We're counting our blessings each day this week in celebration of Thanksgiving. Blessing #3: The many compassionate and beautiful children who remind us every day what it means to have a child-like faith in a God who loves us.
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The fun and sometimes frustrating thing about being a writer is that you never quite know what kind of story you are going to get. Sometimes, great leads turn out to be disappointing. Other times, what looks like a humdrum story turns out to have a twist that blows your socks off.
So it was with a sense of nervous anticipation that I called Teresa and Carl Camera of Austin, Texas. I’d been asked to write a feature story about them for World Vision Magazine. Teresa had written to the magazine, saying how blessed her family was by the publication and how it was helping their boys -- Kevin, 10, and Christopher, 11 -- develop a more compassionate outlook.
It was very kind of Teresa to say so, of course, but perhaps a stretch to write on for 1,000 words.
But once I got on the phone with the Cameras, I discovered they had a whole range of strategies for helping their boys become more caring people. These conversations became the basis of the “Raising Kids Who Care” feature in the current issue of the magazine.
Naturally, I then experienced one of the other frustrations of being a writer -- having your work cut to fit the available space. Ten points on raising kids who care was soon whittled down to seven points, and some nice quotes from the Cameras were cut. But thank the Lord for blogs. Here are all 10 points:
1. GET INFORMED.
It’s hard to share a vision unless you have first embraced it yourself. Carl became more attuned to the needs of the wider world after participating in a church mission trip to Guatemala.
“I really got a heart for the people there and thought there were things I [could] do to help in my small way.” - Carl
2. MAKE IT PERSONAL.
Following the mission trip, Carl and Teresa decided to sponsor two children in Guatemala and let their boys choose them. Kevin and Christopher both picked boys about their age, and soon all four began exchanging cards and drawings. Now Kevin and Christopher mention their Guatemalan friends nearly every day during family prayer times.
“They pray that [our sponsored children] would have enough to eat, enough money to live on, and that their family would know Jesus.” -Teresa
Carl & Teresa Camera with their boys Kevin and Christopher enjoy a hammock brought back from Guatemala in their backyard in Austin, Texas.
3. PICTURE IT.
In 2006, Carl and Teresa traveled to Guatemala to meet their sponsored children. They would have loved to have taken the boys, but felt they were still too young. Nevertheless, the couple returned with powerful stories and photos, which they shared with Kevin and Christopher.
Among the strongest impressions: photos of the humble shacks where their sponsored children lived, the struggle to get clean water, and the mass graves of those buried by recurring mudslides. Carl and Teresa also regularly talk with their boys about the photographs they see in World Vision Magazine.
“A picture really explains it. In a picture, you get a concept of something that you may never have experienced in your entire life.” -Teresa
4. STORE TREASURES IN HEAVEN.
A Scripture that Teresa often shares with her children is Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” When Kevin donated money for the water well, he smiled and said he was storing up treasures in heaven.
“I am constantly telling my children, ‘OK, so you don’t have all these toys that your friends do, but you can be rich in love.’” - Teresa
5. LEAD BY EXAMPLE.
When Carl, a software engineer, got laid off, the family put their home on the market in hopes of avoiding foreclosure. As it turned out, the family finances recovered. But in the midst of the trial, Carl and Teresa chose to continue sponsoring -- both to honor their commitment and to serve as an example to their children.
“You think they are not paying attention, but your children will pick up on what you actually do, compared to what you say you do.” -Carl
6. ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE.
Teresa home-schools Kevin and Christopher using a curriculum designed for missionary children that offers wonderful role models. Together, they read stories about famous missionaries such as Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. A favorite film is “Chariots of Fire" -- the story of Olympic runner and missionary Eric Liddell.
“Right now they are reading Bruchko by Bruce Olson. He risked his life over and over again to minister to South American Indians.” -Teresa
Kevin Camera holds out a picture of a child he has sponsored.
7. ELIMINATE THE NEGATIVE.
Teresa and Carl limit exposure to television, mainly because of the pervasiveness of ads aimed at children. Even so, they have to work hard to persuade their boys they don’t need more Lego® pieces, the latest skateboard, or a new scooter. They’re concerned that if their children are consumed by the desire for such things, they will find it harder to think of others.
“I do try to tell my children that his life is short. We are not going to get everything we want in life, and that’s OK.” -Teresa
8. SEIZE THE TEACHABLE MOMENT.
Recently, Kevin and Christopher were thrilled to be invited to a friend’s party, where they enjoyed a swimming pool with an exciting water slide. Carl encouraged his boys to reflect on the kindness of their friend’s family.
“I said what a blessing they are to share that with us, and we can be a blessing in the same way to others.” -Carl
9. PREPARE TO SERVE.
Teresa takes note of children who are older than her own to get an idea of what is coming next. Teenagers from some wealthy families have impressed her as unhappy.
On the other hand, young people she’s admired have been those who lived with their parents on the mission field or undertaken short-term mission trips themselves. She finds that it’s these young people who show the greatest maturity and zeal for God -- qualities Teresa hopes her own children can emulate by developing an interest in mission themselves.
“Missionary teenagers really stand out. I think, 'Wow, how do I get kids like that?'” -Teresa
10. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.
Carl and Teresa maintain that even with the best intentions and parenting techniques, there’s no guarantee that children will take the right path. It has to be a work of God.
“We pray that God gets ahold of their heart, that they give their lives to serve Jesus and live a life pleasing to him.” -Teresa
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This Thanksgiving, share your blessings with a child in need.
Your turn: How are you raising your children to care for others? Do you have tips for raising compassionate kids to share with other parents?
Read related post on blessings #1 and #2, for the people we serve and those who serve with us, and the many faithful donors and supporters of World Vision’s work around the world: Feeling gratitude — from the heart, not the spoken word