the Way | Jenny Rae Armstrong - November 11, 2011

    […] Being a missionary kid can be really, really hard. The sense of being a perpetual outsider, of working hard to understand but never really being understood, creates an emotional isolation that is often exacerbated by separation from their families of origin. On Michele’s video, one of the girls said that being an MK means you will never be ”home” until you get to heaven. (And please, no trite comments about that being true for all Christians–what she’s talking about is much more tangible and earthy than that.) […]

  2. When Children Are Treated Like Obstacles to “Real” Ministry | Jenny Rae Armstrong - July 6, 2012

    […] aside so they don’t disrupt “real” ministry? I’ve written about this Achilles heel of modern missions before, but Michelle looks at the from the perspective of the local […]

  3. The Dichotomy of Discipleship | Jenny Rae Armstrong - August 27, 2012

    […] But still, there’s part of me that wants to jump up and down, waving my arms in warning. It’s easy for the commendable pursuit of a surrendered and sacrificial life to slip into a certain spiritual stridency. Gratitude is overpowered by guilt. Works take priority over relationship. Grace slips subtly, oh so subtly, into our own version of the law. And the abundant life Christ offers us is exchanged for a harsh spiritual asceticism, one that impresses people standing at a distance, but can leave those closest to us with a whopping case of spiritual freezer burn. […]

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