Debi and I had four Russian orphans living with us this summer. What a summer! We discovered parenting all over again. I'd forgotten how much fun it was. They kept me outdoors most of the time, either working or playing, so I’ve been too busy to commit much to paper, but I committed a lot to four young hearts. And one old heart got a revival of parenting. Children are the fruit and fragrance of life. What is a peach tree without peaches? Can you imagine a world with no children, just a bunch of old, dried up adults?
This past year, with Shalom working at the International Home for Children in Indianapolis, and only one teenage daughter in the house, this place was as quiet as an employment office on Friday evening. So it took me about a week to get accustomed to the noise of six kids. At first I couldn’t hear myself think, but in time the noise just faded into the background, and it was like living under an overhead train; I forgot it was there.
Three of them spoke enough English to communicate. They took to calling us “Big Papa” and “Big Mama.” I am quite confident that in Russian the word “big” placed before Papa or Mama is not a reference to physical size but to domestic relevance.
Six years ago when we wrote “To Train Up a Child” our children were mostly grown. They were all beyond the spanking/training stage. While the children were growing up, Deb and I never spoke or ministered on child training. We had no occasion to even think about it. I never read a book or heard a sermon on the subject. We had just raised our children the way our parents had raised us. So, six years ago, when our children were mostly grown, and we were challenged to write something on the subject of child training, I had to stir my memory and consult the children to recall some of the methods we had employed.
Having these children with us for the summer afforded me the first opportunity to observe myself in the act of child training. It enabled me to recall the feelings and attitudes that surrounded the family when we had small children. Most of all, this fresh experience of raising kids enabled me to define the most important and sometimes elusive element in good parenting. Our first book covered the basics, and almost everything we write contains elements of it, but when we read your many letters, or when we meet you at one of our seminars, we are aware that there is something we are failing to communicate. How do I say it again so you will understand? If you overlook this one principle your child training will be a failure. Here it is again. ENJOY YOUR CHILDREN!
The Bible tells us why Jesus created man: “…and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Rev 4:11).” God created us to give him pleasure, not in a selfish way, but to coexist in a reciprocal relationship of communion. Likewise, it gives us parents pleasure to create a life that we can love and nurture.
“For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation (Psalm 149:4).” Our Heavenly Father experiences an ongoing pleasure in his children as he sustains and equips them with his grace.
And in Luke 12:32, Jesus assures us of the Father’s intentions toward his own: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The Father actually enjoys the experience of imparting the blessings of the kingdom to his children. God looks on with great anticipation and appreciation as his children develop and grow into mature adults able to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. God’s pursuit of personal pleasure in his children is the foundation for the outworking of his marvelous grace, his daily provision, his sustaining mercy, his filling power, and future blessings.
There are those who view God as remote and hard. They fear him and serve him, but they are not comfortable with him. If they could make him go away and take his judgments with him, they would gladly do so. That kind of deity is pacified but not adored. Men will offer their blood or the blood of their children to such a god, but they will not freely give their hearts to any god that doesn’t find pleasure in their existence.
This summer, I experienced anew the attitude that draws children out and makes them love to serve and obey. Observing myself, I realized that the way I view God in his role as an authority, provider, sustainer, disciplinarian, etc. is the way I relate to the children under my care. I have been God’s little boy for many years. He has been my Father. I love Him and fear Him. I am seldom conscious of the fear, for His love keeps me in a position of obedience so as not to invoke any fear. I am conscious of my Heavenly Father’s delight in me, His creation. I am aware that He is engaged in a program that has eternal purpose. When He demands that I lay down my life, or to just give up a worldly pleasure or comfort, I know my Father has the best of intentions toward me. I trust the soul of God to handle my soul with care.
Though I know that as a father I have never imitated the soul of God in any significant measure, I see that my relationship as a son to God my Father has molded my role as father to my sons and daughters. After all, when one raises a son he is raising a father. Sons become fathers in the mold of their fathers. It is a great privilege and responsibility to be entrusted with the role of father to another eternal soul. I will speak more of this at another time—back to our summer with the four children.
Every day the children had work to do—picking fruit and vegetables, hoeing the garden, pulling weeds, cutting grass, canning vegetables and fruit, cleaning up five years worth of neglect lying around the farm, and anything unpleasant that needed doing. But I couldn’t sit in the house behind my monitor while they were out working. I worked more than they did. They will never feel that we took advantage of them. Every thing we did was fun. Sure it gets terribly hot in 95 degree weather with humidity at 90 percent, but the kids always knew that they would be swimming in the water within the next hour or two. Sometimes we would have to take four breaks a day. Everything we did was laced together with smiles.
I am convinced you cannot be a better parent than you are a smiler. The military and the jail will impart discipline, but only a smile will give you power with kids. Like a sunflower turns its face to the sun, a child will turn his face to anyone that will smile at him. What’s more, he will turn his heart. Hear me again, if children are to blossom under your care, they must fascinate you, captivate your imagination, and provoke you to creativity. They must be your entertainment, your favorite comedians, your hobby, and your partners. They are forever your audience, and you are theirs. They should be the future in which you invest all your energy and resources. If you are excited about your children, they will be excited to heed your will. You must see each day as a wonderful opportunity to build into that young life.
When I have children in my care, I find myself wanting to communicate everything I know and everything that I can do. I want them to enjoy life and take advantage of every opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills. I don’t see them as children with several years in which to be empty prattlers, to be cared for and maintained until they get old enough to become a member of society, at which time they should learn the skills of the human race. I want to teach them to drive the tractor now. I want them reading and enjoying it when they are young. I want them to know how to handle a gun today, how to fix a faulty electrical wire, including soldering it, how an electric motor works, how to save someone from drowning, how to can vegetables, how to build a fire, and how to understand the Bible. What do you do if you are lost in the woods? Why are wrenches in two different sizes, standard and metric? Why does some of the corn not fill out? What are all the little hairy things on the top of the corn ears? Why does the moon have a circle around it, and why are we getting wet looking at it? Where does the moisture come from? If there is moisture in the air, why can’t we see it? If someone gets shocked by electrical current and can’t turn loose, how do you help them? How do you use a voltmeter? How do you clean the battery cables on your car when you are out and it won’t start? These are mostly boy skills, but while Deb is teaching the girls house stuff, I teach them every boy skill they will tolerate.
I also engage the girls in activities. Just now I had to leave the keyboard to respond to a summons from the kitchen. The fifteen-year-old Russian girl, the oldest of the four, wanted some more of my famous spaghetti. She was standing in the kitchen with all the ingredients and the cutting board ready. So together we cut up onions and bell peppers, smashed fresh garlic, added the seasonings and tomatoes, and put it on to simmer. I showed her how to dice vegetables without cutting her fingers. I showed her how to get the most out of a fresh bulb of garlic. I showed her how to put the noodles in the water so they wouldn’t stick together. We had loads of fun.
As I work with a young lady cooking spaghetti, I am aware that the ramifications of this simple act will reach into eternity. I am doing the high and holy. My life is counting for something. In the spiritual realm, it “feels” better than writing an article that will be read by 100,000 people.
I see the children in my care as potential sons and daughters of God. When I spend time with children, I am assisting God in preparing them to be competent citizens in his kingdom. I don’t separate the carnal from the spiritual. All of life and truth is of God and is of value. When the present becomes eternity, it will still be filled with the same conscious souls that now walk in God’s Spirit. When I smile at a child and teach him something useful, I have contributed to eternity. I am creating trophies to be enjoyed by God forever and ever and ever. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God.” Children builders are kingdom builders.
Some of you bemoan your “uselessness” in the kingdom. You are confined to a house with 9 children and are not able to get out and “do something for God.” You sense a spiritual void. Are you neglecting the greatest ministry on the face of the earth—training children?
We have had two boys for the summer. One of them is ten and one is eleven. The ten-year-old was lazy. The eleven-year-old is a working animal. When we go out in the garden to pull grass, the lazy one will piddle, allowing the others to do the work. We don’t nag or complain. You can never bad-attitude a child into good work mentality. We just separate the children into their own rows and check behind them. He must finish his row successfully or he will be cheerfully left in the garden to work while the rest of us cool off in the old swimming hole. Laziness is just lazy enough to work like an ox when it becomes the only road to retiring from work. We have been able to manage the sloth without causing him to feel that he is held in less regard than the hard working fellow. The job is not the important thing. The souls of the children are our focus. I can gladly tell you that after two months, the lazy one appears to not be lazy. I don’t know if he has learned to enjoy work or if he is just being expedient, but he is growing and learning integrity.
One boring evening, I was sitting at the kitchen table and the boys were just sitting there looking at me. Noticing the pile of raw jalapeño peppers sitting on the table, I decided to increase their respect of Big Papa. I picked up one of the peppers and, with great flourish, bit off the end. While they watched in awe, I chewed and swallowed the pepper as if it was nothing. When I finished, I motioned to the peppers, challenging them to do the same, knowing they wouldn’t, but hoping one of them would just try it. It would make my triumph all the better. One of them picked up a pepper and bit off the end. As he chewed, tears came into his eyes. Just when I thought he would begin to howl and run for water, he took another bite, motioning for me to do the same. When I looked on in awe and respect, he ate the rest of it, seeds, stem and all. The other kid picked up a pepper and ate the whole thing. There sat my pepper still 2/3 uneaten. I knew where this was going. These crazy Russians had called my hand. They were going to eat the whole bowl just to prove they were tough, and they were expecting me to keep up with them. Well, about this time our eyes started watering. Our mouths came open and we commenced fanning. I don’t know who was first, but one of us let out a groan and then the cat hit the fan. We started making the sounds of suffering. By this time we had the attention of the girls. Not understanding the male psyche, they offered words of belittlement as if what we had just done proved nothing at all. I don’t think I made the first move, but we all arrived at the kitchen sink at about the same time. Water did not help at all. We ran to the refrigerator and tried buttermilk. It helped some, but a half-gallon doesn’t go very far between three burning tongues. We tried holding it in our mouths longer, but we had to swallow to relieve our throats. When the buttermilk ran out we ran to the refrigerator and got the ice cream. Our experimentation may prove valuable in future international pepper eating contests. Ice cream is definitely the most effective in relieving the after-effects of tough guy syndrome. But I learned not to challenge young boys who are still building their reputations. They just don’t have the grace to lose. Next morning one of the little knuckleheads met me at the breakfast table with a grin and a challenge to finish off the rest of the peppers. Even though I knew it was just a bluff, I was smart enough to pretend indifference. After all, I do not want to give them an occasion for pride. Look where it got me.
The boys loved to ride on the back of the tractor. On one occasion, I let each one of them drive it from a position in my lap. When we came home from driving the tractor they were two feet taller. It is thrilling to watch them learn, to see their little bodies develop coordination and their minds become aware of the world around them.
I took them out to the twelve-acre field to pull up metal fence posts. I parked the tractor up against the first post and showed them how to wrap the chain around the post twice, leaving 18 inches on one end, hook it to the bucket of the front-end loader, pull the long end of the chain tight, and step back as the tractor pulls the post out of the ground.
On the second post, I stayed on the tractor and let them do it. They were clumsy and slow, discussing in rapid-fire Russian the way it should be done. They got the chain tangled up. Then they left too much chain hanging out and had to redo it. They stood too close and nearly got clobbered with the falling post. I sat on the tractor and laughed at them dodging the falling post. By the third post, they were getting the hang of it and moved more efficiently. By about the fifth post they were not wasting any moves. They worked together like a well-oiled machine. One of them would unwind the chain from the uprooted post and run to the next post while the other one would take the post and lay it on the box blade behind the tractor. By the time I got to the next post, the chain was in place and they were ready to hook it to the bucket. I would yank the post out of the ground and they would go into action getting ready for the next one. We cleared that 12-acre field in one hour.
As I sat on the tractor, watching them concentrate on their jobs, learning to use their bodies and their minds to the greatest efficiency, I was thrilled beyond description. It brought back the old days when my boys were young and we worked together. Those two little Russian orphans have a lot of garbage in their pasts. I will not put it in print. But in the field that day, with the sun hot on their skinny little bodies, sweat dripping, muscles rippling, and the wind blowing the grass, their big souls were free from everything, and they were men doing a man’s job, and no one could do it better. I am sure they would not have traded that work experience for any form of play, and I would not trade it and a dozen others like it for any honor adults could bestow upon me. When the last post gave up its hold on the ground and was stowed on the tractor, we “men” took our load of fence posts back to the house where “our women” had supper ready. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
The children have given more to me this summer than I could ever give to them. I hope to have them back at Thanksgiving and Xmas, and again next summer—and the next. I want to be there when they get married. I want them to call me when they have their first child. I want them to smile at their children and give them many summers like we had this year. God will take pleasure, and eternity will be richer for it.
These children are Russian citizens and are not available for adoption. Periodically they have to go back to Russian and renew their visas. Nor are they available to be loaned out for the summer. If they are not back in Russia, they usually go home with the orphanage workers for the summer.
The Bible says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction… (James 1:27).” You may not have an opportunity to visit the fatherless, but you can help them. I am highly impressed at the quality of care these orphans are receiving from the International Home for Children. Our daughter was a volunteer worker there last year, so Deb and I have stayed in the orphanage many times, circulating throughout, day and night, observing all aspects of life there. The place is cleaner than any hospital you have ever visited. And I can testify that the children are receiving the very highest quality care possible. They are loved, educated in social skills, and taught the Word of God until they are fine examples of what children ought to be. None of the workers are there for the money. During her year there, my daughter received no remuneration and had to pay $200.00 a month for her room and board.
They live by faith, not publishing their needs, but I am not embarrassed to give you the opportunity to exercise some pure religion. Send them a monthly check. Make sure you write on the check “For the orphans.” Your gifts to the orphans are tax deductible. Send your gifts to:
Institute in Basic Life Principles
Int’l Home for Children
11850 Brookville Road
Indianapolis, IN 46239
Make sure you designate your gift: “For the orphans.”