Dr. John Thorley spoke at ChildlightUSA’s first conference at Gardner-Webb about the weakness in the area of internationalism in the education of our children. At the coffee shop later that night, everybody was discussing the desire for more instruction in this area, so I am going to begin with my passion and vision for this and I hope that it will inspire discussion about this topic.
One of my favorite statements of Charlotte Mason’s was that “education is the handmaid of religion” and I believe it rings most true in imparting an appreciation for internationalism to our children. Consider the beauty of all of God’s creation and how He called it all good, but said that man, whom He created in His own image, was very good. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than the human being, formed and knit in the womb by the very hand of God. People are at the center of God’s heart and focus, so we too should give due place in our thoughts and attention to what is so important to the Lord. Studying the cultures and the peoples of other regions in light of the fact that they were the joy set before Jesus Christ that enabled Him to endure the cross should awaken an honor and a longing to know them.
I had the opportunity to grow up in Southern California, where people from every sort of place, culture, religion, and economic status were at every turn. That kind of vantage point helps to provide openness to new ideas, flexibility, humility, and it exposes blind spots that would never have been otherwise noticed. One instance that has had a profound impact on my life was when I was in high school and attended a church program entitled Discover the World. There was a panel of people who had lived in America less than two years that shared their experience in coming to a new country. One man was from Romania and he shared how shocked he was that we let our pets inside our houses here, and that some even let them in their beds! The congregation erupted in laughter as they thought about how funny it was to have their affinity for animals viewed in such a strange light. The man continued through the laughter “but you put your parents out.” The laughter immediately stopped as the horrific contrast was held up before our eyes and we saw what we had never even thought about before that observation through another culture’s lens. That one comment has provoked more thought in me than almost any other in my whole life.
There have been other comments over the years that have been so foreign they revealed to me how little I am aware of other paradigms. A couple of them I encountered while my family was doing ministry to refugee children in Charlotte. I was sharing the parable of the lost sheep and asked the children if they had ever taken care of an animal like a shepherd took care of his sheep and one child shared, sober as could be, “yes, an elephant”. An elephant?! During another lesson one little girl held up her hand and asked “If God is so important, how come he doesn’t have any wives? I mean, my dad has five wives, so if God is so great, why doesn’t He have any?” In a million years I never could have imagined I would ever have to answer that!
These kinds of encounters will cause children to think! They will look at their own life, the way their culture is, why it is that way, if it should be that way, what they believe God wants, and on and on. It will open the doors to much discussion because these kinds of things touch our personhood and are fascinating to children! They can learn with interest the history of that culture, or the geography, and how it helped to shape the way of life for that people group or their own.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, how do we give this to our children? Children should be allowed to learn about what interests them in a manner that is delightful to them. This is one of those subjects that should look less like a lesson and more a part of their life. Your intent should be to go deep rather than broad and shallow. Mason said “Give him intimate knowledge with the fullest details, of any country or region of the world, any county or district of his own country.” So, pick a place! Perhaps it will relate to your history studies, something in current events, a neighbor from another land, missionaries that your church sent out, a book or movie that they enjoyed, just something that has peeked their interest.
Then Charlotte Mason instructed “But let him be at home in any single region; let him see, with the mind’s eye, the people at their work and at their play, the flowers and fruits in their seasons, the beasts, each in it’s habitat; and let him see all sympathetically, that is, let him follow the adventures of a traveller; and he knows more, is better furnished with ideas, than if he had learnt all the names on all the maps.” My kids have enjoyed reading missionary biographies. It is fun to view a culture through the eyes of somebody who is as unfamiliar with it as yourself! They will likely take note of things that somebody from the culture would never even consider worthy of mention.
Some other ways our family has attempted to do this have been to:
* Take advantage of local events. There is an International Fair at UNC Charlotte, which we have really enjoyed attending. You should also be able to contact clubs on campuses near you for foreign people groups.
* We reach out to foreigners in our community. Often foreigners are ignored and they really light up when somebody takes time to talk with them. If they speak well, compliment them, they have worked hard to learn your language and it means more than you can imagine to tell them they have done a good job! Living in a more rural area limited most of that for us to the Asians that worked in the Chinese restaurants and Hispanics in the Mexican ones. We have made great friends through that though, going on trips to the zoo, celebrating birthdays, and being invited to their Chinese New Years celebrations. Our children have been able to see first-hand through those times what they are really like, their homes, their foods, their habits. Culture is an intimate part of us and for those who are away from home, they are thrilled to share it with others. It blesses them more than it does us to learn about them. They make their authentic foods (not what is sold in the restaurants) and bring them to us so we can taste what they love. They brought hats for us all to wear at the zoo and took a million pictures because that is what they do in their culture. We also have had fun teaching them how to make a sandwich!
*We get Voice of the Martyrs and Link through that same ministry to keep up with those persecuted in other cultures for their faith in Christ. This helps to form a connection with the people, current events, and leads to prayer for them.
*We listen to missionary stories. Most churches have works in foreign lands that you can support through relationship, prayer, and resources. Having married a missionary kid, I know how much it would mean for missionaries to have pen pals from their home land.
*We reach out to foreign students. We have groups over for dinner and fellowship from the University that are unbelievers, as well as Bible College students.
*We try to stay abreast of world news. It means a great deal to foreigners when you are able to discuss the recent events that have occurred in their homeland. It is a little sad that in an hour of news we have “80 seconds around the world”.
*Of course there are biographies, histories, and fiction literature from other lands. My kids like to read those without my asking, so we hardly think of it as educational. YWAM has a series for older students and adults that we enjoy. We just finished reading “Death of a Guru” and it immersed us in Hinduism in a way I never thought possible!
*It is amazing what you can find on Youtube. We have watched peoples day-by-day travels on a train throughout India that was posted online.
*We have visited our neighbor’s Nigerian church meetings, joined in family celebrations, shared meals together, and formed community with them. Other cultures are much more community-minded and it is a blessing to be included in such a way. I don’t think we realize how isolated our own culture is and how much healthier we would be if we changed that. As I ask foreigners the hardest part of being in America, isolation is always mentioned, regardless of where they are from.
*There are all kinds of videos available now; if you look for a particular land, you are sure to find a great variety.
Now, how about you? Tell us what you have experienced, tried, thought about doing…