Most of us are willing to sacrifice for the Lord, but asking our children to sacrifice can be a different story. When my husband and I first answered God’s call to be urban missionaries we were not even married yet. Fresh out of college the difficulties and unknowns of living in the city seemed like a challenging adventure. I vividly remember seeing my first drive-by shooting. No one was hurt, which made the experience surreal and exciting in a macabre sort of way. After years in the city the frequent gunfire heard on the block was aimed at people we know and love, or fired by people we know and love, and the sobering reality set in. Still, when it is just you and your husband that have to drop to the floor as someone shoots a shotgun in front of your house it does not seem like God is asking too much of you.
Then we adopted our oldest son. I remember the moment when I first really acknowledged what we were asking of him as a missionary kid in the inner city. We were sitting on our front porch when a man cut through our side yard from the alley. We noticed him carrying a large handgun, its metal darkly reflecting the sun Time seemed to slow down. Carefully, I pulled my son into my lap, not wanting to make any sudden moves, as the man’s gaze was lazered in on our neighbor sitting across the street. My husband stood up and calmly spoke to the man, his words echoing the deterring motions of his hands. Suddenly the man realized he was not alone in our yard, and the noise drew our neighbor’s attention. Things flooded back into real-time motion and I took the opportunity to hurry my son inside the house. It was a tense few moments as we all waited, in our own ways, to see what would happen next. Thankfully the man turned and jogged back the way he came but it did not change the fact that we had been a moment away from a very bad situation.
No parent wants their children in harm’s way, just ask every mama and grandmamma on our block. While many people feel trapped into life in the city, we chose to move here. I chose to put my children in an environment that is fraught with challenges. That can weigh heavily on a parent’s heart. It is more than just physical danger. My son will have to make sacrifices living in the city and the mother in me battles guilt over this. His neighborhood friendships will look much different than other children his age. At six years old he has heard the full gamut of “naughty” words and already wrestles with the things he sees from day to day. My boys will be missionary kids in the city, moving around and not having access to the same kinds of opportunities and privileges as their suburban counterparts.
My family has been incredibly blessed by our years in the city through deep friendships and warm community. It has been a privilege to be immersed in a culture not our own and to be welcomed and loved. My boys will be shaped by cross-cultural ministry and service to the poor and neglected, which I pray will give them eyes that see God’s freeing grace and unconditional love in ways they would not otherwise experience, but it does not come without sacrifice. Following the path of the cross is exactly where I want to be, but sometimes I struggle when it means bringing my kids along.
The question becomes then, how much is too much to ask of our children in the name of Christ? I think the specific answer is different for every family, but as parents who follow Christ we should look to the examples of parents in the Bible like Abraham, Hannah, Mary and Joseph, and even God the Father. Each had children who were placed in situations that demanded sacrifice. Each had children they offered to God’s purposes without reservation and, even in the hardest and darkest sacrifices, their children, as well as the parents, were blessed for their faithfulness.
We have made safety and comfort and access to all the best opportunities gods of our culture, particularly when it comes to raising our children. My husband and I have certainly been questioned for our decision to live and serve in the inner city. Even now, nine months after our second son was born, I too sometimes question the life we have asked our sons to live. Yet, even in the moments of doubt, one thing has not wavered—the calling Jesus has laid on our hearts to live out the love and victory of Jesus Christ in some of the most broken and hurting neighborhoods in America. And so, I have to let go of my need to control and acknowledge that my sons are part of God’s mission for our family. He is calling them, not me.
In spite of what our culture tells us, Jesus has not asked our family to seek comfort and safety. There will be many challenges raising boys in the city, most of which we have yet to encounter. I know there will be days when I ask the Lord if he is really calling them, even as very young men, to stand in the gap for the lost. Regardless of where our family’s journey following Christ leads, I pray that I will be faithful to lead my children in a life that takes up the cross for Jesus’ name, because, with God, it was a boy who stood against Goliath and a young girl who gave birth to the Messiah. When we answer God’s call on our lives and bring our children with us, God can and will use our sons and daughters to advance his Kingdom.