Like many people in the United States this weekend, I was shocked to read about a group of missionaries kidnapped Saturday in Haiti.
Seventeen people, including elderly people and children, had come through the nonprofit Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) to Haiti to help build an orphanage. Sixteen of them are U.S. citizens. After finishing their work, they had been on their way home when the kidnapping occurred.
While the U.S. State Department continues working with local authorities to secure their release, CAM has requested urgent prayer for everyone involved. “As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through,” the nonprofit said in a statement.
As Christians, we may feel helpless and afraid when events such as these happen. Of course, we can pray. But what more can we do? How do we explain this and other crises to our children, especially when they are extremely young?
Tips for involving our children in age-appropriate ways
It’s reasonable not to want to discuss such things with our school-age children – especially younger ones.
After all, we want our children to enjoy their childhood as much as possible. We don’t want to overload them with the sorrows and cares that inevitably spring up with adulthood and maturity.
But when we consider the vast sweep of human history, it’s possible we shield our children too quickly from the tragic complexities of this world. Children often understand far more than we think, once we explain in words they can grasp.
For example, when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Fred Rogers used the time in his “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” TV show to define the word “assassination” and explain to his young viewers why the adults in their lives were feeling grieved.
Recently our homeschool curriculum featured the story of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, and two other missionaries who were killed in Ecuador by Huaorani warriors in 1956. The nation experienced a collective moment of shock and horror as their bodies were found.
Over the years we’ve tended to forget that missionary work can be dangerous, and how Jesus’ words in the Great Commission – to go and “make disciples” of all nations – carry with them an inherent element of risk.
What if people respond less than favorably to our message? What happens when our witness for Christ lands us in life-threatening situations?
Jesus never promised a safe or easy life to his followers. He did, however, encourage us that we could have an ultimately victorious way of life: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b, ESV).
Here are four thoughts that we as parents should always communicate to our children:
Thought 1: As Christians, our ultimate trust is in God.
Whenever terrifying news or crises strike, we need to remind our children that we don’t know the end of the story, but God does.
Even though the 1956 murder of the missionaries in Ecuador made national headlines, what happened next was even more sensational. Jim’s widow, Elisabeth Elliot, returned with her then 3-year-old daughter to the Huaorani tribe and eventually won many of them over to the Christian faith. One of her husband’s murderers, Mincaye, was among the first to become a Christian.
As Jim Elliot wrote in his diary before his death, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Thought 2: As Christians, we count the cost.
Sometimes we can feel tempted to emphasize only the upbeat, positive aspects of being a Christian to our children. Jesus loves you! He will never leave you! He wants to be your friend!
While all of this is true, Jesus himself warned us to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-35). As parents, we need to demonstrate this to our children in the way we live and organize our priorities, resources, and schedules.
The missionaries currently kidnapped in Haiti counted the cost, and they still decided to go anyway. Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN that he knew some members of the group personally.
“These are very dedicated people, people that have risked their lives,” he said in the article. “They knew the dangers that they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen.”
Thought 3: As Christians, we are part of a global community.
My extended family has spread throughout the world. We have relatives in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. All this multicultural camaraderie pales in comparison, however, to the global community we have in Christ. More than 2.5 billion people worldwide currently profess to be Christians.
The apostle Paul writes that the church should think of itself as a living body, and if one part is suffering, all the other parts of the body suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12:26). Parents can use this Bible passage to explain how Christians living in different parts of the world can face persecution and pressure in ways we don’t experience in the United States.
The charity Open Doors has a “World Watch List” where it lists the top 50 countries most opposed to people practicing their Christian faith. Children can read more about the countries and locate them on a world map.
Additionally, the Voice of the Martyrs has a “Prisoner Alert” ministry where children can help write encouraging letters to Christians imprisoned for their faith.
Thought 4: As Christians, we view death differently.
Talking about death to young children can seem macabre, but only if one considers death the absolute end to life. However, Christians should ultimately view death not as the end, but the beginning of an eternal life.
As the missionary nurse Patricia St. John wrote in her wonderful children’s story, Star of Light, death holds no fear for the child who knows Jesus. “To those like himself whose hearts had been made white, death was no more a place of shadows and lost spirits – it was simply a door into the light and sunshine of God’s Home…”.
Children’s books from Christian authors like Patricia St. John, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and others can help you explore these difficult topics in the safety and comfort of your home. These books make excellent read-aloud treasures at the end of a long day before bedtime.
In the here and now
On Monday morning as my children played together and I had a rare moment of quiet in preparing breakfast, I decided to break the news to them.
“Children!” They broke off their play and stared at me, probably wondering why I had come into their usual routine. “I have some sad news. Over the weekend there was a group of missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti. Can we pray for them right now?”
In less than two minutes, we had finished praying together and I went back to preparing breakfast. Had my prayer stirred any noticeable reaction? No. Had the crisis been miraculously resolved? No.
But in that short time Heaven had touched Earth. We had joined in spirit with our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering an unimaginable burden of pressure, pain, and trauma.
Although I’m still waiting for what happens next, I continue to remember them in my prayers…and I know my children are praying with me, too.