When I was 7 years old, the world became much bigger. Three Vietnamese young people moved into our home when their displaced family came to Cutlerville, Mich. I was their guide to America, teaching them how to pronounce “tweezers” and explaining our strange ways as I scrutinized their every move with wonder. Suddenly I realized that there were continents full of people who lived and looked different from me. And that we still had a lot in common.
It’s very easy to move about day-to-day life in a bubble without giving much thought or care to the larger world. That myopic tendency is easily transferred to our kids. But since God “so loved the world,” and we are called to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth,” it’s important for us to intentionally break through that bubble. How can we help our children—and ourselves—care about people and places they’ve never been? Instead of taking them on trips to far-off places, you can bring the world to them.
Share Your Home A few years back, my husband and I hosted two foster sons from Sudan. These young men were a kind and loving introduction to another world, one our young children could not yet comprehend. Our preschool son created a painting of his family in which he shared the dark skin of his “brothers”; he hoped he would grow up to look like them. Now our kids are teenagers. This past year we hosted an exchange student from Japan. It’s true that we learned a lot about Japan, but I think we learned even more about ourselves. This young man often gave us a completely different perspective on the way we do things and why we do them.
Share Your Table Not everyone has the time or money or space to host live-in visitors. But opportunities abound for dinner-table hospitality: visiting missionaries, international students at local colleges or high schools, and refugee families who need friendships and the connections that come with them. Your children can learn a lot in one evening as you demonstrate curiosity about different ways of life by asking appropriate questions and comparing experiences.
Book ’Em Having trouble finding someone to invite? Then get thee to a library, where pages full of people and places unfamiliar can open young eyes to the fact that we often have more in common with others than we think. Challenge your kids to read something outside of their ordinary reading choices or read aloud to them if they prefer. Movies are another good option for introducing other cultures.
Pray Make a list of things to pray about as a family—current events, ongoing conflicts, news from a missionary—and then talk about the things on the list before you pray. Rejoice with your international family over good news, and point out ways that you, your family, and your country depend on others. Thank God for the gifts he gives each of his people. This will help kids understand that those people and places, those joyful events and the terrible conflicts, are important to you and to God—a perspective the nightly news doesn’t offer. Use prayer guides from various denominational and other Christian ministry agencies for a wider range of prayer options.
These are just a few ways parents can bring the world to their kids. There are so many others: giving, for example, is a concrete way to show that there is something else out there. Art, music, and theater all lend themselves to discussing things outside your bubble. Cultivate opportunities to point out things that will widen your kids’ horizons. We live in a beautiful, broken, breathtaking world full of sadness and joy. Don’t let them miss it.