Six years ago, when Malachi was 6 years old, I was taking him on an ATV tour of the farm. We did the typical route through the bush along the red river, hit the jumps on the dyke, and found ourselves well west of the yard across Pembina Highway on the 2 mile river lot that my great-grandparents acquired when they arrived in Canada from the Ukraine. We talked about how different the land must have looked back then with the incredible tall prairie grass growing all over. That was before all the fields had been broken and the highway was no more than a dirt road to Winnipeg. As we were talking I suddenly realized something, Malachi was exactly the same age as my Grandpa when he came from Russia. I looked at Malachi and the story suddenly took on another level of meaning.
Grandpa used to tell me about leaving Russia via train and the precautions they took as a family to make sure everyone made it across and then boarding the ship in Denmark (I think), followed by a long voyage over the ocean. At one stage of the journey there was a storm and the ship took on water and because the family by this point had lost all their wealth they were in the lower decks of the ship below sea level, and as water came on it ran along the floor under the slightly raised walls. Grandpa told me about staying with relatives that first winter and then moving into the tiny house on the farm where I grew up and my parents still live.
I imagined what it would have been like to be great-grandpa travelling with two small children (I think grandpa’s sister had been born by then), one as old my son at that time. (We’re currently planning a family vacation which will include a long drive and all I can think about is how wonderful it will be to let the kids watch DVD’s in the car!) What would they have done for entertainment or to just keep their kids sane in the face of a new unknown country?
Stories are very important. Our kids need to hear the stories of our families and our ancestors; the good, the bad and the ugly. When we tell them the good stories of God’s faithfulness their own faith grows and a legacy is passed down from the cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. But we also need to tell them the bad, when things out of our control happened and how our faith survived through the storm. And they also need to hear the ugly. Perhaps you come from a family that wasn’t saved and you are the first of your generation to meet Jesus, tell your kids about it! Maybe you had a particularly difficult childhood; it’s OK for our kids to hear some of that as well. And maybe your past life was ugly. Our children need to see where we have from so that they can know how faithful God is.
Malachi is now 12 and heading into grade 8. Those are tough years and he needs to know that even though they were tough for dad as well, he doesn’t need to lose his faith, or his mind, and that he will make it! He’s heading out on a week-long summer camp canoe trip this week and he has been a bit apprehensive about it. I love his adventurous heart getting excited as he packed his special camping gear, but I also see the fear of the unknown. I’m letting him use my backpack from when went to Bible School in Austria, hiked the alps and traveled across Europe. It’s a good backpack with many memories and many miles attached to it. So this morning I found him a picture of 18-year-old me in Austria standing in front of the Dachstein mountain, which has the highest vertical face in the Alps. My backpack was on the top of that mountain, it came with me! And now that backpack is heading out into the wild’s of Manitoba to gather new memories on Malachi’s back. Man was I every anxious about being in Austria away from my family! Oh my WORD I was afraid looking down the face of the Dachstein (I crawled along the peak… I’m just that brave). I want Malachi to know that Dad had that backpack on when he was facing some of the same challenges that he is going to face this week. Hopefully have “dad” on his shoulders will help him make it through just a bit.
If our children don’t know the stories of the past there is really only one reason; we haven’t told them. But if they haven’t remembered them, it’s because we haven’t told them well. I have an assignment for you. Think of some of the important stories from your life and if you can from the lives of your ancestors. Think about every little detail – what those experiences felt like, what emotions you had, where you were, what you smelled, as much as possible – and then tell your kids about a story this week. Finally if possible, see if you can find a memento from the memory, even if it’s just a photograph and give it to your kids as a reminder of what God did for you at that time.
My people, hear my instruction; listen to what I say.
I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past—
things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us.
We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the LORD, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.
Psalm 78:1-4 (HCSB)