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Don’t overwhelm your children. “I think missions education
[shouldn't be] guilt trips-not always showing the bleakest
situations. I believe there are great ways to show children what’s
going on in the mission field without scaring or horrifying them,”
says Keith. “Although I don’t feel that we should candy-coat
everything, there is definitely a need for the restraints of
age-appropriateness.”

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Make sure your program isAge-appropriate in its scope as well as
its tone. “Even young children can learn to serve their family and
friends, but the concept of ‘missions’ is too abstract for them,”
says Pat Verbal, a ministry consultant and the founder of Ministry
to Today’s Child in Frisco, Texas. “Preteens can understand
‘missions,’ yet need to be busy serving their community, which
builds their character and sets lifelong values.”

Distinguish for children what countries missionaries go to for
short or long periods of time. Studying individual countries and
their evangelism history can add reality to faraway places.

Don’t communicate that other countries are the only ones in need.
Shallenberger is concerned that missions education can keep
children from reaching out in proximity. “We overly emphasize
foreign missions education, but don’t teach kids to be evangelists
in their own schools or to take an interest in service
opportunities in their own town,” he says.

Hearing only about overseas missionaries creates the myth that our
country isn’t in need of the gospel and that unreached people live
only on distant continents. However, many Christians do live
elsewhere, in areas that missionaries travel to, and many
non-Christians do live in our country.

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In an effort to educate children about reaching out to everyone,
Shallenberger’s church has set a goal to present children with a
balanced view of personal and overseas missions.

“Our church teaches every adult and child that they’re responsible
to be bridge builders,” Shallenberger says. “We build a bridge to
God (through spiritual formation), a bridge to the church (through
humble service), and a bridge to the world (through effective
outreach).
Both overseas missions and personal evangelism fall under the
umbrella of building the bridge to the world.”

Missions education isn’t a one-time event. Create ongoing
awareness. Missions education isn’t resolved in a school quarter.
How can you keep children interested in a project that has no end?
Break a large missions goal-such as collecting Christian literature
– into manageable pieces.

Visuals and guest speakers in the classroom make an impression
on children, but what happens when kids aren’t at church?

Johnson says, “Most senior pastors see missions as a churchwide
thing, so we segment the focus in the compartments of our church
rather than in our homes, which are more appropriate places to
grasp the international, long-term focus of missions.”

Encourage parents to support the missions projects you’re doing at
church by sending home material and creating ways for kids to share
their goals and successes with the rest of the church and at home.
To squash disinterest, explain direct results from your program’s
sponsorship immediately and often.

“We also participate in missionary giving projects that children
can understand,” says Keith. “We let children write letters,
usually accompanied by pictures, to missionaries in the field. The
Internet gives us a whole new way to communicate with those in the
field…and much quicker responses.”

BEST TO COMMISSION
Ready to start or improve your missions education program? Follow
these suggestions from Larry Shallenberger.

1. Start small. Talk to your missions board and pick one
missionary family for your ministry to adopt. While a large church
might be able to support several missionaries, children can’t focus
on too many names. Consider having older children correspond with
the children of the missionaries to learn about their lives in the
field.

2. Remain balanced. Make sure you provide equal amounts of
opportunities for children to practice service in their communities
and to support overseas missions.

3. Stay consistent. Missions education should be a continuous
theme throughout a child’s development. “Building bridges to the
world” is a guideline that’ll assist children’s spiritual
development and can be revisited at different levels based on a
child’s age, previous experience, and knowledge. cm

WHO WILL GO?
Use this creative object lesson from Nancy Keith to explain
missions to children.

Send one child out of the room (with appropriate supervision).
Give the other children a treat. As you give each child the treat,
say, “God loves you!”

As children enjoy their snack, explain that there’s also a treat
for the child who went out of the room.

Ask, “How will the child know about the treat? How could we get
the treat to the child?”

Have the children try yelling, throwing the treat toward the door,
and using any other means. Children will finally conclude that the
only way to get the treat to the child is to take it to him or
her.

Send one child as the “Missionary” to deliver the message and the
treat. Then have both children return to the room.

Discuss how the child wouldn’t have known about the treat if the
Missionary had never gone to share.

Read Isaiah 6:2-8. Then ask: “How did Isaiah react
when he had a vision of God? How would you have reacted? Why do you
think Isaiah said what he did in verse 5? How do you think Isaiah
felt after God forgave him of his sins?”

Read Isaiah 6:8 again. Then ask: “Why do you think Isaiah was
willing to go for God? What would you have said if this had
happened to you?”

Discuss with children what it means to be on mission for God at
home, at school, in their community, in their country, and
throughout the world.

Lidonna Beer is the assistant editor for Children’s Ministry
Magazine.

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