Many Surroundings, One Reality :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Many Surroundings, One Reality

Sarah Arnold
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We are delighted to have called three countries home, including two wildly different climates (Canada and the Republic of the Philippines). Where we live affects what we eat, what we wear, how we travel, and what language we speak—largely material differences that are immediately apparent and are a critical part of the excitement, exhilaration, and exhaustion of cultural adjustment. But living internationally does not transform everything. It also highlights unmistakably the irreducible essentials of living as a missionary and faithful believer. Lots of things change. Lots of things stay exactly the same.

Family Bible Reading

There is no replacement for regular, thoughtful time in God’s Word, as a family and individually. When our children were younger, we tried different methods for studying the Bible, such as acting out Peter’s escape from prison or using their building blocks and Playmobile men to crystallize the story of Samson’s final revenge. The children still enjoy the energy and interest of entering into the story in different ways. But the irreducible minimum is time in God’s Word itself, wherever that occurs. We now read two chapters aloud together each day. Sometimes we alternate voices in the reading if it is a narrative. Often Joel or I will read aloud during a mealtime, followed by (or peppered with) questions and related conversation. Friends who have joined us for a meal can be included in the reading, and ongoing travels usually involve listening to extended passages over audio devices. The fact that “reading around the table” has looked quite different for our family over the years is to me a beautiful thing—it removes the focus from the trappings of “where” and recenters instead on God’s Word—which is the whole point.

Some questions to consider if this is a goal you would like to actualize:

  • When are we consistently together? Don’t complicate it—together is the essential part.
  • How can we make this as doable as possible for our children? Again, this is why mealtime has consistently worked well for our family. Even toddlers tend to be more still and quiet than normal when it is mealtime (and if not, help them learn!).
  • Do we have what we need? Put a reminder in the middle of the table or, better yet, ask one of your children to remind you. Have a Bible ready nearby or read from your phone (and then put it away).

And then just read—a chapter or two every day. Conversations afterwards are wonderful, but don’t wait until that feels comfortable. If your children ask questions to which you don’t know the answer, tell them. Then study or ask someone else (bonus points if not Siri). Habits are hard to solidify, so planning helps in actualizing worthy goals.

Individual Bible Reading

Another necessary constant for us is Bible time—daily time when the children and I read our Bibles and study, together but separately. But shouldn’t Bible reading be the children’s personal choice? Won’t it be hypocritical if we require it?

Right now, it is my responsibility to train them in things they ought to do, why they should do them, and how to do them well—from brushing their teeth and making their beds, to not interrupting and looking at people while listening, to having daily time in reading the Bible. I expect them to brush their teeth, whether they value it or not. Expecting them as children to prioritize or value the best things is expecting a maturity not fitting their ages, robbing them of the rich benefits of having those habits in place from the beginning. Habits are powerful.

At the same time, I cannot (as much as I wish I could) choose how they respond to these habits! I am fully aware that our children may not continue to read their Bibles, just as they eventually may not make their own beds. It is my role to point them in the right direction; it is their place to choose. Our prayer is that our children become wise, eager students of God’s Word, but we know that it is also a choice of their hearts to be simple, scoffers, foolish, or wise. We pray much, talk openly, and challenge them to love the Truth that runs the world. I believe that God uses His Word in powerful ways, that His Word is itself the best answer to those very concerns, and that time in His Word is never wasted. Because of that, we keep praying and reading, praying and talking, and praying some more.

Start Simply

If this is something you would like to start and don’t know how, let me again encourage you to start simply. That’s certainly how it began for us! The plan was short and simple and daily, reading a passage from a children’s Bible storybook. Babies and toddlers did not sideline this plan. When really young, we had Bible time while tiny ones ate or slept. At some point, they were welcomed into the Bible time routine as pre-readers, with the expectation being only that they sit reasonably still and fairly quietly enjoy some books while others read. (Please notice the qualifiers.) I sat next to them, taught them how, and kept their time really short. I have never regretted teaching them how to sit still and quietly—this is foundational to so many things!

As our children have aged and our habit has seasoned, there have been adjustments and additions along the way. At its most basic, when times are most pressured, we at least pray together and each read our Bibles. The times that are busiest—when it is easiest to let Bible-reading go—are also when the reading is especially critical, beautiful, and life-giving. Bible time has happened in different home arrangements. It has also happened in hotel rooms, outside, during long trips across the States or to another country. Other riches have found their way into our Bible time: singing, memorizing Scripture, studying and talking through catechism, study of other books for Bible study or practical Christian help. None of those things is something on which we take extended time; as with every habit, the power is in the daily consistency.

I am delighted that our children get to converse with beautiful people the world over, to know the globe more thoroughly and more personally than I did as a child, to understand a little about the magic of languages, or to taste the dizzying way people around the world can combine the same basic ingredients into vastly different foods. But as wonderful as those experiences are, they are not essential. In all the dazzling differences of the tapestry of their lives, the most critical thing for them to trace all the way through is the central and comprehensive importance of God and His Word.