Mission Possible: Helping Our Children Encounter Christ

By Peter & Debra Herbeck


There have been so many important and poignant “firsts” in our children’s lives, but some of the ones I, Debbie, recall the most were about “coming home.” I remember the first time Sarah, our eldest, walked home alone from the corner bus stop in first grade, and when she got her driver’s license, and a week later her first car accident when she was rear-ended turning onto our street. I remember when Michael made his first twelve-hour road trip home from college and when Rachel flew home after a semester in Rome. I remember waiting at the baggage claim for Josh to come home after his first deployment in the army. In all these circumstances and more, all I could think of was wanting them home, safe and sound.

As parents, we have many plans and desires for our children, but God our Father has only one ultimate goal: to get every beloved son and daughter safely home, to live with Him in heaven for eternity. It is easy to lose sight of this supreme goal amidst the pressing demands of life, and especially within a predominantly secular culture that is increasingly averse to a Christian worldview and an eternal perspective. But nothing else is more important to our Lord, and ultimately nothing else should be more important to us.

The Church exists to evangelize—it is her deepest identity, and her mission is to make disciples. The family is described as the domestic Church because it is the first place where young, baptized Christians learn about their faith. “In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children.” Every domestic Church has a mission and a responsibility right within the family to make disciples and thus lead souls to heaven. The biblical understanding of a disciple is someone who follows Jesus, learns from Jesus, and conforms his or her life to the words and ways of Jesus. A mature disciple makes a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be a follower of Jesus Christ no matter the cost to oneself.

Although Peter and I have been actively involved in ministry and evangelization in the Church our whole married life, we recognized early on that our mission begins at home, that our own family is our primary field of evangelization. We understood that we weren’t just raising our children to be responsible citizens or good people. Our intention was to help them become disciples and saints. Quite honestly, at times we had to fight hard to keep our focus and efforts there. I remember times as a young mother when I struggled to balance the hiddenness of home life and a desire to be “doing more for God.” One day in prayer, Jesus spoke clearly to my heart: “If you evangelize the whole world, and you have not done your part to help your own children know Me, you have not fulfilled your vocation as their mother.” There were also times when Peter decided to cut back on travel in order to be more present and available to us.

An inspirational model that reminds us of our role as parents is St. John the Baptist. He was never confused or distracted from his primary purpose: to prepare the way of the Lord (Matt 3:3). Our family life must be a highway for our God—a place we prepare for the coming of the Lord, where He dwells and where faith is living and active. We must proclaim and teach God’s truth to our children with clarity. Today, in our postmodern culture where religion is no longer considered the single defining source of truth and reality, this requires courage and conviction, especially when we feel like John the Baptist—alone voice crying out in the wilderness. Although the culture is changing rapidly, the current condition of our world was prophetically articulated and assessed by Pope Benedict more than twenty years ago:

In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. . . . The real problem at this moment of our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.

Currently, the culture is shaping the next generation’s understanding of the faith far more than their faith is shaping their understanding of the culture. As the mother of four adult children and grandmother of ten little ones, and with forty years of youth ministry under my belt, I believe with great conviction and urgency that if we aren’t intentionally and actively helping our kids know and love Jesus personally, the secular world with its radicalized relativism and individualism will eagerly take our place as the loudest and most influential voice in their lives.

The call to evangelize our children can seem daunting and we often feel ill-equipped. It takes a plan and an understanding of what is needed to help our children at various ages encounter Christ and grow in their personal relationship with Him. It requires determination and perseverance to execute that plan together as parents. But we must also remember that it doesn’t just depend on our schemes and efforts; there is no foolproof formula for raising holy kids. We are cooperating with God’s grace in their lives and our “work” includes praying for them, asking the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, and entrusting them to His merciful love. Without prayer, our human efforts are limited, and we can easily fall prey to discouragement and fear.

A part of Peter’s conversion that touches me so deeply is the story he tells about his own mother and the power of prayer. He has many childhood memories of seeing his mom praying the Rosary daily in her chair in the den and seeing her kneeling by her bed in prayer when he snuck in late at night during his wayward teenage years. The eternal destiny of her seven children and her beloved alcoholic husband weighed heavily on her heart, and she brought each one to the Lord and to His Mother daily. When Peter had a dramatic conversion experience at a large Catholic conference in Notre Dame’s football stadium, it was his mom who greeted him as he arrived home in the early morning. They stood in the kitchen together, and as Peter searched for the words to describe that life-changing personal encounter, he began to cry. His diminutive mom wrapped her arms around her teenage son and said, “Peter, you don’t have to explain. I’ve prayed for this your whole life!” Dorothy Herbeck’s perseverance in daily intercessory prayer for her family bore great fruit. Today, many of her seventy-three children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are living for the Lord. At age ninety-three, her prized rosary was handed on, and she took her place among the great cloud of witnesses who are interceding and cheering us Home.

PETER HERBECK is the Executive Vice President and Director of Missions for Renewal Ministries. Peter is the co-host of the weekly television show The Choices We Face and the host of the daily radio show Fire on the Earth. He is a frequent conference speaker and is the author of When the Spirit Comes in Power and co-author of When the Spirit Speaks and Touched by God’s Word, with his wife Debbie. Peter holds a BA in Philosophy from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota and an MA in Theology from Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. 

DEBRA HERBECK is the Founder and Executive Director of Pine Hills Girls’ Camp and is also the Founder and Leader of Be Love Revolution, a ministry that exists to help young women encounter Christ and be His love to all they meet. Debbie has written several books and is a frequent author and speaker for Blessed Is She and contributing writer for Undone: Freeing Your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame. Debbie and Peter live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have four children and ten grandchildren.

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Ask any married couple about the challenges of sharing life together and you’ll hear a litany of interpersonal issues. Communication, wounds, and hardships can weigh heavily on husbands and wives. Today, add the external pressures from living in a hostile, anti-Christian, anti-family culture. Without a firm foundation, couples can collapse under these difficulties.

The good news is that through the Sacrament of Marriage God gives husbands and wives all the grace they need to overcome even the insurmountable. Drawing from the wisdom gained from their own thirty-five years of marriage, Peter and Debra Herbeck guide couples in strengthening their bond of marriage through the limitless grace offered to all by Christ.

In Lessons from the School of Love: Cultivating a Christ-Centered Marriage, fortify your marriage with encouragement and scriptural wisdom as you learn how to approach your spouse with the love and respect that will transform their heart—and your own!