How do you teach your kids to love people of different cultures and races? This undertaking may seem daunting, given our nation’s racial diversity and it’s racial polarity. But it can be done, and done well.
After all, teaching your kids to love racial diversity is just like teaching them other enduring values, such as kindness, honesty, and generosity. It doesn’t “just happen,” but with intentionality and time, you can get to where you want to go.
This journey is kind of like going on a road trip. Before you pack the SUV and start driving, you map the trip, pick exciting rest stops, and talk about the fun awaiting you at your destination.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. But the destination is so worth it.
A Trip Down Route 316
To develop culturally competent kids, be intentional and plan a family journey down a road that I like to call “Route 316,” named in honor of John 3:16.
Martin Luther referred to John 3:16 as “the heart of the Bible.” It was a North Star to Nicodemus — a first-century Jewish rabbi who had lost his way in matters of faith. When he came to Jesus under the canopy of night in search of meaning, our Savior said to him, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This centerpiece of their conversation proved pivotal. Nicodemus had a greater understanding of how to live and love. He had a direction for how to move forward.
If you want to develop your children into devoted followers of Jesus who genuinely love all races of people, plan a road trip down Route 316. And to make sure the experience is truly life-changing for your family, apply these four easy-to-follow travel tips:
1. Recognize God’s Blessings
Racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity is God’s idea. It’s not an accident. We need to tolerate each other’s differences and not isolate our kids out of fear. Nor should we hide behind the “I don’t see color” false narrative while we continue to live a monoracial life.
God is not colorblind; He sees color. God intentionally designed the world to showcase a diversity of race, culture, and ethnicity. Diversity is God’s preference, and it’s intentional.
John 3:16 is such a familiar verse that we forget how Nicodemus must have felt when introduced to it. The typical first-century Jew was programmed to think of God as loving only Israel since rabbis never taught that “God loved the world.”
To introduce the concept that God’s love included everybody everywhere was revolutionary. Jesus challenged Nicodemus’ beliefs. God’s love was not exclusive, as Nicodemus had been taught. God’s love was inclusive.
Like Nicodemus, each of us must widen our social circles to include the spectrum of people God includes in His family. Jesus introduced this reality of God’s love being generous enough to embrace all of humankind. We have His blessing when we embark on this journey.
2. Make the Journey Fun
I grew up in a home that valued education. My parents, especially my mother, created an environment where her four Ireland kids attached a high price, heavy premium, and hefty prize on a good education.
When my daughter Danielle was born, my wife, Marlinda, and I had a tough time teaching her how to read. I called Mom for some tips. After all, she was an educator specializing in early childhood education and a senior consultant for New York City, tasked with evaluating its preschool and early education programs.
Mom gave us a simple piece of advice: “Dave, if you create an environment where reading is fun, Danielle will come to love and value reading.”
We followed her suggestion. I began reading to Danielle every night after work and would change my voice inflections to impersonate the story’s characters. I laughed when they laughed, mimicked crying when they cried, and rolled on the carpet when they did a happy dance. In a short time, my little girl started reading. Her appetite for books became voracious.
The same thing happened when her sister, Jessica, came along. By making the process fun, we instilled a love of books and learning in their hearts. Three decades later, my daughters still maintain a healthy appetite for books.
Make Learning About Other Cultures Fun
My wife and I took the same route when it came to racial and ethnic diversity. We taught our kids that “different” isn’t bad — in fact, it’s fun and exciting. Marlinda and I established enjoyable, simple rituals, such as eating at different ethnic restaurants, frequently enjoying dishes from different cultures, including Italian, Chinese, Jamaican, Peruvian, and others.
We read books to our kids about different parts of the world — exploring their cultures, habits, beliefs, and music. Then we went on social outings to museums and theatrical plays that showcased different cultures and racial groups’ contributions to society. Today, it’s even possible to discover safe, multicultural experiences on the internet, which you can explore together.
Give your child the gift of valuing diversity by learning about other cultures and ethnicities in a fun way. It will help your family move forward in their journey down Route 316.
3. Remember This Is Your Journey, Too
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “The best sermon is a lived sermon.” This is one of my go-to statements. Sadly, most of our verbal coaching to our kids will fall on deaf ears without the validation that modeling brings.
Right before a father tucked his son into bed, the seven-year-old prayed about school and for his friends and grandparents. But then he said, “Dear God, I bet it is tough for You to love everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family, and I can never do it.”
What this young man craved was a model — someone who could coach him how to live and love amid the tensions of human relationships. To teach your kids the value of racial diversity, you must first value it. Until your child sees people of other races join your social circle, valuing racial diversity remains a concept or theological value that is nebulous. Just because someone checks yes to the question “Do you love your neighbor like yourself?” does not mean their life supports that answer.
Be a Model
My children often heard me speak on the phone with my friends from Australia, Germany, and even New Zealand. They flipped through my passport that showcases the many nations in which I had preached: Israel, England, Spain, Zambia, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. They even accompanied Marlinda and me on missions trips to other countries such as Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, and more. And perhaps they have overheard me pray one of Mother Teresa’s favorite prayers: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
God modeled His love for the world by giving. For example, He gave His only begotten Son. Generosity is the practice of doing the right thing above knowing the right thing. It calls for practical actions and not professorial answers.
So don’t just tell your kids it’s important to love people who are different than you; show them. Invite a family of another race to your home for dinner. Have them bring one of their cultural dishes. To break the ice, openly admit you want your family to grow cross-culturally. Then turn the conversation into storytelling — the use of personal stories that showcase your heart, experiences, and journey in various seasons of life. Stories have a way of leveling the playing field, knitting hearts together, shortening social distances, and cushioning awkward feelings.
4. Talk About the Destination
Traveling on Route 316 is about journeying toward a destination. It speaks of where you intend to be tomorrow. The value of today is its effectiveness in preparing you for tomorrow. When we don’t think about our destination, we can arrive there unprepared. For example, imagine how foolish you’d feel if you traveled to sunny Florida for Christmas vacation, only to realize all your outfits mirrored the freezing temperature of your home in Minnesota.
Don’t laugh. I did that once. One January, I had a weekend speaking engagement in the Dominican Republic. I was so thankful to get a respite from frigid New Jersey that I subconsciously packed only winter clothes. For the next couple of days, I looked completely out of place on this sunny Caribbean island.
When we look at America’s tomorrow, we see that it is rapidly becoming more diverse. Census projections for 2060 forecast a racial composition of 55.7% people of color (African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, and biracial people) and 44.3% white (non-Hispanic). In 2014, there were only 37.8% people of color and 62.2% white.
In other words, America for our children and grandchildren will look, feel, and function differently. To prepare your kids for the racial diversity of tomorrow’s America, they must develop cross-cultural confidence and competency today.
Your family is invited on a journey to embrace the full significance of John 3:16 and to take a journey that will change how you see God and the world forever. One of the greatest legacies you can leave your children is the gift of cross-cultural confidence and competency. I promise that the journey will not only transform their hopes and goals, but the way they live and love.
© 2020 David Ireland. All rights reserved.