“No greater joy do I have than this: that I should hear that my children go on walking in the truth.”—3 JOHN 4.
1, 2. (a) What problem do many immigrant children experience? (b) What questions will this article discuss?
“FROM infancy, I spoke my immigrant parents’ language at home and in the congregation,” relates Joshua. “But after I started school, I began to prefer the local language. Within a few years, the shift was complete. I couldn’t understand the meetings, and I didn’t identify with my parents’ culture.” Joshua’s experience is not uncommon.
2 Today, more than 240,000,000 people live outside the land of their birth. If you are an immigrant parent, how can you give your children the best possible opportunity to become spiritual children who “go on walking in the truth”? (3 John 4) And how can others help?
PARENTS, SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
3, 4. (a) How can parents set a good example for their children? (b) What should parents not expect of their children?
3 Parents, your example is essential to start your children on the path to endless life. When your children see you “seeking first the Kingdom,” they learn to depend on Jehovah for their daily needs. (Matt. 6:33, 34) So live modestly. Sacrifice material things for spiritual benefits—not the other way around. Strive to stay out of debt. Seek “treasure in heaven”—Jehovah’s approval—and not riches or “the glory of men.”—Read Mark 10:21, 22; John 12:43.
4 Never get so busy that you do not have time for your children. Let them know that you are proud of them when they decide to put Jehovah first instead of seeking prestige or riches—for themselves or for you. Avoid the unchristian view that children should provide their parents with a life of ease. Remember, “children are not expected to save up for their parents, but the parents for their children.”—2 Cor. 12:14.
PARENTS, BRIDGE THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
5. Why must parents speak with their children about Jehovah?
5 As foretold, people “out of all the languages of the nations” are flocking to Jehovah’s organization. (Zech. 8:23) But a language barrier can make it difficult for you to teach your children the truth. Your children are the most important Bible students you will ever have, and their “coming to know” Jehovah means their eternal life. (John 17:3) In order for your children to learn Jehovah’s teachings, you must “speak of them” on all appropriate occasions.—Read Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
6. How may your children benefit from learning your language? (See opening picture.)
6 Your children will likely learn the local language at school and in their environment, but they learn your language primarily by frequently interacting with you in your language. Besides enabling your children to have heart-to-heart conversations with you, knowing your language gives them other advantages. Being bilingual sharpens your children’s thinking ability and enhances their social skills. It may also open opportunities for them to expand their ministry. “Being in a foreign-language congregation has been fun,” says Carolina, whose parents are immigrants. “And it’s cool to be helping where there is a greater need.”
7. What can you do if there is a language barrier in your family?
7 Yet, as children of immigrants assimilate the local culture and language, some of them may lose much of their desire and even their ability to communicate in their parents’ mother tongue. Parents, if that describes your children, can you learn at least some of the local language? You will be in a much better position to raise your children as Christians if you understand their conversations, entertainment, and schoolwork and if you can communicate directly with their teachers. Granted, learning a new language takes time, effort, and humility. But if your child somehow became deaf, would you not try to learn sign language in order to communicate with him? A child who communicates best in another spoken language deserves the same concern, would you not agree?*
8. How can you help your children if your language ability is limited?
8 Realistically, it may not be possible for some immigrant parents to become fluent in their children’s new language. The resulting barrier may make it hard for parents to impart to their children a deep knowledge of “the holy writings.” (2 Tim. 3:15) If that is your situation, you can still help your children to come to know and love Jehovah. “Our single mom’s grasp of the language we understood best was limited, and my sisters and I didn’t speak her language very well,” recalls an elder named Shan. “But when we saw her studying, praying, and doing her best to conduct family worship every week, we understood that getting to know Jehovah was very important.”
9. How can parents help children who may need to study in two languages?
9 Some children may need to learn about Jehovah in two languages—their school language and the language that is spoken at home. To that end, some parents make use of printed literature, audio recordings, and videos in both languages. Clearly, immigrant parents must devote more time and show more initiative in order to help their children develop a strong relationship with Jehovah.
TO WHICH LANGUAGE CONGREGATION SHOULD YOU BELONG?
10. (a) Who must decide which language congregation to attend? (b) What should he do before making a decision?
10 When “foreign residents” live far from other Witnesses who speak their language, they need to associate with a local-language congregation. (Ps. 146:9) But if there is a congregation nearby that uses your mother tongue, the question arises: Which language congregation is best for your family? After careful thought and prayer and consultation with his mate and children, a family head must decide. (1 Cor. 11:3) What factors will the family head take into consideration? What principles apply? Let us consider some.
11, 12. (a) How does language affect what a child absorbs at meetings? (b) Why do some children resist learning their parents’ language?
11 Parents must evaluate their children’s needs realistically. Of course—regardless of language—to gain a firm grasp of the truth, a child needs much more than just a few hours of spiritual education each week at meetings. But consider this: At meetings conducted in the language they understand best, children may absorb instruction simply by being present, perhaps learning more than their parents realize. That may not be the case when children do not fully understand the language. (Read 1 Corinthians 14:9, 11.) And a child’s native language will not necessarily remain the language of his mind or even of his heart. In fact, some children can learn to give comments, presentations, and talks in their parents’ language without the words really coming from their heart.
12 Furthermore, a child’s heart is influenced by more than just language. That was the case with Joshua, quoted at the outset. As his sister, Esther, notes, “to young children, their parents’ language, culture, and religion come bundled together.” If children do not identify with their parents’ culture, they may resist learning their parents’ language—and their faith. What can immigrant parents do?
13, 14. (a) Why did one immigrant couple move their family to a local-language congregation? (b) How did the parents stay spiritually strong?
13 Christian parents put their children’s spiritual well-being ahead of personal preferences. (1 Cor. 10:24) Joshua and Esther’s father, Samuel, relates: “My wife and I observed our children to see in which language they thrived spiritually, and we prayed for wisdom. The answer was not what we personally found convenient. But when we saw that they were getting little benefit from the meetings in our language, we decided to move to the local-language congregation. Together, we regularly attended meetings and shared in the ministry. We also invited local friends to join us for meals and excursions. All of this helped our children to get to know the brothers and to get to know Jehovah, not only as their God but also as their Father and Friend. We considered this to be much more important than their mastering our language.”
14 Samuel adds: “To keep ourselves spiritually strong, my wife and I also attended meetings in our language. Life was very busy, and we were tired. But we thank Jehovah for blessing our efforts and sacrifices. Our three children are all serving Jehovah in the full-time ministry.”
WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE CAN DO
15. Why did a sister named Kristina feel that she could do better in a local-language congregation?
15 Adult children may come to realize that they could better serve Jehovah in a congregation that uses the language that they understand best. If so, their parents need not feel that their children are rejecting them. “I knew the basics of my parents’ language, but the language spoken at the meetings was over my head,” recalls Kristina. “When I was 12, I attended a convention in my school language. For the first time, I understood that what I was hearing was the truth! Another turning point came when I began to pray in my school language. I could speak to Jehovah from my heart!” (Acts 2:11, 41) When she reached adulthood, Kristina discussed the matter with her parents and decided to move to a local-language congregation. She recalls: “Learning about Jehovah in my school language moved me to action.” Before long, Kristina became a joyful regular pioneer.
16. Why is a sister named Nadia glad she stayed in the foreign-language congregation?
16 Young people, do you think that you would prefer being part of a local-language congregation? If so, ask yourself why. Would moving to such a congregation help you draw closer to Jehovah? (Jas. 4:8) Or might you want to move because you expect to have less supervision or less work? “When my siblings and I got into our teens, we wanted to switch to the local-language congregation,” says Nadia, who now serves at Bethel. But her parents knew that such a move would not be in their children’s best spiritual interest. “Now we’re grateful that our parents worked hard to teach us their language and kept us in the foreign-language congregation. It has enriched our lives and broadened our opportunities to help others get to know Jehovah.”
HOW OTHERS CAN HELP
17. (a) Whom has Jehovah assigned to raise children? (b) How can parents get help in teaching their children the truth?
17 Jehovah has assigned parents—not grandparents or anyone else—the privilege of raising their children in the truth. (Read Proverbs 1:8; 31:10, 27, 28.) Still, parents who do not know the local language may need help to reach their children’s heart. Arranging for such help need not mean abdicating their spiritual responsibility; rather, it can be part of bringing up their children “in the discipline and admonition of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) For example, parents may ask elders in the congregation for suggestions on conducting family worship and for help in providing good association for their children.
18, 19. (a) How can spiritually-minded brothers and sisters benefit young ones? (b) What must parents continue to do?
18 For instance, parents may invite other families to join them in family worship from time to time. Further, many young people thrive under the influence of spiritually balanced companions who may, for example, accompany them in the ministry and share with them in wholesome recreation. (Prov. 27:17) “I well remember the brothers who took me under their wing,” recalls Shan, quoted earlier. “When they helped me with student talk assignments for the meeting, I always learned more. And I enjoyed the leisure activities we shared in as a group.”
19 Of course, those whom the parents choose to help their children should always build up the young ones’ respect for their parents, speaking positively about them, not taking over their responsibility. Moreover, those who help should avoid any conduct that could be misinterpreted by some inside or outside the congregation as morally questionable. (1 Pet. 2:12) Parents must not merely turn their children over to others for spiritual training. They must monitor the help given by companions and continue to teach their children themselves.
20. How can parents help their children to become fine servants of Jehovah?
20 Parents, pray to Jehovah for help, and try your best. (Read 2 Chronicles 15:7.) Put your child’s friendship with Jehovah ahead of your own interests. Do whatever you can to ensure that God’s Word reaches your child’s heart. Never stop believing that your child can become a fine servant of Jehovah. When your children follow God’s Word and your good example, you will feel as the apostle John did about his spiritual children: “No greater joy do I have than this: that I should hear that my children go on walking in the truth.”—3 John 4.
See the article “You Can Learn Another Language!” in Awake! of March 2007, pp. 10-12.