Friday, January 25, 2013

How to involve your children in outreach ministries...

If you know me in my real life, you know I volunteer regularly with an outreach ministry called StreetWatch. StreetWatch serves unsheltered homeless people: those who are not in shelters and are sleeping outside: in tents, under bridges, on the street, etc.  And it is an absolute honor to get to serve my homeless friends. Most days I feel like I get more out of it than I am able to give.

But I'm not really blogging about StreetWatch today (although I have a few stories I really need to share).  I often get questions from parents who want to know how they can get their kids involved in homeless outreach ministries. Because it's not always the easiest or safest population to serve. Many homeless folks are suffering from addictions or mental illness that can make their behavior unstable at best.

Lots of parents say to me "What can my kids do with StreetWatch?" And their question comes from a good place: they want to provide an opportunity for their kids to do something, to be a part of ministry, to be a part of a solution. That is wonderful.

The thing is, ministry is about relationships. The most important thing StreetWatch does has nothing to do with tents, tarps, or sleeping bags. It is about building relationships with people. Becoming a friend to the unwanted, to the lonely, to the suffering.  And that means spending time with them, listening to them when they want to talk, walking alongside them as they try to discover a better way of life. Showing them the love of Jesus goes a lot farther than just telling them about it.

What does that have to do with kids? A lot. If you want your children to be involved in an outreach ministry, go be a part of it. Honestly, my kids don't do StreetWatch all that often. They don't even go every Sunday when we serve breakfast downtown with missio dei (because it's COLD!). But when they do, they're involved because it's already a part of the fabric of our lives. If you are a regular part of an outreach, it won't be long before you can include your kids.

Today my daughter had dance class downtown right next to the library, which happens to be where a lot of our homeless folks go during the day. I had a tent to give to a couple whose tent had collapsed and were about to face the winter storm tonight sleeping under a tarp. I knew I could find them at the library. So all three kiddos went with me to deliver the tent and dry sleeping bags. Riley carried a sleeping bag and Amani held one on his lap in his stroller.  If I didn't have a relationship with that couple, that wouldn't have happened today.

From there, StreetWatch needed to buy some good outdoor blankets so that we could give them to Greensboro police officers who will be out and about over the next two days. They can give the blankets to any homeless folks who need them tonight when we can't be out there.  My kids came to the store, helped load up the carts and helped StreetWatch deliver the blankets to an officer across town.

Thank you, Michele, for the picture!!
Neither of those things are major events. But that's how you involve children in outreach ministries. When you are involved, they get involved.

So I applaud parents who are looking for ways to get their kids involved. But if you truly want your kids involved, you have to be involved first. Look beyond participating in just one event.  Build relationships with the people in your community. My homeless friends love it when my kids come along. They ask for them when they're not there.  Some even have running jokes with my kids, like my one friend who always pretends he's going to steal my daughter's hairbow or the one who always manages to give them a toy.

My homeless friends are a part of my life, it makes sense that my kids would be part of that too. We teach our children what's important by showing them what we do with our time and resources.  If I think serving is important, the best way to teach my children that is for them to see me serve.

So go find time in that busy schedule. Be the kind of person you hope your children become! Get involved in what you are passionate about and you'll find ways to include your kids, I promise! :)