My Kids, The Gospel and Some Exciting News
For all of last week, I had the opportunity to raise my children alone. Ann’s sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Alexis, and Ann went to help her for the week. The week alone with my kids helped me to reflect on how blessed I am to parent these two wonderful kids. My daughter, Nicole, is eight years old. My son, Timothy, is five.
I’ll be honest, they haven’t had the easiest of settings so far. Being a pastor’s kid is not an easy role, not just in terms of expectations that people have for pastor’s kids, but in terms of how life is played out for you. Even more difficult is being children of a church planter. They have to adjust their lives and schedules around ours on numerous times. They have gone with me on different speaking engagements and just colored while I spoke and then slept in the car ride home. Numerous times our plans with the kids have changed because of things happening in the church. They have seen people come into their lives for a season and grow super attached and then all of a sudden they are gone. Because God has called us to Texas, they are separated from all of their cousins and extended family (all in Virginia and Philadelphia). Because God’s called us to plant a church that is multi-ethnic, they don’t get the opportunity to grow up in a large Indian church (like I did) that was very close knit and did everything together. They don’t have large Sunday school classes or youth programs that they are involved in. Yet, they never complain.
Yet, it’s amazing to see how God is working in them and through them. My kids have a handful of friends in our church that they love dearly and pray for daily. I love seeing them being around their friends every weekend and growing up with them. Growing up, I was (intentionally or unintentionally) instilled with the idea that my ethnicity was greater than any other ethnicity. To be honest, a lot of that was communicated to us in our churches. My kids don’t have that. They don’t see themselves as Indians and I don’t think they see people based on their nationality or skin color. They have “chachans and chachies” who are Caucasian, Spanish, African-American, East Asian, even a few Indians. They adjust well with anyone and everyone and love building friendships with people. They have had numerous babysitters in their lifetime, and it’s amazing to her them pray for each of them. If you come to my house, I guarantee you will spend more time playing with my kids than you will with me and Ann.
They love Jesus. They love people. They love to give. They love to serve. Nicole’s piggy bank is empty. When I asked her where her money was, she said she gave it all to help children in Africa. Her grandparents recently gave her $100 for her birthday. She said she would keep $10 and give the rest to those who are hurting. Timothy wants to travel the world with me to tell people about Jesus (and to see giraffes, elephants and lions as well). He has a gentle spirit that loves to help and also take care of people.
Raising children in a multi-ethnic, multi-culture diverse city like Dallas is incredibly challenging. We are blessed to live in a fairly conservative city like Dallas, but it’s still challenging. Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church) preached a sermon back in 2006 called, “It takes a city to raise a child.” In it, he deals with some of the advantages and disadvantages of raising children in the context of where we live. As I listened to his message, several things stuck out to me, especially in terms of raising my children.
Exposure: One of the greatest advantages of raising our children in this city is that we are raising them up in the “real world.” What I mean is that they see life for what it is – the good and the bad. When they are raised in a multi-ethnic and cultural city like Dallas, they see a glimpse of what the world is like. They aren’t raised in a bubble where everything is perfect, but they are raised in a culture where they see both the good and the bad of society. There isn’t a week that goes by where my kids don’t see a homeless person begging for money on the streets in Dallas. It affects them, creates questions in their minds, and these questions begin conversations that I am forced to have about what caused a person to lose their home and how we can pray and help them. There are always opportunities to teach them. There are always things out there to talk about. There are questions about why people that were married aren’t together anymore. Why people that are getting sick aren’t getting better even though we prayed for them. It’s a constant opportunity to teach about life, sin and brokenness. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to teach them the Gospel and how Jesus came to restore that which was broken.
Involvement: Because we live in an urban environment, we have to be heavily involved in the lives of our kids. We are involved in their activities at their school. We engage with them in extra-curricular activities like t-ball and ballet. We need to be involved in their learning – what they hear, understand and are being taught (both at school and in life). It is a great opportunity for interaction and involvement not just with our kids, but with the culture around us. It draws us closer together as a family.
Rapport: There is a certain sense of rapport built with your kids as they grow up in an urban environment. As they continue to grow and mature, they will begin to see how hard it is to live for Jesus in the middle of an urban environment. I have come to realize that I can’t just tell my kids how to live for Jesus, they need to see me living for Jesus. They are watching if my talk and my walk is consistent. They can see straight through my talk in better ways than everyone else that hears me speak on a Sunday morning. They get to see you live for Jesus in a culture that is becoming more and more hard. A life of not just saying prayers and going to church, but a life lived with a vibrant relationship with Jesus. They have to see that lived out.
They see us get tested and tried. They see our responses when we are stuck in traffic, when someone cuts us off, when we are having conversations on the phone. They see it lived out on a day by day basis.
Resourcefulness: Raising kids in an urban setting makes them very resourceful. They learn how to navigate through life’s circumstances. They learn how to relate to different people, from different cultures, from different social-economic backgrounds, from different family structures. We live in a diverse community. As they grow up, they get connected with people from all over the world globally.
Appreciation: Raising our children here exposes them and helps them appreciate the different cultures around them. Growing up, I knew I was an Indian from a very young age. I also knew what other Indians looked like and hung out with them. I remember high school, where there were three lunch tables where only Indians sat at. The friends I brought back to my house were all Indians and mostly from my denomination. However, my kids are completely different. I would have a very difficult time convincing my son that he is of a different ethnicity from anyone else in his school. He blends in perfectly and does the same things that everyone else does. There is no “let’s spend time with the rest of the world from Monday – Friday and then retreat to our ethnic church on Sunday” for him. It wasn’t the same way when I grew up. He has friends from all over the world in his class – Christians, Muslims, and kids that have no religious upbringing. I grew up eating Indian food all the time. My children eat Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian, American, Mediterranean, and occasionally home-made once in a while. They grow up appreciating different cultures and different people group.
Like I said, I grew up where it was instilled in me that my culture was the best. A lot of that was done in the context of the church. So everything that was done, even in a church setting, was designed to keep us within the context of our church and more importantly our culture. I’m not saying that is a bad thing and I think there is a huge place for ethnic churches in our city. However, it is an issue when culture supersedes the Gospel. The church that I pastor, LOFT, believes that God has called us to take the Gospel to people of all cultures, ethnicities and people groups. That is a challenging thing, because it’s so much easier to stay where everything is comfortable and people are just like us. It means that it takes a lot of work and effort. It also means that it takes a lot of time and prayer. We also believe that God is sending the nations of the earth to this city and our church is supposed to represent in a small way what heaven is supposed to look like. I long for the day when I can walk into my church and see that there is no predominant race in our church, but that we become a mosaic of people groups worshipping Jesus together because we know that is what heaven is going to look like.
If you don’t like that idea, the reality is that this is what heaven is going to look like. I do not believe that when we get to heaven and we see our Savior that we are going to be divided up into ethnic groups. The Indians in one section, the Chinese in another section, Africans believers in another section, and the mixed folks scattered throughout. Heaven is going to be a beautiful mosaic – people from every tribe, every nation, every people group – not concerned with their ethnic backgrounds, but in awe of the one who has broken down all walls and made us brothers and sisters.
I’m excited that I get to raise my kids from this perspective. It’s a challenging thing, but I believe it will be incredibly rewarding and that God will use them in greater ways than He will ever use me.
Oh yea, I guess God thinks we are doing good so far in raising our children. God willing, we will be blessed to raise one more beginning in June 2013. For that, we are thankful and blessed.