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How to raise radical kids: A Thanksgiving story in the mountains

I turn 50 in six months. Our kids are grown, and despite the odds, have turned out well. Other parents want to know, “How did you do it?” Well, we loved ’em and tried not to wound ’em too bad. But if we have a secret, it’s this – as much as anything, we tried to expose them to the world’s pain. …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I turn 50 in six months. Our kids are grown, and despite the odds, have turned out well. Other parents want to know, “How did you do it?” Well, we loved ’em and tried not to wound ’em too bad. But if we have a secret, it’s this – as much as anything, we tried to expose them to the world’s pain.

We gave ’em experiences like this one. Here’s my reflection on it:

I feel hypocritical going on missions trips and then coming back to a life of comfort in the USA. It’s something I must admit to wrestling with on a regular basis. 

Hey, I’m not suggesting that God called us all to be ascetics or Franciscan monks. But it’s hard to straddle both worlds. On the one hand, I feel that my life’s call is to be an advocate for the faceless masses of oppressed and poor around the world. God has called me to bring their stories into American living rooms and to bring Americans into what would pass for their living rooms.

Probably the thing that has me most conflicted is this: I’m determined that my own children not fall prey to the traps of materialism or narcissism. I want their hearts to be broken as God’s own heart is broken. So, it was a big blessing to be able to travel as a family to the poorest county in the U.S. – McDowell County, West Virginia. That’s where AIM has a base and a network of contacts among the poor.

On the day before Thanksgiving, 2001, all seven of us Barneses (Talia having flown home from Grove City College) visited five different homes. We talked with them, heard their stories, and prayed for them. That same day we also cooked meals for 160 shut-ins in the area. Then, on Thanksgiving day we warmed the meals and delivered them.

Probably the visit that had the greatest impact was with Elmer, an old, blind man and his wife Raythee. Raythee had lost her leg to diabetes and then had a stroke. They live together in a little coal miner’s shack. It’s rickety front door opens into a living room dominated by a coal stove. The whole place could use a good cleaning. Immediately to the right as you walk in is Raythee’s room. She lays in bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Elmer cares for Raythee and somehow provides for their needs. The really incredible thing is to see what a prayer warrior he is. He prayed intensely over Leah several times. Each time he would ask Leah to speak, which she would obediently do. It is always moving to me when someone prays for my daughter, but his tenderness and faith was particularly touching.

Whereas we had prayed for others in the homes we’d visited earlier, Elmer made a point of praying for each child. As we started to leave, Emily asked if she could pray for him. He said, “yes, I’d like that.” She then proceeded to pray the most beautiful and heart-felt prayer, pleading with God to restore his eyesight.

When she had finished, Elmer paused before opening his eyes, blinked them a few times, and realized he was still blind. I suppose if I were in his shoes, I’d have been disappointed, but Elmer had words of encouragement to speak to Emily. “Now, don’t you let this hurt your faith. Even though God didn’t heal me just now, that doesn’t mean that he won’t heal others. I’ve prayed and seen Him heal many. God’s going to use you to pray for others just as He’s used me.”

As we walked out onto his front porch, I felt as though I’d been party to a supernatural experience. It hadn’t played out exactly as I’d hoped. Leah still struggles to speak and Elmer can’t see. But on that cold, November night, we could all see and hear the glory of God fill that little coal miner’s shack. We didn’t leave disappointed.

Back home, our passion for God and for His people is more intense. Our unity as a family is great. Our children are journaling about what they’ve experienced and Emily continues to pray for Elmer and Raythee. I’m guessing that he continues to pray for Leah, too.

Comments (7)

  • Heather (of Gracedbychrist.com)

    Thank you for the beautifully encouraging story. I find it so encouraging as we struggle with church (or lack of church) issues and decisions about how to school the kids (still at home but how to make it suit each child especially with our oldest’s struggles) to see your family all grown and glorifying God.

    On the side I didn’t know Talia had attended Grove City College, that is only an hour or so from where we are.

  • To witness the suffering of the world at an impressionable age, and regularly, is the greatest blessing. Thanks Dad. You and Mom raised us in reality.

  • Ashley read this to me after the end of a long weekend. We hope to follow your example as we start our own family. We both love the picture. There is so much joy in the Barnes family. I can attest to that. Blessings on you guys.

  • Seth,
    Thanks for sharing this. Loved the family picture. Very encouraging as I seek to raise 3 girls and teaching them to love the Father with all their heart. I mentioned to Kimberly, my fifteen year old about the mission trip to Peru. She immediately responded with a resounding YES! Keep the blogs coming. I appreciate your heart and spirit.

  • Seth, Thanks again for sharing your struggles. I struggle with the same and we still live in Matamoros, but in a nicer house.

    Pretty cool stuff about your family. Thanks for being so open and vunerable to others. Kind of reminds me of…Christ.
    Thanks for encouraging us parents.

    I agree with letting your kids see the pain of the world. It shapes them and changes them like nothing else can. And it breaks their hearts, which needs to happen to us all once in awhile.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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