Middle schoolers and high school students are my Tuesday faves. Through the connections of great friends, I have been teaching Hebrew in chapels a couple of times a month at Arkansas Christian Academy in Bryant. My new talmidim (disciples, but in this case, my students!) have been interested, engaged, and trying hard to pronounce things like “Boker Tov,” good morning, as opposed to ‘Booker Tove’ as some have alleged. When the war in Israel broke out and our team trip was delayed, the opportunity opened to have a meaningful conversation with the 6th-12th graders about Israel’s situation and what it means to us. I was proud of how quiet the room got in spite of a few hundred young people. It meant the wheels were turning. Their thoughts were stirring trying to comprehend how others their age were dealing with the most unimaginable things.
We talked through the unprovoked nature of civilians being attacked in residential areas, not by living near military bases or targets. We talked about the feelings many have there right now, who the hostages are, how that happened…and why. Why now, why Israel, why Jewish people? We tried to imagine what it would look like for half the population of Little Rock to be hit like this and suddenly have to move to Saline County. Would we have enough rooms in our homes in Bryant? What would the kids need? What would they do all day? How would we feed everyone? Their questions were thoughtful and genuine:
What exactly is going on in Israel?
Are they in bomb shelters?
Are they coming for America next?
Is everyone’s dad going off to war?
Does this mean the world is ending?
I hope their questions were answered enough to press them further into Scripture to see God’s covenant promises, to see His power and His faithfulness, and to see our deep connection to the Land and People of the Book. How necessary are these conversations? I can assure you that terrorist groups don’t wait 'til the kids are grown to teach their "values," they raise them with the agenda and intentionally shape their hearts from a young age. Hitler’s Nazi Youth Groups focused on the same thing. Christian believers should remain committed to diligently teaching and training the young as well, with truth from the Word and a biblical worldview. In at least three passages of Deuteronomy, Moses stressed the importance:
“…that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.
Therefore hear O Israel, and be careful to observe it* that it may be well with you and you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you – a land flowing with milk and honey.
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down,and when you rise up…” – Deut 6:2-7, and in chapters 4 and 11.
*the phrase observe to do is an important concept and includes the verb shamar, to keep watch, guard, as a shepherd or watchman; in the wider sense, to keep safe and preserve
Pastor Perry Black, founder of Family Church Bryant and Second Chance Youth Ranch, took a Sunday service to share an important message with the help of young leaders ranging ages 13-24. Why do kids stay connected beyond high school and college and continue to walk with the Lord? Why do they go on to serve and raise their families in church? Statistically, these do so because of core reasons: They ate dinner with family about 5 nights a week; they were entrusted with responsibility in ministry at an early age; they had a spiritual experience in the home at least once a week; and had at least one faith-focused adult in their lives other than their parents.
In his discussion, Pastor Perry didn’t have to pull teeth to get the participants to say who the adult influencers in their lives were and how, and what about Dad they would emulate in their lives. Grandparents, coaches, children's pastors, and family friends topped the lists. Our faith lives and the values we share in our community have to be family talk and more importantly, a family walk.
When my students from Chapel go home tonight to safe houses without rockets going off in their neighborhoods, I hope they bring today’s conversation to the dinner table ~ without the TV on. We honor each other when we have difficult conversations. How do you discuss Israel's situation with your kids? Answer their questions as much as "answers," without information-saturation. Be realistic. Help them distinguish the realities so they aren't stuck in video-game fantasy worlds that set them up to fail in hard situations. Faith is preparedness, not denial. Rehearsing safety protocols for your home and family doesn't mean you aren't trusting God. We trust Him and keep our eyes on Him through tough times, and He does not leave us alone. Make sure your kids can see biblical precedent - God's people were often challenged, tested, persecuted, faced storms, rivers and seas, giants, lions, famines, and more. Leaning into God's Word and the Divine Presence preserved and protected them. Build those truths into your kids, and let them see you stand firm in your confidence in the Lord.
I hope moms, dads, and grandparents continue the talk, praying for Israel together, and finding meaningful ways to help. And above all, I hope we as parents and grands endear ourselves to the diligent mission of loving, training, and walking with our young.
Photos/Credits: Chapel pictures and arrangements thanks to Pastor Yerik Henderson and Wally Pollich. Students and young adults on stage with Pastor Perry Black from right to left: Bronley Hubbard, Azzy Marrow, Ellis Henderson, Jacob Cooper, Delaney Cooper.