Nurturing the Call to Missions Within the Next Generation
By Janet Walker
When missionary Tom Lofton was a boy, he attended Central Assembly in Biloxi, Mississippi, where his parents pastored. One night he watched a film about J.W. Tucker, a missionary brutally martyred for his faith in the Belgian Congo. Although Lofton was only a child, the Holy Spirit touched his heart that night. “I knew from that day on I would someday be a missionary to a foreign land,” he says. Tom and his wife, Lois, currently missionaries with Assemblies of God World Missions International Ministries, served more than a decade in the Czech Republic.
At age 14, Margaret Bishop listened to missionary Wilbur Taylor share about missions at her church. She learned about the Mossi tribe in Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) and the need for missionaries to take the gospel to them. In that service, God called Bishop to be a missionary to the Mossi. At Bible school she met and married Harold Jones. Together they served as missionaries to Africa for 38 years, ministering for 33 years in Burkina Faso.
Every year new candidate missionaries present themselves to the Assemblies of God World Missions Board for approval for service. AGWM commissioned a total of 94 men and women for missionary service to 29 countries at the 2007 School of Missions in Springfield, Missouri.
Where do missionaries come from? They come from churches — small and large — across the U.S. Assemblies of God fellowship. Why do they come? They respond in obedience to the call of God on their lives. (AGWM has no formal recruitment process.)
The story of a missionary’s call may be nearly as dramatic as the burning bush Moses experienced in Exodus 3 or as gentle as the still, small voice Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19. But each candidate’s call is unique, as is his or her salvation experience, talents for service, and preparation for the task.
Candidates’ missionary applications ask them to give an account of how and when God called them. In a recent survey of approximately 600 missionaries, about 40 percent indicated that God called them as missionaries before age 20. Here are some brief examples of how the call came to several missionaries who are currently serving overseas:
- A man, called at age 7, was praying for missionaries during children’s church. He knew God was telling him to be a missionary.
- A woman was called at age 8 during a missionary service on a Sunday evening.
- A man, called at age 8, was praying and asking God what He wanted him to do with his life. God said He was sending him to India.
- A woman age 9 felt God’s call as her Missionettes (MPact Girls Clubs) leader read missionary stories to the class from Mountain Movers (Today’s Pentecostal Evangel World Missions Edition) magazine.
- A woman was called at age 9 during an evening service at a district girls camp.
- A man, called at age 10, was attending a Sunday evening missionary service. While the family was on its way home that night after church, this young man began to cry. His mother asked why he was crying. He told her God had called him to be a missionary, but he was afraid. His mother said, “Always say yes to Jesus. He will provide all you need to do what He calls you to do. There is no reason to be afraid.” He believed his mother and said yes to God. God gave him peace, and he says, “That call set the course for the rest of my life.”
While reading the files of candidate missionaries and noting that many were called to missions service as children, David Lee, director of U.S. Relations for AG World Missions, says he wonders “if churches are continuing to give children opportunities to interact with missionaries; hear their stories; and be changed, challenged, and called through a missionary’s ministry.”
Nurturing by Personal Contact
Contact with missionaries is the most effective method of nurturing the call to missions in the life of a child, agree five U.S. children’s pastors interviewed on this subject. Yet, at the same time they recognize the limitations that exist within the church to provide personal contact with missionaries on a regular basis.
Today in many Assemblies of God churches across the Fellowship, missionaries no longer have access to an entire service when they visit a church. Their presentation is often limited to a 10-minute window. Some churches only host missionaries on Wednesday evenings, which often means fewer people are in attendance. When missionaries do visit the Sunday or Wednesday adult services, children are usually meeting in a separate service in another part of the building.
Because of these limitations, for children to have regular contact with missionaries, the pastor or children’s pastor must make it happen.
“Missions can’t be just a once-a-year highlight for kids; it must be a daily diet,” says Jay Risner. Jay and his wife, Debbie, served as children’s pastors at Timberline Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, from 2004 to 2007 and James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Missouri, from February 2000 through April 2004. They are currently preparing to return to missionary service overseas.
“If you’re going to nurture the call to missions within the next generation,” says Risner, “you must make sure children have continual contact with missionaries who have gone and are going overseas, so they feel that missions service is the norm. In anything you do, whatever becomes the norm rather than the exception will change people’s lives.”
At age 10, Rachel (not her real name because of her sensitive missions assignment) and her family moved to Springfield, Missouri, and were part of the church family at Central Assembly for several years. Rachel was a sixth grader attending camp at the Southern Missouri District Campgrounds when she responded to the call of God on her life after listening to a sermon by Alton Garrison. (She still has the sermon notes she took.) Garrison is now the assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
Rachel says her missionary call came because of a threefold process: 1) constant exposure to missionaries and missions instruction in the church since childhood, 2) being part of a lay family that loved and supported missionaries and was involved in ministry outreach, and 3) participation in church outreaches that required her to share her faith.
Rachel recalls how her Missionettes (now called MPact Girls Clubs) leader, a former missionary, taught the girls about missions and invited them to her home to sample a foreign dish. Sometimes when missionaries spoke at Central Assembly on Wednesday nights, Rachel’s parents took her and her siblings with them to the adult service. She remembers that a missions film about Chile shown at the church impacted her heart regarding the need for people to go. But she was disturbed by the fact missionaries in the film were eating chicken’s feet soup. She remembers talking to a friend afterward and wondering aloud, If we go as missionaries, will we have to eat that soup?
Rachel’s family and church encouraged her to participate in ministry outreach opportunities. She went on choir ministry tours to other parts of the United States. She participated in Warrior Weekends where youth would canvass neighborhoods and conduct children’s programs. “Watching the church’s annual missionary parade also touched my heart for missions,” says Rachel. “I remember asking my dad why one missionary portraying a Muslim was dressed like that.” Year after year, I saw the sanctuary filled with missionaries representing the people to whom they were going and telling about Jesus.” Rachel and her husband have served for 10 years as missionaries to Eurasia.
At Heritage Assembly in Baxter, Minnesota, “most missionaries are scheduled for the adult services,” says Hank Whinery, former children’s pastor. (Whinery is currently senior pastor at Wells Assembly of God in Wells, Minnesota.) “So we often brought in the missionary’s spouse to speak to the approximately 80 children in our kids service. We always asked the missionary, ‘When were you called to the mission field?’ Many of them say they were called when they were children, and that gets our kids to thinking, Well, can God call me?”
Whenever missionaries come to Oxford Assembly in Oxford, Florida, Chuck Padgett, children’s pastor, makes sure they also speak to the children and answer their questions about missions. He believes personal contact with missionaries has impacted the lives of many children with whom he has worked.
Missionary guests often come on Wednesday night to First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida. “When we learn missionaries are scheduled for a Wednesday night service, we invite them to our MPact and Royal Rangers groups,” says children’s pastor David Richards. “They share snippets of what they do in the countries where they serve, and the kids get to ask questions in a small group setting. When missionaries come on a weekend, we invite them to our kids church. A few missionaries have even come and led our kids church services.”
Before the missionary guest speaks at Willmar Assembly of God in Willmar, Minnesota, children’s pastor Randy Christensen asks the missionary to come downstairs with the children. “Often, we have the kids pray for the missionary,” says Christensen, “so we are getting them directly involved in prayer for missions. Keeping that emphasis in front of the children — that God has called us to reach others — is important. We know that God calls individuals. He doesn’t call the masses.”
Nurturing by Instruction and Exposure
To teach children about missions, many churches — including the five churches represented by these children’s pastors — utilize the missions education resources available from Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade at the Assemblies of God National Children’s Ministries Agency (http://www.4kids.org). These resources help expose children to missions and encourage their participation through giving: Buddy Barrels and Boxes for missions giving, Go360 missions DVDs/videos, True Life Stories about missionaries, Speedy D. Light skits, and more.
“I believe in BGMC and use all of the materials available, including the Buddy Barrel, in our monthly missions emphasis,” says Richards. “But I take our missions focus a step further and call it Beyond the Barrel. We try to help the kids understand that missions is not just about filling the yellow Buddy Barrel and bringing the most offering. We want them to know how their offerings help the missionaries and other ways they can participate.”
At a kids camp Richards conducted, he asked missionary Tamara Henkes, camp speaker, what resources she needed for her work with children in Romania. She said she needed school supplies. He then asked children to bring school supplies as their first offering at camp. They brought pens, pencils, crayons, and glue. “The kids could see themselves in that picture of giving,” says Richards. “They could visualize the kids in Romania using those items just like they do.” The children currently support three missionaries at $25 a month, and Richards prominently displays pledge certificates for them to see.
Padgett constantly teaches the children about missions. An annual highlight is the BGMC banquet. “In that service we show the children what the culture is like in some of the countries where our missionaries live and minister. The children fill out faith promise cards, and we explain to them why we make a faith promise in our missions giving and the importance of keeping it. We also explain what it means for us to give sacrificially to missions and how our giving brings honor to God.”
Nurturing Through Involvement
At First Assembly in Fort Myers, Florida, sees many children take the next step in missions involvement. “By the time some of them enter eighth grade at our church’s Fort Myers Christian School,” says Richards, “they’re going on a missions trip to Mexico, and by the time they enter high school, they are participating in an Ambassadors in Mission trip.”
Helping children gain a broader concept of world missions is a heart cry of Richards’, the grandson of veteran AG missionaries. Richards helps children learn that they can do missions work now by reaching children for Christ in their own community. “We are currently training a ministry team of children to work with human video and puppets. Our goal is to take them to minister in U.S. Missions churches and other churches that do not yet have a strong children’s ministry.”
Missions is a part of everything the church does at Heritage Assembly in Baxter, Minnesota. “It’s always a part of our prayers and teaching,” says Whinery. Each year during the church’s missions convention, the children carry flags or wear costumes representing the countries where missionaries serve, while the speaker presents a roll call of the missionaries supported by the church.
“Many children tell us they feel God has called them to the mission field,” says Whinery. “But in children’s ministries, you must wait a few years to see what happens. One girl who came to us in fifth grade is now in high school and went on an AIM trip to Guatemala 2 years ago. She was impressed by God’s call on her life. This past summer she returned to Guatemala and paid her own way. Now she’s attending North Central University. Several other youth and college students, who came through our children’s ministries are now participating in AIM trips or Master’s Commission, or attending NCU.”
Christensen says that Willmar Assembly’s attitude is “this is a place for people to participate in and be a part of the Great Commission,” and that attitude flows over into the children’s ministries. “We teach children that missions is not just an event, it’s a regular part of life — whether we’re sharing the love of Jesus with people across the street or across the ocean.”
Christensen helps train children’s ministry teams including puppet, drama, and choreography teams. The teams participate in a musical, and children are encouraged to invite friends from school or their neighborhood to see the program. “We pray that this will be an evangelistic outreach,” says Christensen, “not just a talent show, but something that has eternal purpose.”
Padgett involves children in ministry opportunities constantly. He takes a children’s ministry team to missions conferences to minister through puppetry and praise and worship. He tells the children, “No matter if you’re not called to a foreign field right now, you’ve got a mission field right here at home.”
Ashley Kreisman, who learned about missions as a child from Padgett, is currently a freshman at Southeastern University of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland, Florida. She says, “Pastor Chuck constantly taught us children about missions service and giving through BGMC. He also encouraged us to participate in different community outreaches where we took the gospel to other children.” Ashley has already participated in several short-term missions trips and plans to continue her involvement in missions in the future.
“When we involve children in ministry,” says Risner, “we’re providing the seed of missions in their lives, nurturing it, and watering it. Several children I have worked with, who are now in junior high, have told me, ‘I feel called to missions.’ Their openness to that call had to do with the fact they were given opportunities to experience going out and touching somebody else’s life.”
Risner took a group of high schoolers from Timberline Church with him to Kenya in fall 2007. They were part of his leadership team in kids’ church. Four of the 12 on the team have expressed a call to missions. “They are products of a daily diet of hearing and learning about missions,” says Risner, “and their call was enhanced by experiencing missions. If we want adults in the church who pray, give, and go, we’ve got to have children who pray, give, and go.”