Can children be saved? Yes. Spurgeon said that “as soon as a child is capable of being lost, it is capable of being saved.” Cotton Mather called the parent an ostrich who pretended their lost child was a Christian. Parents must call them to faith, for children can be converted.
So if a child is capable of being saved, is he capable of aspiring to be a missionary? Yes. Parents should not deter such dreams. In fact, they should pray for them.
The Example of John Paton
When John Paton volunteered for missionary service to the cannibals of the South Seas, his whole church discouraged him from doing so. He was in his early 30’s at the time, but he returned home disheartened. It was then his parents broke the secret they had long kept from him. They had prayed since his birth that he would become a missionary but they hadn’t wanted to unnecessarily sway his opinion. From his youth they had consecrated him to worldwide missions.
Paton wrote in his Biography the words of his mother that fateful evening:
“We feared to bias you, but now we must tell you why we praise God for the decision to which you have been led. Your father’s heart was set upon being a Minister, but other claims forced him to give it up. When you were given to them, your father and mother laid you upon the altar, their first-born, to be consecrated, if God saw fit, as a Missionary of the Cross; and it has been their constant prayer that you might be prepared, qualified, and led to this very decision; and we pray with all our heart that the Lord may accept your offering, long spare you, and give you many souls from the Heathen World for your hire.”
The Example of Anthony Groves
Anthony Norris Groves aspired to missions as a boy. He became one of the greatest missionaries in church history. He ministered for a time in Bagdad, the headquarters of Islam. Eventually, Groves established the first Protestant mission to Arabic-speaking Muslims.
In the early 1800’s, while he was in his early teens, he heard a life-changing sermon that directed his thoughts to foreign missions. Groves was not yet a Christian. In fact, he used to hide a novel in his Prayer Book at school to avoid boredom. Nonetheless, he was struck to the heart by this preaching. He wrote: “It would be such a worthy object to die for, to go to India to win but one idolater from hopeless death to life and peace.” By the end of his life, he would lead many to Christ in India.
Just as Groves had the ambition to do great things for Christ in his youth, Scripture relates similar examples. In the Old Testament, King Josiah began to seek the Lord when he turned 16 (2Chron. 34:3). Solomon was “young and inexperienced” when he began his great work for the Lord (1Chron. 29:1).
Scripture says the young man is capable of living a pure life (Ps. 119:9). The Bible doesn’t assume the youth will waste their college years in drunkenness and rebellion. It doesn’t expect Christians to only get serious in their later years. No. The young man and woman is to remember their Creator in the days of their youth (Ecc. 12:1).
In the New Testament, Timothy was taught the Scriptures from his youth (2Tm. 3:15). Paul uses the word “youth’ to imply that Timothy’s mother was quoting Scripture to him while he was still nursing. By the time the famous apostolic missionary came around, Timothy was fertile soil. When he first left with Paul for missionary service (Ac. 16:3), you can imagine those who were waving goodbye saying: “We always knew it would end up this way. Timothy was made for the mission field.”
When I was four years old, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I replied: “I want to be a missionary in the woods.” She wrote those words in her diary. That ambition grew in college until it became a fire that could not be put out. I would rather have left for Africa single than avoid Great Commission work. So it was single to the mission field I went. The wife and kids came later.
Parents should carefully choose their children’s heroes. Should the walls of the kids’ bedrooms be adorned with famous athletes and movie stars, or should they have murals and quotes of the great missionaries of the past? If the writer of Hebrews could highlight the heroes of the Old Testament, churches and parents should place before their children missionary heroes they can aspire to become.
Yes, children can and many times should aspire to be future missionaries. Parents and churches should stir up this ambition by affirming such desires and placing before them worthy models to follow both in Scripture and Church History.