The greatest challenge that Asian immigrants(especially Indian Immigrants from strong Christian backgrounds) face in the United States is Parenting. The inability to cope with their children being raised in a different culture and system of living contribute to this problem extensively. Immigrant Christian parents often fail to realize that our children are subjected to liberal views from the school system, the media, and their peers.
Being the father of 21-year-old and 11-year-old sons, I had my own share of parenting struggles. I grew up in a Christian home nurtured by the moral and ethical values.. My father, one of the greatest men I ever knew, was saved at the age of 18 while he was in Sri Lanka (called Ceylon during that time). He was baptized by Pastor Paul, the founder of Ceylon Pentecostal Mission. He later returned to India and joined Kottayam Bank which later became State Bank of Travancore until he retired. My mother was a schoolteacher. I did not grow up in the lap of luxury, but had a fairly good living. My father was a very prayerful man. He seldom came home straight from his work place. Instead he went to different houses to pray for the people because the Lord had entrusted a healing and prayer ministry to him. In spite of his busy schedule, he would get up in the morning and pray for his children for one hour. He continued this until he died. There were occasions in his old age when he would pray standing up for fear of falling asleep while praying for his children. His prayer life, his lifestyle while inside or outside the home enabled me to fear and know God from my early childhood. . After completion of my Master’s degree program, I taught in Mar Thoma College, Tiruvalla, Mar Athanasius College, Kothamangalam, and St. Mary’s College, Sultan Battery. Later I entered a Ph.D. program in Physics in India. My father always taught me from the Bible and encouraged me to live for Jesus. My father’s prayer, his model life, his holy life, his Christian love, his encouragement, and his advice have enabled me to grow spiritually. I share my personal experience to make a statement to all Christian immigrant parents in America; an assertion that our fervent prayer, our model life, our holy life, and the time we spend with our children in prayer and Bible teaching can bring up our children in Christian life and have them excel in life. I adopted my father’s methodology in rearing my children. I have dedicated every Saturday for praying with my children and teaching them from the Bible. Most Saturdays my wife and I fast and pray for our children.
Keys to Successful Parenting
Since children learn from parents more by observation than instruction, it is imperative that a parent lead a model Christian life. As one of the greatest servants of God said, the word ‘Christian’ stands for “CHRIST I Am Nothing.” Christ must be the central person in our family life. In our family or Church or in any of our dealings there should not be anything unchristian-like. We are all human and therefore, human weaknesses may be anticipated. But Christ in us can change any situation.
a. Prayerful Life. The first and foremost factor in bringing up children as Christians is a prayerful life. A true believer will spend his/her time in prayer. Prayer is the time we spend with our master. When we pray, God’s presence is around us. Prayer is just like breathing. The more time we spend in prayer, the more we take in the presence of God. And the world in us is let out. The presence of God is inhaled and the world in us is exhaled. Our children must learn this very important fact from our own life and from our instruction. Prayer brings the anointing in our life and in our family and then keeps it. We have a choice not to pray. But we pray to keep the anointing in us and to keep the world out.
Many of us fail to understand that prayerlessness will lead to destruction of our spiritual life and the slow and inevitable deterioration of the spiritual life of our next generation. Prayerlessness is due to two factors: 1) sin. 2) lack of fear of God.
1. Due to Sin. As we read in Genesis 3:1-10, Adam hid from God when he committed sin. Man was created in God’s image. Before committing sin, Adam and Eve were covered with the Glory of God and, therefore, they did not feel naked. But when they committed sin they lost the Glory of God and felt naked. Because of sin they not only lost the Glory of God, but also could not face God. Sin in a person’s life will not enable him/her to spend time with the master.
2. Lack of fear of God. Job 15:4 reads “You cast off fear and restrain prayer before God”. Fear of God entails fear out of love and respect. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Our children should be made aware of this truth that their wisdom does not come from their family tree but from the fear of God, quiet contrary to some beliefs. Proverbs 27:12 says “A prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself”. In order to foresee evil one must be in tune with God. Only the presence of God in our life will help us to foresee evil.
b. Essential Points in Prayer. 1. Be specific. Be specific in our prayer. Matthew 6:5-7 narrates the prayer of a hypocrite, its longevity and repetitions. Most prayers in many of our churches are almost the same. Our mind and words are tuned into a pattern of repetition. Since I was born in a Pentecostal family, filled with the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the age of 14 and took water baptism at the age of 17, I considered myself a spiritual person. But after a specific personal encounter with the Holy Spirit three years before the writing of this chapter, my lifestyle changed completely. All I asked God was, “Lord, I have no ability, nothing to give you. If you want to use a nothing, here it is Lord”. I was sincere in my prayer and I very candidly expressed my desire to God. Suddenly, I felt the presence of God that went through every cell and fiber of my body. It is hard to express the amazing experience of the presence of God. After that encounter, I can literally feel the presence of God when I pray. I am now a businessman. I own and manage a manufacturing and engineering company that employs around 45 people. However, I have learned to lead a very simple life. My desire to serve God has become more fervent and my desire to have finer things in life or to have a luxurious life has diminished. If God’s presence can make such a profound impact on me, I am very sure, you can also receive the same experience from God. The only thing necessary is to ask God with all sincerity and an earnest desire to serve Him only. God demands His children to remain holy in His presence and this can be achieved only by prayer and by experiencing His presence. When we experience the presence of God in our life, we can ask God to touch our children in the same way and He will do it.
2. Place of Prayer. Job 28:7-9 reads that there is a path that fowl, vultures, or lions have not seen or known. This path is the prayer path. When we pray the devil will not be able to see us because we are covered under the blood of Jesus Christ.
c. Do the Will of God. Matthew 7:21 instructs us to do the will of God, not simply call His name. Complete surrender to do the will of God is essential to know His will and then do it. Prayer is faith passing into action. Prayer is not to twist God’s arm, but to hold His hand and walk with Him. Many Christians pray to receive something from God such as a good job, financial stability, healing, a good education and career for our children, and the list goes on. Over the past few years, after I received the touch from God, I learned one thing from God. That is, when we pray we must ask for His presence. When His presence comes all our problems will be automatically solved. As the Psalmist says “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” If we follow Him and seek His presence in us, we need not have to follow goodness and mercy, it will follow us. The wealth or health will follow us; we do not have to follow them.
d. Stand in the Hedge. Ezekiel 22:30 states that we should stand in the hedge and pray for the land in which we dwell. When we pray for the land in which we dwell, God will bless the land and thereby our children also will be blessed.
As I mentioned earlier, our children observe us very carefully. I vividly remember how my first son used to imitate me while he was a little boy. When I sat with my legs crossed and newspaper in my hand, my son would also take another paper and sit in the same posture as me, pretending to read. I learned in the early years of my parenting that I must be a role model to my children.
During the past decade of my stay in the United States, I have had the opportunity to talk candidly to some young people of Indian origin. I have outlined my findings in the following sections.
Our young people are fed up of the politics in the church. Our children do not understand the infighting, and to a certain extent slanderous allegations made within the Church while we speak in the sermons and exhortations about brotherly love. Let us therefore sow love where there is hatred. Ask God to give you the strength, wisdom, and courage to show humility, love and compassion to our fellow brothers in the Church. Paul, the apostle writes to Ephesians in 3:8 “Unto me, less than the least of all saints…” One of the greatest scholars known during the early century, the person who wrote 14 of the 27 books in the New Testament, and who was used by God mightily writes that he is less than the least of all saints. A good leader is the one who shows humility, love, and compassion. Before the touch from God three years ago, I could not comprehend this fact. I would always say “The Bible says so, but…” The Lord taught me adding a “but” is not His will. Therefore, I earnestly request my fellow brothers and sisters that the wealth and glamour of living in the United States must not be a factor in showing love towards fellow church members. What we have is because of Christ. What we are is because of Christ. Therefore let us give all honor and glory to Him.
Television is another major factor in the influence of our young people. Many of us like to watch television. However, if we parents watch all the programs on television we cannot tell our children not to do the same. I am not saying that there should be a complete ban on television, but we need to exercise restraint. My television viewing is limited to news and some sports items. I have set a limit on my television time to a maximum of 5 to 7 hours a week including news. I took this decision after my encounter with the Holy Spirit. Apart from that, my family and I view Christian videos and home videos. Be a model to your children in watching television. Spend more time with children in reading, Bible reading, and meditation from the word of God and praying. This will solve many of the problems in raising our children. If you have Cable TV or satellite TV in your home, restrict the incoming broadcasts, using parental V-Chip controls. You can get satellite broadcasts distributed by Christian broadcasters that will weed out many of the questionable programs. According to a local newspaper report, pop music star Madonna made this very fascinating statement after her baby was born. She said, “I am not going to let my child watch any television. Modern television is poison.” Madonna made her millions poisoning the youth of America on the pretext of freedom of speech. Yet when it comes to her own child, she does not want her to watch it. What an amusing contradiction! Oprah Winfrey said recently that she never watches any television shows. When I read this I recalled her own advertisement asking everyone to watch her show. Let us as Christians spend less time with television shows and spend more time with our children enhancing their spiritual life.
As parents we must never criticize our friends, relatives, church members, Pastors, or other sister churches in front of our children. Be kind to others and never be instrumental in creating disharmony within the church. God has been inspiring me to share one verse wherever I go. That verse is from Proverbs 6:16-19, “These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven is an abomination unto him.” The six things are: (1) A proud look; (2) A lying tongue; (3) Hands that shed innocent blood; (4) A heart that devises wicked imaginations; (5) Feet that be swift in running to mischief; and (6) A false witness. But the seventh one is an abomination to him that is, “He that sows discord among brothers.” Abomination means disgusting or loathsome which means God not only hates such a brother or sister, but he or she is disgusting to Him. Our acts of discord not only destroy our childrens’ spiritual life, it is disgusting to God.
Exhibiting Parental Love
We must show parental love to our children. We all love our children, but the variance in exhibiting parental love in our Keralite immigrant families is extremely high. Some of our immigrant parents exhibit love to a great extent, and others do not. However, this is not unique among immigrants alone but is universal irrespective of nationality. Despite the fact that among immigrant Keralites parents work day and night shifts to make good money and offer the best they can to their children, the time spent with their children in their education, outdoor activities, and most importantly in prayer is inadequate. As a result children grow up with the ideas received from television programs and their peers. This dangerous precedent leads to the slow but inevitable destruction of the bond between parents and children.
Worship With Them in English
During my occasional visits to some of our Indian churches I have gone through the ordeal of convincing pastors and parents to worship in English. When I was invited to address the youth in one church, I decided to sing and speak only in English. The youth enjoyed it but the parents were not happy saying “If he were speaking in Malayalam, we would have understood it better.” I responded, “Now imagine what you put your children through when you worship in Malayalam (which the children hardly speak), and ask the children to worship with you. How difficult it must be for them!” Parents, put yourselves in their shoes and try to imagine the ordeal they have to go through! We try to communicate with our children in English, but when worship services are conducted, it is purely for our own needs and not for our children’s needs. Learn some English songs, and try to worship with them in English at home as well as in Church.
Advise to Youth
Your parents may not fathom the complexity and the emotional pain you go through when you struggle to accommodate two cultures. What is the Indian culture? It is not only the food or clothing styles; it is the family relationship, love and respect for your parents, selection of your spouse, and the moral support to your own kin. Your parents work hard day and night to offer you the best they can and often what they could not get in their childhood. Your parents did not have the extensive wardrobe, or the styles and numbers of shoes, or the variety of food you enjoy now. Therefore, they strive to give you what they missed in their childhood. Their struggle to offer you the best often leads to inadvertent omission of establishing a parent-child bond which you long to have. Therefore, respect them for what they do for you.
It may be difficult for you to comprehend the Indian system of spouse selection. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all had their spouses chosen for them from their own group. The objective of the Indian system is for parents to ‘screen’ spousal candidates regarding their spiritual, educational, cultural, family backgrounds and select the most compatible ones for you. The final selection and decision should be completely left to you. Some examples for encouraging this system among Indian youth follows:
Mr. X. grew up in the Church of God. At high school he started dating and fell in love with a girl. The girl was not raised in a Christian home and she was drinking heavily. He said to himself, “I can change her after I marry her. She really needs my help.” After marriage, she continued to drink more heavily. They had a son. When the child was three, she would leave him at home and go to a bar and drink. There were many nights when she would not come home even till 3 or 4 in the morning. Her husband tried his best to change her. Finally, he divorced her. In working closely with him I asked, “Why did you marry such a girl?” He replied, “Because I was stupid.”
Miss. B. is a beautiful young girl who worked for me in my company. She was a good Christian and was attending church regularly. She used to come to work with a Bible and many times we have shared our Christian experiences. One day she met a young man who was in jail for some felony and she spoke to him about God’s love. He was receptive to her. To make a long story short, they fell in love and married. He convinced her that he was a good Christian during their short dating period. A few months later, I saw him with a cigarette in his hand. I warned her about this. As an employer, I could not talk more about her personal matters. Later he started drinking which led to his beating her. This continued for some months and she missed many days of work because of being physically abused by her husband. One day I saw her with a cigarette and her work was poor and her supervisor complained to me many times. Finally, I had to speak with her and her supervisor. I had to give her a strong warning. She became angry and quit. I later learned that her husband and she were drinking together. One day her husband was arrested and was jailed. She put her home as collateral to bail him out. He left town after getting out on bail. The bonding company foreclosed her house.
I have reported just two of the actual cases from the thousands of broken marriages around us. In analyzing these marriages, the common denominator of their failure was wrong choices. The decision was singular rather than collective, based on emotions rather than reasoning. It was not because of the lack of dating. In both cases they dated for more than a year. The individuals in these cases were overwhelmed by emotions that eventually blinded them from searching for the real meaning of marriage that is commitment by two emotionally rational adults. The number of divorces in America can be diminished if parents are involved in the decision making of their marriages. This is why I am a strong proponent of the Indian system of marriages. In my business, I have two Vice Presidents supported by departmental managers. However, when decisions are made, it is done collectively and not arbitrarily by me. Fortunately, I am surrounded by some good Christians and, therefore, our decisions are based mainly on God’s guidance. It is important to bear in mind that in marriages too, a collective rather than an individual decision can lead to a better choice.
The Bible emphatically stresses your obedience to your parents. This is God’s commandment. If you love God and want to be in His presence, you must obey your parents. Only your prayer life can give you the wisdom to make correct decisions. My 21-year-old son prays a minimum of three hours a day. When he was in High School, he used to get up at 5:00 AM and pray till 6:00 AM. He is now an Engineering student at Georgia Institute of Technology. He has disciplined himself to pray at least three hours a day and that is the success of his life. Prayer life alone can give you the success and enable you to make right decisions in your life. The Bible says, “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.” If God is in you, you can have complete victory over all the temptations that the devil will put in your life.
This is the opportune time for all Indian Christians to stand united for a better spiritual life for our next generation. Take this opportunity and act. A sculptor in Europe made a beautiful statue of a lady standing on her toes, ready to run. The inscription read:
Q. What is your name?
A. My name is Opportunity.
Q. Why are you standing like this?
A. Because I am ready to run when someone wants me to.
Q. Why do you have hair in your forehead?
A. Because people can grab me when I come by.
Q. Why don’t you have hair at your back?
A. Because no one can grab me when I pass by.
Parents, Pastors, Church Leaders, take this opportunity to build up your church with the youth. When the opportunity is past, it can never be regained. I pray that God will enable the readers of this book (both parents and their children) to have a successful Christian life.