By Jen Bradbury
Shortly after returning from a mission trip to Rwanda, one of my teens called me in tears. She’d just returned from a bookstore, where she’d noticed less than a row of books about the entire continent of Africa and none about Rwanda. “Don’t people care about what’s going on in other parts of the world?” she asked me.
Another teen, also a participant on that trip, routinely gets upset every time someone refers to the country of Africa, which happens far more than you’d think.
These experiences are evidence of the fact that these two girls have begun to develop a global perspective, something that has deeply impacted their faith. When they read Scripture passages about the poor and oppressed, they understand them differently because they personally know people who live on less than $1 a day. Having glimpsed even just a fraction of the world first hand, they also read Scripture passages about the “world” differently than those teens whose world has only ever been the United States. Having been a confused foreigner themselves, they understand why God routinely calls his people to care for the aliens. Having heard people worship God in different languages, they’ve caught a glimpse of what it might be like to worship in heaven with people from every nation. Having seen black Jesus’, they’re less inclined to believe Jesus is a white man with blond hair.
Of course, all of this is great. But what about those teens who are never able to travel abroad for an international mission trip? How do we help them gain a global perspective? Here are 8 ways you can begin to do so, without ever leaving your local community.
- Participate in events that create a global awareness, like the 30 Hour Famine. These kinds of experiences help teens put faces on people who would otherwise be merely a statistic they could ignore. I remember how astounded my teens were the first time we held a famine service in which they blew out candles to represent kids who die daily from hunger. Living in a land of plenty, it had never occurred to them that thousands of children die each year from hunger-related issues.
- Incorporate global case studies and examples into your teaching. Teens are curious about topics like war and poverty. So when you discuss these things, in addition to using Scripture, use examples from around the globe. For example, in a recent discussion about war, my youth ministry wrestled with the question, “Why does religion seem to cause so many wars?” As part of this, we learned about the country of Nigeria, which is fairly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians and has, for the last 15 years, been involved in a series of religious conflicts.
- Pray for global events. Challenge teens to scan a newspaper, twitter, or Facebook for news about what’s going on in the world. Then incorporate a map into your youth room where teens can stick a pin into a country they’d like to pray for. Regularly lift up those prayers in your youth ministry. Then discuss how your prayers for those countries and places are being answered.
- Take advantage of the fads. Remember Kony 2012? For weeks, that campaign had teens talking about the plight of child soldiers. Seize the momentum from viral campaigns like that one and have in-depth conversations with your teens about related issues. In particular, discuss what else – aside from things like putting a red X on their hand – God might be calling them to do in those situations, both immediately and long-term. As part of this, wrestle with vocation and how teens might use their career – whatever it might be – to serve and honor God, locally and globally.
- Use your movie nights to show and discuss films about other people and places. Rather than get together and watch something that’s purely fun, watch something you can learn from. If you’re unsure where to start, check out Slumdog Millionaire, God Grew Tired of Us, or Kinyarwanda.
- As a youth ministry, regularly participate in local service events that allow teens to rub shoulders with people from other cultures. For example, my church is located very near apartments where refugees – people who are forced to flee their homeland for fear of persecution or death – are resettled. As a result, our high school youth ministry regularly welcomes refugees to the country on the night they arrive. We show up at their apartment with the bare essentials needed to begin life in America (toiletries, bedding, kitchenware, food staples, etc.) Serving in this way has allowed teens to connect with people from Burundi, Bhutan, the Congo, Iraq, Iran, and Nepal without ever leaving their neighborhood. In so doing, in addition to learning about these people, places, and cultures, teens have also learned how to communicate with people who don’t speak their language, the importance of welcoming others, and what true hospitality looks like.
- Partner with churches that serve different demographics than yours. If your church is largely white, find an African American church to partner with. Don’t make this church your project, but rather your partner. Worship with one another. Serve together. Learn from and about each other.
- Provide context for what’s in Scripture. As Americans, much of what’s found in Scripture is culturally foreign to us. So provide teens with background information to help them understand the culture and context in which Scripture was originally written. In addition to helping teens better understand Scripture, doing so also helps them cultivate an appreciation for different cultures – wherever and whenever they might come into contact with them.
Cultivating these eight practices with your teens will not only help them develop a global awareness, but will also help them better appreciate, understand, and worship our global God.