Let Me Make Your Kid a Buddhist

by Laura Parker on February 12, 2014

In true A Life Overseas fashion, we are marking this our 200th post (!!!) with a difficult conversation about the ethics involved in working with children overseas. As always, thanks for making this place an open space to hash out the realities of this living-and-working-internationally-thing. We’re grateful for your insights, experience, and grace, and we’re hopeful about what the next 200 posts will bring. 

Imagine this.

Your family is devoutly Christian. Not only are you Christian in honest-to-goodness-soul-belief, but your entire culture leans that way.  The founding fathers, the churches on every street corner, the preachers on television. This is America– one nation under God and all that.

Christianity is in your blood. 

But, there’s a problem- you are really, really, really poor. For some reason (in this analogy, stay with with me here) free public education or welfare programs are not available, and you can’t afford to send your kids to school, can barely provide the next meal. You have three little ones under eight years old and your husband walked out two years ago. Your floor is dirt and your debt is high. You live in a state of clawing-desperation.

But what if, what if.

A Buddhist monastery moved into the city beside yours, a few miles from your house. What if the monks knocked on your door one day, when the baby was crying because her belly was empty for too long, and offered free schooling and housing for your older two children. They seemed kind and attentive, and the word free was dropped at least 15 times throughout the conversation. It is the opportunity of a lifetime–

Of their lifetimes.

And so you take it. You send your two Christian children to a Buddhist school, and you thank Jesus for the gift of an education and two meals a day and actual beds for your little ones to sleep in at night. 


But how’s a six year old girl to resist Buddhism while living in a monastery? And why should she? The monks give her and her brother sweets and the occasional toy from foreigners who visit in loud groups. The children get a steady dose of indoctrination and hot meals, temple visits and spelling tests.

And, no surprise, they come back to you for their first visit six months later, making offerings and burning incense, asking for luck and claiming reincarnation, Buddhist through-and-through.

You are disappointed, angered even. You’ve been around long enough to know that kids will believe about anything grown-ups tell them. But what other choice do you have? A free education might be worth Buddhist children.

“At least they won’t starve,” you tell yourself.


And we shrug a simple story like this off, but I wonder if this is the position we put parents and children in too often in pursuit sharing the gospel? And while we’ve had conversations here about offering humanitarian aid and it’s relationship to missions, we haven’t yet talked about the ethics of engaging with children in another culture– particularly without parental authority present.

And, yes, I spent a decade in church ministry, and I always heard about the “opportunity” for children to accept Christ. “Like wet clay set out to dry, the older a person gets the harder it is to change their minds,” a children’s pastor told me once. It’s a philosophy that has made me donate specifically to kids’ ministries in the past. I get the logic.

But let’s be honest here– what are the moral ethics involved in preaching, converting, discipling, proselytizing children?

Don’t we have an obligation to their home culture (which is often closely linked with a religion) to tread carefully? Don’t we have a responsibility to their humanity to avoid using gifts to gain loyalty and to their parents to respectfully engage them in the information their kids are receiving?

I mean, stick my poor kid in a free school and demand (very nicely) through lessons and social pressure and altar calls that she become Buddhist, and well, I’m going to be left feeling both angered and powerless.

But the monks may never know it– a free education is a free education, after all.


– Laura Parker, Co-Founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia

blog: LauraParkerWrites.com    work: The Exodus Road    twitter: @MrsLauraParker


So let’s talk.  What guidelines/principles do you have when working with children in another culture?  How have you seen it done well/done poorly? Is it fair to give a gospel presentation without parental consent? And what if the parents aren’t involved or aren’t around? Thoughts? 


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About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog, http://www.LauraParkerWrites.com.
  • Lana

    What you describe happens. Mission organizations offer free housing and in turn convert the children. I get it too, but I question it. I had never connected it to what churches in North America do although I think it is a bit different in America. Most parents know they are sending their kids to youth group and don’t send them their because they feel forced, and America is less dependent on a single narrative in order to sustain their family and community. Converting Buddhist children can really upset them. After all, if your son does not become a monk at some point (which they all do, for at least a couple weeks), you cannot get a holiday in heaven when you die.

    I think if we love children well, when they become an adult they will remember us, and maybe even remember Gods presence.

    • Christy

      Here’s what defines this whole argument to me…Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We aren’t selling religion, we are living out and teaching the truth. We aren’t giving out toys and food and housing to “convert” people, we are loving them from God’s love and we have an obligation to tell them what is behind that love for the sake of their souls eternal destination…and that is the story of Jesus Christ, their only shot at heaven. Now, should missionaries “force” people to accept Christ? I’m not sure that there is any true follower of Christ that will ever take that approach…and can we if we wanted to? I’m not sure that’s even possible. Quite honestly, if a child has no parents, who are we being loyal to here? Jesus or their dead relatives? I do believe we should be upfront and honest if we are dealing with involved parents…that we teach the Bible and about Jesus. If they choose to keep their kid out of our classes, that’s their choice. I personally wake up and choose to care about what Jesus thinks of me…and I love and respect Him, not a culture. I also love and respect people of a different culture enough to tell them about Jesus, irrespective of their current belief system built on lies.

      • This: “Here’s what defines this whole argument to me…Jesus is the way, the
        truth, and the life. We aren’t selling religion, we are living out and
        teaching the truth…”

        SO agree.

        Having said that, we run children’s’ camps in Nicaragua. We do have parents’ permission, in fact we require parent chaperones with each group. #1 for us is that we only work with kids who are already being ministered to by another long-term missionary in their community. We essentially work the same way that Young Life camps in the States do, in that you can’t come to our camp unless you’re already affiliated with a Christian group/missionary/church. But we’re taking the kids outside of their *normal* not to convert them, but to show them the hope and love that exists through Jesus.

        • Wendy, love that you have parent’s permission and chaperones– this seems to be an effective way of engaging parents and giving full disclosure. I guess in your situation, too, the kids are already tracking with faith, so its more about discipleship of something that has already been chosen– right?

          • These kids have all heard it before (at least for the most part). We are either a) presenting it a different way through the camp program or b) it is discipleship as your said. But even the other missionaries that we work with aren’t trying to reach the kids “in a vacuum” so to speak. Family is hugely important in the work we do, and the work of the other missionaries with whom we work.

      • Lana

        The thing is, God is bigger than you are making him. God is big enough to do this ethically. God can take the seeds and bring it to fruit. We are not in a time crunch to convert them when they are little, nor do I think converting should be the reason we help.

        • Christy

          Lana, I didn’t actually mean to send my comment as a reply to yours…sorry :/ I personally don’t do anything in an effort to “convert” people, and maybe I just don’t like that word, because to me, we are dealing with having the knowledge of the Truth and the key to everlasting life. We do good works out of our love for the one living God, and because He asked us to, not to make more “Christians” in the world. Faith comes by hearing…so I will just have to disagree on leaving out the gospel. God is big…but let’s not use that as a pass on our own responsibility to boldly proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection.

          • Lana

            Oh, okay. Oops, did not realize that.. We are on the same page. I don’t like the convert very much either.

      • Christy,

        I think the line we are walking here is not “are we afraid of a culture and so we don’t talk about Jesus.” I think its more: “How would we want someone from another religion treating our kids and then let’s consider doing that.” Because I think the danger in working with children is that we steamroll parents and dangle things in front of them — That’s pretty cynical, I know! Obviously, lots of missionaries are not giving benefits with this mentality. But, I do think it happens a lot. You said that you “love and respect Him, not a culture.” But I just wonder if we shouldn’t be doing both, when possible? Isn’t respecting their culture part of loving them well?

        I do think that many times in working with kids, there is not the honesty upfront. Totally agree with you here:

        “I do believe we should be upfront and honest if we are dealing with involved parents…that we teach the Bible and about Jesus. If they choose to keep their kid out of our classes, that’s their choice.”

        Thanks, Christy, for writing in. I appreciate your honesty.

        • Christy

          Laura, I agree that we shouldn’t just secretively teach our beliefs to children without their parents knowledge of it. I don’t think that is actually a great way to lead the parents to Christ either, because you are starting with a breach of trust, and Jesus teaches us love and truth. I actually run an after school Bible class at a children’s hostel, and the founder is Christian. I’m glad you raised the topic, because I’m not actually sure what type of permission or conversation was had with the parents of these kids.

          The focus should be respecting people, not their culture. And in respecting them and loving them well, we have to preach the truth to them. We will definitely get into sticky situations when we combine sharing our faith with good works(housing, education, etc.). Jesus did not have respect for the Pharisees culture, and the death of many disciples was due to boldly preaching to an unbelieving culture. So without saying to them…I think your culture sucks and I’ll teach your kids whatever I want to teach them, we have to speak the truth in love, regardless of the cost. What I do is actually illegal in India, and so then you could say I’m not respecting their country or their laws. You can’t be a disciple of Christ and think this way. We have great examples in the Bible of how service in The Lord should be done, and the theme was proclaiming Christ at all cost.

          The other point that I don’t think has been addressed is this…the free education and the selfless service and generosity is what leads people their salvation…because it is the genuine love of God that we are displaying to the world to lead them to their loving Father, which is God’s plan not our plan as “Christians” trying in our own human efforts to make more Christians. You actually won’t see this Buddhist scenario played out because it doesn’t exist. What we are doing as servants of the living God is saving the world to Christ by God’s sovereign plan. From His power and love alone.

    • Lana, I think you bring up a good point that poverty makes people dependent in unhealthy ways on a “single narrative.” I love your point about what it means to a Buddhist parent to have a child convert, too.

      Thanks for stopping in. 🙂

  • Kristin

    We serve in Greece, where it is actually illegal to proselytize to minors without parental consent (in the form of writing). We actually work with a community center for children, and I think this is something that definitely has to be addressed case by case. Jesus said to let the children come to Him, and not to hinder them. This implies that they are free to choose Him. When you force families into a situation where they have to choose Him in order to survive (which by the way, is that really a choice at all?), is that what Jesus meant in Matthew 19:14? The ideal situation is to involve the entire family in what you are doing, and for them to understand there is no pressure to “convert” … I think some Christians get angry at missionaries that don’t always offer up the gospel as an exchange for whatever service is being offered (as mentioned in another wonderful article on this site about human traffic relief ministry), but Jesus never manipulated people into following Him, and as missionaries it should be our goal to emulate Christ.

    • Kristin, So interesting that it is actually illegal in Greece! Wow. I wonder what the situation was for that law to come into being? hmmm . . .

      Yes, loved the reminder to engage the entire families as much as possible. This kinda eliminates the whole discussion, doesn’t it?

  • I see what you did there! Very clever my friend. I always learn something new about communication techniques when I read what you write. You are so cool!

    We unabashedly give Jesus to the kids in our orphanage. The “tias” pray with them. They come to church. They attend a Christian school. Some of the kids do still maintain a relationship with their blood relatives. In this mainly Catholic country of Bolivia the Jesus stuff is pretty widely accepted.

    The rub comes when the families are not happy with the highly quality of lifestyle we provide for them. Should the families ever be able to regain custody of their children (which has happened, and is the preferred solution according to Bolivian regulation) they are “unprepared” for life in a crowded home with a dirt floor, minimal education, and much more work. When the kids live with us they go to the dentist, receive a bi-lingual formation at an academically competitive school, wear glasses, have access to good medical attention, participate in soccer, dance, horse-back riding, and swimming, and we have washing machines for the mountains of laundry 14 children produce. When they are reinserted with their blood relatives the expectations on them change dramatically. The lifestyle we provide for them is very common in Bolivia amongst the middle class. Usually if they return to their families the economics dictate different priorities. The shock is a big one both for the child and the families receiving a child who has tasted of privilege.

    Since only about 5% of the kids go back to their relatives we feel that giving the kids a higher quality of life will prepare them for 1) if they are adopted or 2) a more productive life when they grow to be adult members of society and no longer under our care.

    The question of ethics you raise applies to religion, but the issue of culture is more at the forefront. Talks like this are SO vital for every missionary and foreigner at every stage of their life overseas. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • See, I love this Angie. I love that you are thoughtfully thinking these things through and I think you bring up a brilliant point about standard of living! I love that you understand that the standard of living in your orphanage is higher than what the 5% will go back to — and you see the downside of that but also strategically understand that for the 95%, its better. I do think this is a vital issue to talk about in children’s homes, boarding schools, orphanages, etc- because it does play into the lives that these kids will walk into as adults.

      Do you give them all the niceness of Western living, only to leave them disappointed that they’ll probably never maintain that standard again as adults?

      Or do you keep them at the standard of the lower class, but in doing so, it feels like you are making them suffer, to set them up for what to expect as adults?

      Or do you do like YOU guys and purposefully provide the middle road. I like that.

      I love, too, that you “unabashedly give Jesus”– I’m not against that either . . . I guess (and I would assume because I know your heart) that if a kid in your home showed a strong aversion to Jesus-following, you wouldn’t turn him out or anything. I would assume that in Bolivia the gospel is not as big of a jump as it is in other cultures where Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. are the widespread religion.

  • Diana

    Jesus has a special place in His heart for little kids. Who are you to deny Him access to those He created while working as a Christian missionary!? Of course you can expect to get persecuted by families whose ancestors have given them over to idolatry. We have to expect to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. That’s what Jesus did for us. All religions aren’t held equal in a Biblical worldview. Jesus is the only hope for salvation, every other road leads to death. Make the most of every opportunity. You have no idea how much of an eternal impact stepping out and taking that risk can make in one kid’s eternal salvation– and how that could impact an entire generation and/or the nation. The kid will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit at work in his/her life. I come from a not so Christian family home in USAmerica and have been persecuted for my faith. Praise the Lord because I would MUCH rather have Jesus whatever the cost.

    • Diana,

      Thanks for your comments here. I have to say that this hurt a little : “Who are you to deny Him access to those He created while working as a Christian missionary!?” I’m not saying we don’t’ talk about Jesus to kids. I am saying that if we are going to treat others the way we want to be treated, we must be careful about how we engage minors– especially without parental consent. Obviously there are lots of cultures and situations and methods, I’m merely asking us to think respectfully here. Too often, I’ve seen missionaries come in with a big flashy program or gifts or benefit to children, then push gospel hard. And I just think that could be borderline exploitative in some situations. And I’m just asking us as a community to thoughtfully engage on the topic.

      I agree that with you, too, here . . . “I would MUCH rather have Jesus whatever the cost.”

    • Richelle Wright

      Hi Diana ~ I think what Laura was trying to bring up for discussions was this question: Does the end (a child’s salvation) justify any means (deceptive, isolating, or manipulative practices that experience has shown provokes response in children). Yes, we want to welcome children who want to know Jesus – but ideally we want to do so in a way that parents are supportive and encouraging – in the hopes that some day, they to will seek the Lord, not in a way that leaves them bitter about the Christians who stole their child from them. Obviously, we cannot foresee every possible scenario, implication or consequence – but the more we are careful to deal not just with children, but with their entire family and community with integrity and without secrecy. I have to fight resentment towards the admin of the Christian school my children attend when they pressure the youth to be at events by promises of no homework or free food or earning points for their team… instead of allowing the parents to encourage from home and then giving the kids and their families the freedom to make non-pressured, non-coerced decisions.

      • It does seem that we (westerners, can’t speak for anyone else) tend to use incentives more than we should when trying to get kids engaged with Christian indoctrination. There is a terrible pressure brought to bear in Christian circles to “be” a specific “type” of person (interests, beliefs, conviction, etc), that I think often causes individuals to adopt a persona of “Christianity” rather than a heart-conviction of “Christ follower.” I see this in the adults and teens around me all the time – I do not wish to see it in the children, too. Far better that we foster a sincere love of Christ through love of truth and hope, than through a system of belief, no? Thinking about my own daughter (not quite 2 years old, so future-tense, here) – while I wholeheartedly want her to know and love Jesus, I want her faith to be genuine and of her own free will (as it must be, to truly be personal salvation), and not a result of Christianity being the only thing she knows, or (worse yet) because she feels an emotional obligation to a system that showers her with fun, rewards, praise, and incentives to believe.

  • Jace

    Doesn’t Jesus say to use your wealth to make for yourselves friends and also to be shrewd? Maybe the perspective you are trying to get us to see seems honorable and “ethical”, but then again, maybe our perspective is that we are coming against the very forces of evil and darkness to shine the light of the good news, of resurrection, of Jesus. It’s a war. Life or death are the sides you get to choose from. Jesus didn’t call us to be “ethical” as the world sees us. He called us to follow Him.

    I don’t mean to be harsh, but maybe you don’t really understand what’s at stake or even the gift of your own salvation if you feel guilty spreading the gospel.

    • Jace

      Then again, Jesus never called us in Scripture to make boarding schools or to teach children without their parents.

    • Jace, thanks for your comment. I think the problem with this thinking in your comment, though, is that we start looking at people apart from their humanity– we start seeing them merely as “souls that need to be saved” apart from meeting needs, treating them with respect, treating them how we want to be treated, etc.

  • kaybruner.com

    Wow, Laura. What a tough subject to raise. You’ve definitely earned your bravery badge for the week. Kudos. Here’s an analogous-population situation I’ve dealt with here in the States: serving the homeless. I’ve volunteered quite a bit at a Christian community center for folks with chronic mental illness, many of whom are homeless from time to time. One of the community members was not a Christian, but told me that he liked to come to the center because he knew he was welcomed and loved and respected there. He wasn’t required to attend devotions or do anything “Christian.” He could just be there and receive what he needed that day. And he was a community member, regardless of his beliefs. He contrasted this experience with other shelters, which required him to attend a church service before he was allowed to have a meal. It has recently struck me how Jesus just met the needs that people expressed without requiring a statement of faith. People showed up, asked for help, and got it. Which is pretty much how God deals with all of us, it seems to me. We love Him because He loved us first. While we were dead in our sins, Christ died. And I think it’s important that we evaluate our ministry models to make sure that we are not, instead, communicating that God’s favor must be earned by conforming to somebody’s rules–a huge historical issue in missions. I think this whole discussion addresses an underlying issue of whether we think we have to repent in order to receive? Or do we receive and then repent? I’m going with the second.

    • Richelle Wright

      Do we have to repent in order to receive? Or do we receive and then repent. I’d say both, all the time.

    • Kay, thanks for stopping in. Your comment reminds me of the medical clinics where people have to sit and receive a presentation before they leave. Same thing– it just feels bad to me, conditional.

      And you are right, this has been historically a huge issue in missions– I think the danger is potentially in swinging too far the other way where we give, give, give, but refuse to give words to Jesus.

  • Richelle Wright

    I’ve seen orphanages – where living relatives relinquish custody of a child – and then is a boarding situation – and the question you are asking is one that I’m seeing brought up for discussion in the question of adoption vs fostering while empowering remaining family members to bring those children back into their lives/cultures/families. I’ve also seen day schools – and our ministry ran one – parents knew up front that all teachers were Christians and that Bible would be taught during “moral education” – all was done with the permission of the government. Additionally, some Christian worldview was taught in other classes – but again, all classes followed government/charter guidelines and requirements. I’ve no experience with a “proselytizing Christian” boarding school similar to the hypothetical situation you’ve described above… Do places like that actually exist?

    I will say that as missionaries, we placed our young children into a local language school run by “missionaries” of another proselytizing faith. They were taught virtues that were valued and prioritized in that faith – and often selected by their classmates as the best examples of those different virtues. They learned about different prophets and different teachings.Classes were taught with a distinctively religious worldview – and it wasn’t the worldview of our family. They learned historical accounts colored by the faith and with very different facts – the “funniest” one was that the US never actually placed astronauts on the moon – it was a huge hoax and actually photographed and filmed somewhere in Nevada. BUT ALL of that meant we had to have some serious discussions with our own children, some very deep and hard talks about why we believe as we do… how and why our beliefs were different and why we felt ours were true and the others were lies and deceptions. As parents, we knew the path we were choosing, we still felt that the pluses outweighed the minuses, we made our choice and we then addressed the difficult things, the differences at home. We would actually feel quite similarly if our children were attending a public school in the States – especially with the priorities of public education these days. So in some senses, your “scenario” isn’t that far-fetched except that it isn’t a boarding school.

    We, personally, would not take children to church/Sunday School (and then feed them lunch) – without both parents agreeing. One of the local imams used to allow his children (friends of our children) to attend church with us every week – until he started receiving pressure from others in his community. They stopped coming to church – but still came to eat with us on Sundays, quite often. Both of those children are secret believers, as is their mother… and when we left the country, we still had a good relationship with the father.

    I guess the key thing is integrity – we do have a message that is worth sharing and we should be willing to take risks in that sharing. Our message is a confrontational one – that is biblical. We must be first offended to recognize the magnitude of our lostness, our total inability to save ourselves and our need for rescue. Jesus clearly welcomed children… but do we see a biblical precedent of Him seeking out those children without parental input. I’m guessing that schooling for Jewish children might have had some similarities to what you’ve described above. At the same time, we need to act with principle, honorableness (perhaps nobility?) and uncorrupted virtue and and follow a path that is purposefully, steadfastly not manipulative or deceptive.

    My bigger question is why would I target children alone and not be actively working in the larger milieu of the family and the community. Biblically, when I read of the salvation of little children, it says something to the effect that the entire family believed, even the children… And children still must have hearts prepared by God to receive the grace of God for there to be change. Yet, it is true – a child’s heart is often more receptive, as you mentioned – children’s openness to the Gospel message, and the fact that they are often the most helpless ones most victimized by others and circumstances, missionaries do “target” them.

    • I swear, Richelle, I feel like I am drinking from a fire hose of wisdom each time you comment. THANK YOU for taking the time to thoughtfully enter in here– especially given your decade plus of experience in this. I feel so often in the community that I am the young kid on the block and need to listen more to those who have really hacked it out long term– like you and so many others reading here.

      I love so much of what you said, and I think I agree with all of it– that there are lots of different scenarios, that Jesus wouldn’t have targeted kids because they were easier wins (I shudder writing that), that parents can definitely still have input even if their kids are getting teaching different from their own faith.

      I do really like the idea of parental permission with FULL DISCLOSURE. So often I think we “sell” the idea of a fun event, meal, etc, without clearly telling parents about the underlying presentation the kids will be getting and that feels like a ‘bait and switch”– I’ve seen this done many times by short term teams in particular.

      And as for the boarding school thing, I was just using education as a general example– we could substitute food, attention, candy, fun events, whatever in there . ..

      • Richelle Wright

        Please don’t swear! =D …I would say we are on the same page. We must think about how our engagement with minors will be perceived by the child’s family and community. I know I resent certain situations we can run in to here in the States: the fact that doctors can choose not to disclose information discussed with my child, We can all come up with situations where as the parent, we would expect to be informed. Conversely, I’m pretty sure most medical professionals who engage in that behavior really think they are doing what is best for the child.

        Kind of an inverse of what you described – sometimes cultural/community/family expectations violate our principles… Parents at the school we ran expected our staff to beat their kids for disobedience, bad grades, disrespect, etc. – a practice that is unethical, but also illegal – yet “everyone did it anyway” because local teachers believed it was the only way to manage a classroom and motivate students to do their work. Sigh…

        So that brings it back to being open, honest and straightforward with families and communities… and we can start that with our own kids – by not pressuring them to pray some prayer, or get involved in some ministry, or… but gently presenting Bible truth and then leaving space for God to move hearts.

        • hahaha . . ..(on the swearing) . . . . Love that you brought up the antithesis in the corporal punishment example . . . interesting.

          I loved this last paragraph of your comment– yes “open, honest straightforward . . . gently presenting . .. leaving space for God to move.” Sounds like a pretty good attitude to me. Reminds me of Jesus, I think.

        • Jeff J. Johnston

          Love this. Thanks. As the father of a teenager who doesn’t currently have the “fire” for God that I would like to see, I appreciated the last paragraph as well.

          • Richelle Wright

            i used to think it was hard with littles as we traveled about… and engaged in the different works we believe God has placed before us. the challenge with teens is so much more difficult… and yet also so rewarding when we see God taking our kids on their own tiny baby steps in what it means to follow Him.

      • Richelle Wright

        Had another thought about the idea of “full disclosure,” one that was escaping me last night in my old age. 🙂

        If we are afraid of full disclosure… aren’t we actually saying that in some way, shape, or form we are ashamed of the Gospel? That God’s message of salvation and rescue needs to be dressed up in some way by me to make it palatable for others? Somehow I don’t think that scenario brings a smile to the face of my Savior…

        • I agree with you – that fearing full disclosure shows a lack of faith that God can move if we are fully honest (which is totally contradictory to the concept of Jesus being the Truth).

          • Richelle Wright

            and yet full disclosure is scary because most of us have been taught… “cultured,” if you will, to not play our entire hand immediately. and those working in certain cultures and places face a very overt threat should they do so.

          • True. It’s a hard balance. I’m a survivor of child abuse and incest, and let me tell you, disclosing that often has a highly negative impact on my credibility, as foolish as that is (especially since a jury sent my father to prison for life). I think any time we disclose big things, especially culturally hot-button things, we run the real risk of being ostracized and/or of people assuming they know things about you that may or may not be true. I am a Christian, but does that automatically mean I believe or stand for XYZ because of vocal others who also call themselves Christian? No. But is that the perception? Yes, very often, yes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t disclose. That doesn’t mean I hide the hope within me because someone may well decide it means something it doesn’t. People might ignore me if I say that I am a Christian, but they could as easily not. And while silence might buy me shallow friendships, it will do nothing for reaching souls. Shouldn’t I be more concerned with the latter?

          • Richelle Wright

            totally agree ~ reaching souls is important – i guess i try and keep the perspective that God reaches souls and sometimes He lets me be His instrument as He does so. sometimes i know when He’s worked through me; often i do not. but each encounter is different… individual and unique and i think we need to be unashamed, see to share and interact with integrity and not hidden motivations/manipulations, but also be free to follow the Spirit’s leading as God works within our own personalities and circumstances.

            have you ever heard of “Professor Woodley’s Missiological Imperatives.” i’m not even sure where i first read this, but it really resonates with me because i think these sorts of discussions easily end up as an either/or conversation… and sometimes they rightfully should remain an “and.” the imperatives i remember off the top of my head:
            * No-where we will go is Jesus is not already there, present and actively at work in, around and about people;
            * if we believe that to be true, my first responsibility in any culture is to figure out what Jesus is already at work, doing…
            * in our encounters with other cultures and worlds, we should hopefully expect two conversions – my conversion to the truth and images of God already inherent in their culture, and their conversion to truth i bring to the encounter.

            i really love this perspective and am seeking to flesh it out, personally, as i interact with people.

          • Wow, those are excellent. Thank you for sharing!

            I agree, we’re too quick to make these kinds of issues either/or when they can and often should be both/and. Some will argue that you can’t ever have both/and as “that’s pluralism”, but that’s short sighted and ignoring the issue in favor of rejecting a concept. Can I follow God’s leading, and move around the world to live with another people, and be about God’s work, without whipping out tracts or holding Bible studies right off the bat? Yes, I think I can. I think that’s how it SHOULD be, personally. Just because I know Truth doesn’t mean Truth isn’t already at work, and it definitely doesn’t mean that I am inherently a figure of trust and confidence to people who know nothing about me. It seems to me that entering a culture and immediately assaulting it with Truth sans relationship or understanding is an excellent way to burn bridges.

  • Karen Yates

    Thanks for this Laura. Very thought-provoking. It’s always good to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When we were in Bolivia recently, many of the children walked hours to the nearest school and then stayed ‘in town’ for days during the week so they didn’t have to walk home. They stayed in the church with the church pastor and youth leader Monday through Friday. The church was literally the foster parents for these children during the week when they couldn’t walk all the way home. Now, the church was meeting a need, not for the purpose of converting the children but because they had compassion on them and didn’t want God’s children to be on the street. But the pastors and youth leaders made a point to visit the surrounding villages and meet the parents and try to get to know the whole family, not just the children.

    • Karen– hey friend!! So fun to see your smiley avatar over here!

      Yes, that sounds totally great and like the church is really providing a practical service. I love that they are intentionally building relationships with the parents, too.

      I think it just gets really sticky and we need to thoughtfully approach our attitudes and methods with how we communicate to kids– I totally don’t have answers. Just throwing the grenade in and seeing what thoughts/ideas surface. I’m pretty unsettled about the whole thing myself, honestly.

      Thanks again for stopping in . . . next time I am in Cali, I’m going to look you up. 🙂

  • Go on now, that’ll preach.

    • Oh, thanks, lady. Appreciate you stopping in and reading.

      ps– And on an unrelated note, can I say I LOVE that you used up half your talking time at IF to PRAY? Made me love you even more. 🙂

      • Colleen Connell Mitchell

        ME TOO! And I printed that prayer yesterday when Sarah so kindly posted it and I am praying it every morning as the offering of my day. I LOVED it. And I love that Sarah and Preston are hanging out here with us!

        • Colleen, so cool that you did IF- Loved seeing your pics/updates on Facebook. We had a small local group here too and loved it. 🙂

  • Love, love, love this.

  • Roxanne Anderson

    Your article is very well written and thought provoking- as a missionary of many years, here are my thoughts in response: Jesus didn’t say to the children who came to Him, “I’m sorry I can’t bless you if your parents aren’t here.” He didn’t say to women, “I’m sorry I can’t talk to you unless your husband comes too.” Obviously we as missionaries want to share God’s love and the gospel with the whole family unit- but what if there isn’t one? Or what if they won’t all come, or aren’t all interested? What do we do when that hungry child of another religion shows up on our doorstep? We feed him, of course, and if he stays and spends time with us, it would be totally wrong to intentionally avoid mentioning WHO motivates us to do so. Jesus touched individuals of all ages, and in doing so, went against all His accepted cultural norms. He was not “culturally sensitive” to His religious Jewish culture when he spoke directly to women, Samaritans, prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors and children- and touched, healed and fed them without “permission”. He got a lot of flack, but He cared more about loving people in need and offering them salvation than not offending His culture. I don’t think we should be intentionally insensitive to a culture in which we are working as missionaries, but neither should we be so PC that not offending the host culture and religion holds us back from being the salt and light we are supposed to be. Otherwise, we cannot call ourselves missionaries. I have often seen children who were fed and touched through outreach bring their parents to hear the good news. Not all accept, not all are happy about the message, but that did not mean it was wrong to share the gospel with these little ones. I have many indigenous friends of various countries who came to believe in Jesus as kids through just such children’s outreaches or a feeding program, or because they in a Christian orphanage – and they are grateful.

    • Roxanne,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I loved your point about watching how Jesus responded to people, though (and I haven’t done research, so I am just totally assuming here) I wonder how many kids Jesus interacted with without their parents/community that knew them closeby? I think that culture was pretty tight knit . . . I don’t know. I totally get your point, I just think many times we as “missionaries” can view kids as “easy targets” — and I know that is not YOUR heart, but I think that can be a subtle attitude we start adopting. It’s all just food for thought– I agree that we shouldn’t be so scared of offending someone that we are not authentic in communicating our WHY.

      • Roxanne Anderson

        Thank you too, Laura, for engaging in a good discussion. I agree with you also, that kids should never be viewed as “easy targets” – or any kind of target! but rather the most precious of little ones that Jesus warned us not to offend. This would include not making light of engaging them with the gospel, for sure.

    • Roxanne,
      you write about Jesus not asking about the children’s parents were there or not. I have a whole different thought: Did Jesus tell the children to believe and accept Him as their personal saviour? Or did He bless them and not further approach them dogmatically?

      You write you’d feed a child who’d turn up at your place. Great! And you write you’d tell him about what motivates you doing so. That’s where I wonder: Why would you do that and when would you do that? Would you do it once the child asks about why you helped? Or would you decide the child has gotten enough support to be presented a commercial after all? What’s the aim in all this? Making the child Christian (which would be the job of the holy spirit to do) or show love and compassion for this little creature of God (which is more or less what the Lord commanded us to do)?

      You write Jesus touched individual of all ages. I wonder: Where do you read about Jesus making a child a believer? He healed children, He blessed them. But I know of no scripture where He actually tries to make them believers or similar. Of course he was not very sensitive and didn’t care too much about culture rules. But trying to sell the gospel to children (or anyone) for food and housing isn’t what we were called to do. People will ask. Then one can answer. Or people will draw wrong conclusions, then one can correct them. But telling people stories they haven’t yet asked for will most likely hinder spreading the gospel rather then support it. Maybe people will outwardly behave in a “Christian” way, go to church, say their prayers, because they think they are supposed to do so by their helpers. But what has “having to do” or convention to do with Christianity. As you said, Jesus didn’t care too much about conventions, right?

      Excuse my bad English, it’s not my mother tungue and it’s late over here.

      • Lana

        De Benny, your English is good. I agree with you. But what strikes me. If a kid asks why we clothe and feed him, and we say because Jesus died on the cross, that’s scary to me. The answer should be because we don’t want the kid to starve.

        • You’re right pointing that out. We clothe and feed him because we love him (hopefully that’s the reason). Period. I tried to find the point when it is okay to speak about Jesus. But thinking about it again this is maybe the completely wrong approach to the thing.
          I mean, there is nothing wrong about having church services and inviting people. If they come, fine. If not, fine as well. What is important is that we do what we can to feed the starving etc. Plus: How much sense does this make: Why do you feed me? – Because Jesus died on the cross… I wonder if it is even possible to get the whole gospel into such a short answer for a child. I mean, if we start to unfold the whole gospel this might take quite a while. The child might regret having asked after a while…

        • Oh, wow, Lana, that was beautifully said.

          • Richelle Wright

            part of this question is whether we allow discussions such as this to be child-led… or adult-led. when a child has asked me this question – and i have been asked – “my answer has simply been because i love God and want to obey Him and one of the things He tells me to do is to care for people by helping them when they need it… and leave it at that.” that answers the child’s question about my motivation honestly, starightforwardly, unashamedly, gently… but also no more information than the child asked for. said child didn’t ask for a study in the christian plan of redemption. just like with my own kids when they ask difficult questions, when the answer gives too much, eyes glass over and you lose the child and the opportunity for further child led discussion. when children have repeatedly shown up… but even that leads then to a conversation with parents or responsible adults in the child’s life – letting them know that the child has been asking questions and respecting/honoring them to get permission before further conversation… or before inviting them and their child to our house or to join us for church some sunday…

            three of the gospels contain some version of this account: “They were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to Me, do not hinder for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” i think it is clear from this discussion that people have different interpretations of what “disciples rebuked,” “Jesus saw… [and] was indignant,” “permit,” “not hindering,” “receiv[ing] the Kingdom… like a child…,” “at all,” and “took… in arms, began blessing…, laying… hands on…” means and frankly, shouldn’t that be okay?

            as brothers and sisters with the same goal of loving and honoring God, obeying Him, and loving our neighbor well – we should be holding each other accountable for the methods and godly integrity in the practices we use by having these kinds of discussions. but at the same time, we also need to trust the Holy Spirit alive and working in each, allow each other room to respectfully and kindly disagree – without feelings of superiority or that “my way is the best and/or right way,” knowing that God works through different means and imperfect people (i.e. me) and that those ways are most often beyond my comprehensive comprehension and even outside of my intentional plan…

            isn’t THAT is one of the amazingly beautiful aspects of being a part of the bride of Christ, even when we do disagree or don’t understand?

          • C Anderson

            I agree Lana. Jesus dying on the cross isn’t my motivation behind loving and feeding starving kids. I loved and fed kids way before I gave my life to Christ. Humanist, atheist, and agnostics were beside me, loving and feeding kids, just because they’re kids and it was right. I share my love of Christ with children because it’s an unconditional, pure love that everyone deserves and needs. It’s a light in the darkest times, guidance in the deepest forest, and I want that for them. I want that for everyone. It’s a return to a calling that’s in our dna. I tell children I’m there because they’re valuable, they need help, and that I care about them. Most importantly, God loves them, which is why He sends helpers to care for them, just like He sent Jesus to care for the world. I’ve had awesome conversations with children and people about how Jesus has changed my life. Being open about how Jesus has transformed me and works in my life has called many to seek Him.

      • Roxanne Anderson

        Thank you for your thoughts, De Benny, and your English is just fine. I’m just wondering, is this discussion a doctrinal theory to you, or do you have starving children show up at your door? Because this is not a theoretical discussion to me, but something that really happens. And it is natural for me to feed starving children – unconditionally- because I love Jesus and that flows naturally from me- it is not a contrived “commercial” nor a strategy to make converts. But it is the love of God shown through us as believers that brings people to believe in Jesus. We naturally talk about the One who saved us to all those around us- it is not something we sell. Freely we have received, freely we give. Yes, I would tell a child eating at my table Bible stories (that I am telling my own children anyway) about the God who made the world, and who loves them. Yes, I would hope that would plant a seed that would make then want to know more- of course! This is salvation I have to share- living water to one who is eventually going to die of thirst without it! I do not want to “make them a Christian.” I want to introduce them to Jesus who is alive in me.

        • and your English is just fine

          I always wonder if I come across rude for lack of vocabulary…

          The discussion is theory to me, yes, I live in a rich country without too many people starving (if any, there are still wide parts of our social system up and working). But if they came I’d feed them, that’s not at all the question.

          The question is what the requirements for being fed are, or what the consequences would be. If a child came and said: I want food, but please spare me of your Jesus-guy-stories? Of course that would be a rude thing to do, but I hope it helps pointing out what I mean: You feed the children out of love. So it shouldn’t bother you beyond the rude part that the child does not want to hear about Jesus. The child is still hungry. And love still commands to feed the hungry.

          That you tell your children about Jesus and the strange child would hear about it while eating is a different thing. Then they are not the “target”, if you so like.

          You say telling children about Jesus was the salvation we have to share. Of course you are not wrong with that. But then again: Is it you sharing the salvation? Or is that God’s thing to do? You speak of seed which makes me think of what Anna wrote: Seed on rocky ground.
          I believe (and yes, this is pure theory) that one would have to first reclaim (is that the right word?) land: One has to make the land fertile and not leave it rocky. I believe this could be done by just simple love. Feed the starving. Full stop. I do not think we need to worry about people being lost, because God is in command, not we. All will be just fine.
          I don’t say keep the gospel a secret, I just say that there is no need to stress it so much. The gospel is powerful enough to find its way into the hearts of people, and I believe it doesn’t even need words in all cases. How can one better express the gospel than by showing love, conditionless love (even without the condition that Jesus must be mentioned every now and then).

          I don’t say stop being a christian. Keep up your faith and practise love, and eventually people will not only show up and ask for food, but also show up and ask for the gospel. And that would be fertile land then.
          Otherwise, chances are high that you can put up some outward Christianity, which could collapse quickly once circumstances change and Christianity doesn’t bring advantages but disadvantages. I read about unsuccessful youth work in Anna’s mentioned comment, I read about left churches in SE Asia once missionaries are gone on Lana’s blog. Of course it’s all theory, but it fits also to what I see happening in the world and how I would react in certain situation.

          God bless

          • Roxanne Anderson

            “But then again: Is it you sharing the salvation? Or is that God’s thing to do?” – Seriously, how do you think God “shares” salvation, if not through the mouths and deeds of His people? So amazed such a simple thing as feeding children and telling the good news can be made so complicated. If Jesus said we must be as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven- it’s pretty basic. Love people. Share Jesus. Make disciples (yep, part of the Great Commission).

          • Seriously, how do you think God “shares” salvation, if not through the mouths and deeds of His people?

            That certainly plays a role. I’ve read about people dreaming of Jesus Christ before ever hearing of Him. But then they also meet fellow Christians who tell them about what they long to hear.

            Love people. Share Jesus. Make disciples

            But don’t love in order to make disciples, that’s what I try to say. Love. Period, that’s about it. And then you can have your sermons, where people can go to. And you can answer their questions. But don’t force them to listen by making it an obligation for receiving help. That’s the important point. Because this would degrade those children of God to mere objects of your plan to make them a disciple.

          • Roxanne Anderson

            *Sigh*. Of course, “Love. Period.” No sermons. No force. No obligation. No objects. That’s the gospel, and how it would always be, if it is presented Biblically. And it will sometimes lead to sharing directly, sometimes praying with someone to become a follower of Jesus, sometimes continuing to disciple them after that…and sometimes not. That’s Biblical too.

        • Roxanne and De Benny,

          I love reading your conversation here! I love that you are both thoughtfully and practically engaging this topic– both here in this forum and in your real lives. Beautiful.

          I think it is an interesting point, and I’d love to learn more about Jewish culture– when Jesus “blessed” children, what did that really mean? When De Benny asks if Jesus converting kids, making believers, I think that’s really interesting idea. And I don’t know the answer . . . I think in that day, it was so family oriented that perhaps it wasn’t even an issue to have children learn about Jesus apart from their parents. So this issue was perhaps a non-issue then.

          Regardless, I think we are all on the same page that LOVING others, kids included!, shouldn’t have strings attached to it. While our motivation is Gospel, the working out of that is LOVE in the PRACTICAL.

          • Roxanne Anderson

            Thanks for the thoughtful moderation, Laura. I appreciate being able to share ideas and get respectful feedback. I would say, though- (of course, just my opinion)- in answer to your thoughts about this ministering to children not being an issue in a family related culture- personally having worked in Asian cultures similar to those Jesus was ministering in, that (educated guess) there were most certainly children not attached to a family hanging around Jesus. Family oriented cultures do not preclude orphans, street kids, and children running around on their own- a lot – without their parents. And Jesus really went out of His way to touch EVERYONE the culture said was “out” precisely because they WEREN’T in a “nice little family unit”- the unclean, the beggars, the women without husbands… and the children.

  • Colleen Connell Mitchell

    Laura Parker…you are so digging into hard stuff lately, huh? I love that you write to engage discussion and then take time to read and think and prayerfully consider the responses. You are an example to me and I appreciate it.

    • oh gosh, well, thanks. I am feeling like I am coming off a bit cynical of late and need to write something hopeful or funny . . . next time!

      Colleen- thanks for loving well- love watching your work and life unfold. 🙂

  • I can’t imagine any missionaries that view kids as “easy targets.” If so they need to be off the mission field. When we do house visitations, if the parents are not there we do not share the gospel with them. Now I would not have ever known this if it wasn’t told by one of our translators that it is improper to do so for just as you mentioned it could anger the parents. When the mission does children’s ministry, it is all about teaching them God’s word. The parents either allow their kids or not. We do not do altar calls or such. We let GOD do HIS WORK in their hearts through the teaching of His word. As for the scenario written above, if “Christianity is in your blood” there is no way you are going to send your child to a Buddhist school. You are going to TRUST THE LORD to provide for you without compromising your faith.

    • Debbie– where are you guys working again? I love the guidelines your team/you have with kids– it seems really measured and wise. Thanks for sharing how you are practically doing this work– I think its helpful to get insights from someone really knee deep in it.

      Carry on, sister, carry on.

      • We are in the very rural villages of Mozambique. Though rural, this past Sunday they had to make the announcement to please turn off your cell phones so as not to disrupt the service. Never did I ever think we would hear that message there.

  • pastordt

    Many, MANY moons ago, when my husband and I lived and worked cross-culturally at a boarding school, we were bothered by what felt like some pretty blatant manipulation to us. The students were 13-21 years of age, so not little kids. And about twice a year, the staff would sponsor a ‘revival’ speaker/meeting. It seemed to us that there was a tacit agreement that those students who ‘came forward’ during these special events were the ones who got better grades and more attention from faculty. That’s just plain wrong — at least in my book. It encourages duplicity, in a way, because those kids figure out how things work pretty quickly and they’d practically jump up to be seen going forward for prayer. I agree with the commenters that remind us to be brave and forthright with our own faith stories and to speak the gospel as well as live it. But care needs to be taken not to establish a quid-pro-quo kind of thinking – say the right words/do the right things in order to get a good grade/more attention. As always, dear Laura, you’re stirring the pot . . in a really good way. Thank you.

    • Diana, ugh, that situation you describe completely makes my stomach churn. I agree its totally unethical and unChristlike to dangle anything in front of a person in exchange for belief or behavior. Not cool, missionaries, not cool.

      Love your comments– as always!! I so admire and respect your opinion- seriously. 🙂 (I really hope we get to meet one day . . . )

    • I’m so sad to hear that, and I understand, because I think it happens Christian “youth culture” all the time, even outside of “incentives” like good grades, etc. I went to a wide variety of youth groups from 12-20 years old (I was at one almost every week night, to get away from a highly dysfunctional home environment, and because I had a deep thirst for spiritual growth), and it seemed that a great many of them placed a huge emphasis on “coming forward”, that was unhealthy, and encouraged kids to do so to gain standing among their peers and leaders for personal holiness. I stopped going to one group because I couldn’t bear the environment anymore – kids were actually competing, in a way, for who could appear to be the most wracked by a desire to “overcome sin” for a “spiritual experience”. It was horrifying, and at the time I was too afraid to stand up and say anything, so I just left (there’s nothing like standing up in the middle of a group of kids (your peers, and you younger than most) who are trying to out-do each other for who is the most wretched sinner, for the “most transformed” award, and thundering out scripture to combat it, to earn yourself the “weird/scary girl” label).

      • Wow, that was kinda rambly. Sorry! I hope it made sense…

      • Alena– loved your comment and get it.

        Esp. chuckled at the “most transformed award” ! LOL. Reminds me of the award I got almost every year at youth camp that was the “Best Servant” award– I totally faked helping others in front of youth leaders to get it! Funny how we twist things, right?

        • Oh yes. #sigh

          My sister-in-law and I just talked about this, the other day. How there is so much pressure to conform to the “image” of Christianity (specifically, in our conversation, “Christian womanhood”). I think most have a genuine desire to be righteous, but we fall victim to this image, and in turn victimize each other even though our intentions may be good. Coercion is so ugly, and never more so than when it targets kids. Good intentions do not cover up or excuse wrong methods.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Great post – I waited until today to post my thoughts. So let me twist this a bit! When we moved to the United States we sent our children to public school. They were free! They were good! We didn’t have money for private schools. But I was troubled by some of what they brought home. It went completely against many things that I believe to be inherently true. The school system never had me sign on a line that I would be okay with this. They never told me everything that this school culture would ‘indoctrinate’ on several levels, that the school would tell my children that what they learned at home was ‘wrong’ (true story!) But I continued to send them because it was the best choice and I had to come to a decision: that though the school and I differed in many areas of belief, they did want my children to be healthy and well adjusted so they could learn. The outcome? Two of my children have walked away from faith at this time. Is God finished with the process – no. The other three have solidly grounded faith as Christians but continue, like all of us, to be in process. There are times when I regret the decision – but overall I’m glad we did this because it was the right decision. Interesting, my Muslim friends feel the same – like they lost some of their children in the process of sending them to American Public schools. They weren’t told until after the fact that their daughters were on the pill, something that they vehemently disagreed with and it caused huge issues within the family and broke trust with the school. The difference of course in my story is that the public school system never said they would operate on any sort of Christian ethics. But the similarities with this story and the one that you tell are there none the less. But do I believe that missions is intended to create boarding schools and indoctrinate? No, no and no! In fact I’ve pulled out of a couple of things in the past because of the tone of the message. And I would also add that 3/4 of the world operates on a family system of support — so should we be working with children apart from families or should families be full partners in the process? I love the words of Joshua when he says “Choose this day who you will serve but as for me and my house [my family] we will serve the Lord. And individual faith is a very western concept. Thanks for a great discussion Laura.

    • Marilyn- great input here! It’s sad to me that Americans allowed something for Muslim children (the pill) that was inherently against their belief systems, and I do hate that thought of parents having to “lose” children to get an education . . . but I guess sometimes that is just the reality. I LOVED your point about a “family faith” vs an “Individual faith.” Hmmmm . . . interesting angle there. As always, friend, thanks for adding your insights here!

    • Lana

      Very interesting points. I grew up on the other end (I was homeschooled in the 90s when the cool thing to do was shelther your kids from any outside ideas),, and I have seen many of my homeschool peers walk away from the faith (visit homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com; the website is not atheist by any means, but many of the stories were written from now atheist homeschool alumni). So public school is not the only cause of losing faith, and as you said, each family has to pray about it, and do what God tells them to do, or make the best of the circumstances at least. That said, I agree with you that schools are not neutral. They can’t be. We are all historical figures. We all carry prejudices with us, including public schools.

      But yet, as Christians we should rise to the highest standards, not what other people are doing. If the s chools are violating the faith of the Muslim, we as Christians certainly don’t need to be that way either and violate the muslim parents. (That said, the birth control issue is extremely tricky if we want to cut back teen pregnancy . . . as one who grew up in the county with the most teen pregnancies in one of the states with the highest teen pregnancies.)

      • Marilyn Gardner

        Exactly my point. If a child loses their faith it’s not just about what is being taught at any school. There are way more factors that go into it. My own two would say it was the Evangelical church and are slowly finding a place in Eastern Orthodoxy. The birth control issue is a totally different topic and not the point of the comment, rather it was to point out the many ways that public schools unapologetically negate the faith of their constituencies. I totally agree that as Christians we should rise to the highest standards. Exactly. It was just to give a different perspective 🙂

        • Just to understand you right: So you say the orthodox Christianity isn’t real christian faith? Because you said two of your children walked away from faith and now say that they are finding a place in eastern orthodoxy…? Excuse my curiosity, I am just trying to find out how people in the states use terms like “faith” and Christianity…

          • Marilyn Gardner

            I’m so sorry – I need to clarify.and realize the limitations of comments to do so. I absolutely think Orthodox Christianity is true Christian faith. In the first comment I said two had walked away from faith – what I should have added is that they are slowly returning through Eastern Orthodoxy. Sorry for the confusion. – in my focus on my point the details are hazy. I hope that clarifies.

          • Thank you for explaining. As I said, the question was just out of curiosity. I’ve met people who claimed all kinds of denominations would not be *real* Christianity, so I asked. I like Eastern Orthodoxy quite well by the way, I think they have kept some truth that almost got lost on the protestant side. For example this explanation why love wins:


          • Marilyn Gardner

            I look forward to taking a look at the link thanks! Actually – my husband and I are Catechumens in the Eastern Orthodox church right now, will probably be Chrismated before Pascha this year. It’ been a humbling journey. If you’re interested http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/category/reluctant-orthodox/ Glad to have this conversation with you De!

  • Raz

    As an MK, a former missionary, and a disillusioned evangelical I say thank you very much for this thought-provoking post. I grew up in a Buddhist country where I would venture to say, most of the adults who populate the few churches were converted as children (or their parents or grandparents were). In Christian schools. There is much validity to the questions you are asking.

    • Lana

      Hi, Raz. Good to hear a piece of your story. I’m a disillusioned evangelical. I did not grow up overseas, but spent a few years in Se Asia areas.

    • Thanks, Raz, for stopping in here. I spent several years in SE Asia and the post was written with the system of education/Western humanitarian efforts there, so I know that you probably get this post better than most.

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  • Marla Taviano

    This is good stuff. We’re not overseas, but we live in an apartment complex that’s made up of 70% East African refugees who are 99.99(999999)% Muslim. We tutor kiddos on Tuesday nights in one of the apartments and have trained our volunteers that our job is not to proselytize. (And that we would not be happy if the roles were reversed and we were sending our kids to Muslim tutors who were trying to convert our littles.) We’re loving these kids, building relationships with them, helping them with homework, laughing with them, but sharing our faith will come when we move on to relationships with their parents (which is happening! praise Jesus!). If the kids ask questions about our faith (which many of the high schoolers have done), we answer, but sensitively. And we focus most of our attention on them, their religion, their experiences, their interests, where they’ve come from, etc. God is moving and working, and it’s pretty amazing.

    • Marla, I love this on a billion-jillion levels. Everything. About. It.

      And you and your family and the ways you guys are radically loving the world. Right where you are.

  • I think this is why a lot of countries have strict laws when it comes to religious education of children. I know that in Russia for instance you need written parent approval to do any kind of religious education with children 14 and under. I think that it’s fine to offer education to children but we also need to be upfront with their parents so that they know what their getting into. It seems to me that Jesus never really came through the back door of the home to share the gospel. He ministered to children and probably fed them too but he did it in public and everyone was aware of who he was and what he taught.

    • Caleb, I really liked this statement:

      “It seems to me that Jesus never really came through the back door of the home to share the gospel.”

      Totally. I think it’s interesting that some countries have laws about children and religious instruction . . . I wasn’t aware of that, but I guess it totally makes sense.

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  • Anna

    Thanks for these thoughts. They are definitely ideas to ponder. I think even the American church is way off in how they targert children and youth apart from family. And, I found through 6 years of youth ministry, that it doesn’t even work. Youth camp converts quickly stray when parents are not discipling at home. Most of the hundreds of kids I worked with have since fallen away…the seed on rocky soil. It’s been one of the heartbreaks of my life to feel all that love and prayer seem wasted (I know it’s not really). But family ministry is key. It’s how God set us up for the most practical form of discipleship.

    • At 28 years old, it still shocks me how extremely few “Christian” kids I grew up with no longer identify with the faith in any way. And yet…it doesn’t shock me at all, because it seems that the vast majority of Christian homes left discipleship totally up to churches and youth ministries. When we ignore the family – either as parents abdicating discipleship to ministries, or as ministries negating the role of family in discipleship – we create an environment rich for apostasy.

    • Anna- love that point about “family ministry.” I think it’s essential for sure and highlights the danger of just focusing on children or youth. Those ministries have to be in a larger context and focus of loving the entire family . . which I assume is what Jesus did most often since Jewish culture was so extremely family oriented. It’s just tough bc so often our modern cultures are NOT that– we are all so independent that sometimes family ministry may not just be a realistic option.

  • Cory Klein

    Three things about this. First, God is the one who converts a person, whether child or adult. We proclaim the good news, but we never force anyone to believe. Second, even if I were poor, I wouldn’t send my children to a Buddhist school for education. I think the parents of the children Christians reach out to have that same choice. Third, God has called us to proclaim the good news to everyone, including children. God’s great commission supersedes any obligation we have to another’s home culture.

    • Cory, thanks for your comments. I do agree that Jesus trumps everything and that God has the hearts of humanity. But I don’t think that truly impoverished people typically have a choice about education. I think theoretically we can say we wouldn’t send our kids to a school of another religion, but when education (or food or a job or health services) are essential for survival, I think they don’t have much choice. Personally, I’ve never been in that desperate of a situation, so I think I have the privilege of choice, but I think the deeply impoverished really don’t have that. If the choice was between my kid dying from starvation and having a shot at life if he puts up with some buddhist teaching, I would take my chances on buddhism in the hopes that it wouldn’t change him too much. While technically there is always a choice, is it REALLY a choice? I think this is where I really struggle with the ways Christians offer services to the impoverished– we often attach strings to it. It’s a bit of a “take it or leave it” attitude that perhaps doesn’t lovingly consider the culture or the situations of those in extreme poverty or darkness.


      • Cory Klein

        Laura, If there are strings attached to helping out the poor, I would question whether or not the group helping even knows the gospel. What strings would these be?

        As far as not having a choice, I disagree. But let’s say you’re right and they don’t have a choice, I still don’t see where bringing the gospel message to these children is committing a wicked act. You really haven’t dealt with my two other arguments. The children cannot be forced into believing and the great commission supersedes obligations we have to another’s culture. You do realize that if these children never hear the good news they will go to hell, right?

        • Hearing the gospel doesn’t earn you heaven eihter. You have to believe. And if you chase them away from the gospel by behaving like a second hand car dealer, you’re making things rather worse than better, don’t you?
          You cannot force people into believing but you can make things harder for them (though in the end it’s all in God’s hand but why try to hinder Him?).
          The point is: If you don’t show love, you contradict the same gospel you are preaching. But to show love you have to focus on the person before you, not on what your plans for that person look like, and be it the most wonderful plans there might be.
          So if that person before you is hungry, feed him. If he is shivering, clothe him. If he is thirsty: give him to drink. If he needs education, give education. If he asks a question about your God, anser that question. But only that question, don’t take the one question as an invitation to start Lord-advertisement on the person (this doesn’t only apply to children, by the way). If your answer is appealing (and it will be if you answer according to the gospel) there will be more questions until you’ve brought the whole gospel across.
          Then you can also have your church services, prayer hours, bible meetings. If people go there on their own, don’t hinder them. But don’t make visiting those events a condition for showing love. That won’t be love and that would be a misrepresentation of the gospel. You don’t save people this way, you only make it harder for others to safe them later on…
          The obligation is not to another culture. The obligation is to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who commanded us to love in the first place.

          • Cory Klein

            De Benny, I think you have mistaken ideas about what I was trying to communicate. I apologize for the confusion. I by no means agree with the used car salesman approach. I do not go in for alter calls or praying the sinners prayer. When God’s Word is rightly preached, and a person is moved to faith in God’s saving work, then there is nothing that person needs to do but to hold fast to that faith. They need not raise a hand or walk down to the alter. No prayer needs to be prayed, for at that moment God has given sight to one born blind. The veil has been lifted and that person now sees how truly wonderful our God is. The mystery of the cross is now made plain, that God Himself has become flesh and dwelt among, and He has taken the place of sinful man on the cross, paying a debt that we cannot repay, in order that we may be set free from sin, death and the devil. Yet death did not hold Him down. Three days later He rose from the dead, being the first fruit of the resurrection to come. Yes, Jesus promises us that we too will one day rise from the dead and live in His glorious kingdom. When that message is preached and faith is stirred up in the heart of its hearer, then nothing more needs to be done. If that is being a used car salesman, then let me know who your dealer is.

            I think on most points we probably see eye to eye, though I disagree that we need to wait to be asked to share the gospel. How can I hold that glorious good news back to those who are drowning? It doesn’t make sense and isn’t what our Lord commands us to do. We are to go and proclaim this message to all the nations. Not only to those who ask us about it, but to every last one who has breath. Yes, the cross is foolishness to many, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Let’s not hold back this good news because we are afraid we might offend a person. They are not offended by you, but by Jesus, because it is His message.

          • We are indeed very close to one another. What I mean is not wait till you are asked, well, not in all cases. What I mean is that one needs to wait until someone is ready to hear. And while one is hungry or in any other need, one will pretend listening if it gets one to the food or whatever is in need. This is what I meant. This way conformity can well be achieved. But that’s not what we want, right?

            We are to proclaim the message, yes, but I see a difference in getting to one person (or a small group) personally and shoving the gospel down their throat, if you know what I mean, and having a church service at a place and inviting people but then wait for them to come or ask questions.

            It’s like the saying: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can make people go to church, listen to the most wonderful sermons, but you cannot actually make them pay attention. All you can do can only lead to outward appearence (unless you are lucky).

            I consider it a part of love to people to see and listen where they are at. See how I can help them in this world, with worldly help. Of course we are to proclaim the gospel, but isn’t it as St. Francis said: Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. I think there are much fewer occasions when words are really necessary. Love is international, you don’t even have to study a language (though you’d need the language to understand the peoples’ difficulties)…

            So I am not saying don’t spread the gospel, what I really want to say is check upon the means of spreading. Because some work and some don’t. And some are rooted in love and some are more rooted in getting a task done. I even believe that those that have to do with tasks done are done with the best intentions of loving people, trying to save them and all. But it is God who saves, we are called to love as we are called to spread the gospel. Maybe both can really go together wordless in most times…

            I am not talking about the cross being foolish. That’s a different matter we as Christians have to deal with. But this isn’t a problem, I love being a fool of that kind.
            If you do works of love you will not offend anyone and you will still be spreading the gospel, because you will prepare the soil for the seed to be planted. But if spreading the gospel is really offending a person, you might be doing something wrong. Because no one needs to be offended by the good news. They can laugh about it, they can hate it, but as soon as there is reason to be offended by it, something is going wrong, because you are right: Jesus would be the offender. But He isn’t. So maybe it’s this humane part of all the actions that wants to get tasks done, that’s behind all the offence. But they might really think, it’s Jesus offending them. How much would they like to hear about Jesus afterwards?

          • Cory Klein

            De Benny, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. The gospel isn’t what I do, it is what Jesus did. It is something that needs to be proclaimed with words. I’m all for love and good deeds, but without the proclamation of the gospel, what eternal good is it? You can feed a man for day, but if he is going to hell because you were waiting for a question that never comes, have you really loved him? I say no. Read the book of Acts and see what the Apostles did. They went out into all the world proclaiming the gospel by using words. Read about Francis of Assisi. He was highly vocal about the gospel, often preaching in the streets. (BTW, you won’t find that quote in any of his writings. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/11/factchecker-misquoting-francis-of-assisi/ ) Again, Jesus tells us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15

          • The gospel isn’t what I do, it is what Jesus did.

            I don’t mean the gospel is what you do, but I say that you can proclaim the gospel (in most cases even better than with words) by acting according to the gospel.

            It is something that needs to be proclaimed with words.

            I’d even agree on that one. But first things first. In order to make a chocolate covered cake you need to cover it with chocolate. But it isn’t the first thing you do. Actually you do pretty much most of the work before, including the actual baking and only then cobver it with chocolate in the end.
            Plus: Jesus never told us to proclaim the gospel with words, but He told us to love and that we’d be to recognize by love we have. Now how much love does it show to outsiders when they see us only talking about some to them unknown (and foolish) God? Or helping only for the exchange of talking about that “foolish” God?
            Let me say it again: I don’t say we should never speak of God, Jesus and the gospel. Peter tells us to be ready to give an answer about the reason of our hope. How much does it look like hope when we are eager to get the chance to preach with words the ever same message of that “foolish” God?
            Would it not make more sense to first show them who don’t know God our hope and joy and our love for His creation and everyone who belongs to it? THAT will rather make people ask and actually listen to our answer. They can still decide it was all foolish, but then they’d have to add: Though they are foolish, they have hope. But if we focus so much on preaching with words and only with words and trying to finally deliver those words we think we are supposed to deliver again and again, how hopeful, how joyful does this look on the other hand?

            You can feed a man for day, but if he is going to hell because you were
            waiting for a question that never comes, have you really loved him? I
            say no.

            If I give him food the next day I’ve fed him for two days. And if I educate him or even give him a job, he’d be fed for a long while (and his family).

            You say you are afraid that person would go to hell if he’d die too early to actually come to the point where he’d ask that certain questions?
            Now do you think he’d grasp believe earlier if he was only said words to? There is the chance that a person would not understand or even listen to the gospel preached at him, as much as there is a chance that he wouldn’t ask the important questions. Besides, there’d no need to ask, maybe he’d just come to a church service and listen to sermons there, where he could also leave again, if the word of God wouldn’t occur to him at that time.

            I have the impression you focus on: Lets actually say our words to him and all the rest is up to God.
            I on the contrary focus on: Let’s show him love like Jesus demanded us to and once God starts changing his heart so he starts asking questions and visiting church services to listen to sermons by his own will, let’s hope God gives us the right words to let the gospel rig in the heart of that man.

            Read the book of Acts and see what the Apostles did. They went out into all the world proclaiming the gospel by using words.

            But the situation is completely different. The people they were preaching to were in the most parts Jews who knew all the backgrounds, who were waiting for that certain message. Even the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was already reading the bible and trying to make sense of it! Cornelius (Acts 10) was a pagan, not a Jew, but “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway”. He asked Peter to come to his house and Peter told him about the gospel only then, after being asked.
            And when you read further you’ll find that Paul also visited the synagogues. He did not deny to speak to pagans, but his first addressees were the Jews of the towns he visited, and the pagans that did finally come to faith seem to have in most cases been people who were associated with the synagogue, but didn’t convert fully to Judaism because of the inconvenience of the Jewish law they’d have to observe…

            So yes, the Apostles went out into all the world, and they used words, but rather after being asked or in open public without making anybody listen. When Paul spoke on the Areopag in Athens, everybody could choose to listen or walk further. But Paul did not, by all we know from the bible, get to one or two single persons and start talking to them about the Lord without them asking (or sometimes mocking) him. The initiative did not start in his place and when, like on the Areopag, it was a common thing to get there and start speaking (like today in London’s speaker’s corner) or like in the synagogue, where he was allowed like every other Jew to speak and interpret the prophets and tora… so he took that possibility. But he was speaking to Jewish peers. Remember, that back in the day there was not yet a difference between Judaism and Christianity.

            He was highly vocal about the gospel, often preaching in the streets./blockquote>
            Again, I have no problem with preaching in the streets, where everyone can come and leave as they like. What I ciritzise is getting hold of certain people and drwoning them in vocal gospel, with out them asking for it or giving them a chance to avoid it.

            Thank you for the link, so even if the saying is wrongly attributed to Francis, the article also mentions the rule of Franciscan order which states something similar. If you look under the there linked rule, you’ll even find similar thoughts under the part of friars going to missions. And still there is the different audience: When Francis preached in the streets of Italy, he was preaching to people who were already Christians throughout their lives and who were supposingly visiting church at least once a week (if not out of desire then out of pressure by authority). But still I don’t think he would have picked some people who come to him for help and use the chance to terach them a bit about the gospel before or as a (moral) requirement to get help. Especially not if it were children…

            Again, Jesus tells us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15

            The verb used is κηρύξατε, which means literally “to herald” that would be “to proclaim publicly like a herald”. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with it as long as people are free to walk away. You can also invite people to such events, nothing wrong with it (as long as it’s not children who might feel oblieged, then ask the parents first in order not to loose them for Christianity because they might get the impression that Christianity robbed them their children), as long as there is no pressure involved (openly or subliminal).

          • Cory Klein

            De Benny, I’ll try to keep this short, because we could go round and round all day about this and probably not convince the other. I appreciate your zeal for the gospel, I just disagree with your method. I think even on my best day of doing good works, it would fall well short of proclaiming the gospel. I will stick to proclaiming with words. I believe God’s Word has the power to produce faith in a person, even a stranger. I’m not against doing good works, but I want to proclaim the gospel with words to everyone I can, including children. Feel free to respond if you want, but this is my last post on the subject since I think neither of us will convince the other.

          • because we could go round and round all day about this and probably not convince the other

            I’m afraid you are right here, I just want to point one last thing out (in order to not be misunderstood). Not good deeds, but deeds of love. Because our deeds will never be perfect, but a failing love is sufficient, as it is still love. Isn’t using words (as it contains use it’s a deed as well, isn’t it) also a deed that falls short? Because none of us is able of perfection? I agree with you that God’s word has the power to produce faith in a person, but when we preach it we don’t speak God’s word, we speak of or about it. We can only hope that our preaching becomes God’s word to some (and thus starts faith in them).

            Thank you for the conversation and God bless you

      • Cory Klein

        Hi Laura,
        I never heard back from you on my questions. First, what strings are attached to helping out the poor? How does proclaiming the gospel force anyone into believing? Doesn’t the great commission supersede any obligation to culture? I would love to hear your responses to these. Thanks.

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  • Phil

    this is one reason why we decided to send our kids to japanese school only for a couple years, then homeschool and christian international school. knew many missionaries there whose kids walked away from the faith after spending time in the national schools. have to help them find other ways of joining the culture though.

  • karyn

    Interesting conversation.
    I turned away from my faith for many years because of feeling as if it were coerced and being bitter about the experience. If the faith discussion becomes too intertwined with what is being handed out (health services, food, etc…) I worry about the same thing happening. It almost seems as an abuse of power. I also look at Nigeria and Pakistan and the refusal of many to get vaccines and wonder if a little part of that is because for so long health services and conversion went hand in hand.
    I do not see any problem with going overseas because God calls you to and when asked why to explain. There’s a line somewhere between coercion and living God’s love and I’m not sure where it is….

  • Em83

    This is why Islam is spreading rapidly throughout Eastern Africa.

  • Adam Dyess

    This article seems to make the assumption that the truth of Christianity and the truth of Buddhism are on the same plateau. But this cannot be if Christianity has any merit at all. If Christianity has merit, then it is The Truth. Truth has an obvious advantage over any other false claims to truth. A better analogy would be a free education program that came with a necessary course on personal hygiene and germ theory. The poor family may have built-in tribal beliefs and systems that taught a very primitive and incorrect view of disease and prescribed vain daily habits. Perhaps the mother in question here had believed very strongly and taught her children that infectious diseases came from failing to kiss the golden foot idol three times a day at the correct time. Now these ‘foreigners’ were essentially ‘indoctrinating’ these kids with the understanding that they never needed to kiss the foot again but instead wash their hands better and cook meats thoroughly. A powerless mother in this tribe might be outraged, but the bigger question is: do we as a more advanced civilization have a greater obligation protect the personal feelings of the tribal families, or, to rescue the villages from high mortality rates and pestilence? Surely the latter is our greater moral obligation. Now, due to the nature of the exclusive teachings of Jesus (Matt. 7:13-23, John 14:6, etc.), it is either the case that Christianity has no value at all or it is THE TRUTH. If the latter is the case, then Christianity has a necessary advantage over Buddhism and all other religious claims, and Christians would therefore have a greater obligation to guide the people to eternal life, even if it disrupts political, societal, and even familial systems. It looks as though Jesus even taught this very thing (Matt. 10:34-39, Luke 12:51-53, etc.).

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