Discipling through wars and rumors of war (with Vicki Drake)
Russia. China. Ukraine. As international tensions rise, war looms large in our minds. This week we’re joined by Vicki Drake, former editor of God’s Big WORLD, to discuss discipling kids through news of war.
KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. We’re here to come alongside you as you disciple kids and students through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.
JONATHAN BOES: Hello!
KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
JONATHAN: So recently—I think when this comes out it will have been just a little less than two months ago—we passed the year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When I think back to that moment in 2022, when Russia crossed into Ukraine, I remember the buzz in the air, on the news, on the internet. Is this the start of World War III? And since then, tensions have risen.
Jesus tells us to expect wars and rumors of wars. And I feel like that phrase is so apt for what we see in the news all the time today: the literal war raging in Ukraine, and the rumors—Chinese spy balloons, Russian jets taking down U.S. drones. So today’s question is one I often have as a parent, but also as somebody who works here at God’s WORLD News, writing about these things for kids and teens. It’s the question of “How do we talk to kids about wars and rumors of wars?”
And so, to help us tackle this question today, we have a guest with us. It’s somebody with whom our longtime God’s WORLD News readers should be familiar.
KELSEY: Yes. Today we are joined by Vicki Drake, who I first met two days before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. It’s very interesting—my tenure here at GWN started two days before this historic event you’ve just been talking about. So interesting to imagine that, and to connect with someone whose tenure was much longer than mine is so far. We are so thankful for your experience, your 30 years with us at God’s WORLD News. So Vicki Drake, we would love for you to tell us a little bit more about your time and your work at GWN, and also about your family and other experiences that you bring to bear in our conversation today.
VICKI DRAKE: Well, I am a Minnesota native. You may hear it in my voice when I speak. And I have lived in Asheville, North Carolina, for the past 30 some years. So I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life. I am married to a pastor. He is retired now, but he is still serving a small church in Black Mountain, North Carolina. We have four children. Our oldest is a boy, and he and his wife have nine children. And I have to say that they were pretty much my classroom for learning how to write for young children. I also have an unmarried daughter, and one who lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and she has two boys. They’re fraternal twins. If you met them on the street, you would never know they were brothers. They look totally different. Their personalities are totally different. It just looked like they came from two different sets of parents. But it’s fun to have twins in the house. And then our youngest is a daughter too, and she lives near us to us, so we see those grandkids most of all.
I started working for God’s WORLD News back in 1992. And I actually wrote mostly for teachers for the first several years, and nothing at all about the children, because each edition had an editor already. And they didn’t need somebody to step in there. But Joel Belz, ever the thinker, ever the creator, had the idea that we could start to reach out to teachers. And so I wrote for them for several years. And then the gal that had been doing the writing for the youngest children, God’s WORLD News, moved away. And it was getting more and more difficult, because it was before all of the wonderful things we could do with our computers. And so there was a lot of faxing back and forth and things like that. And I think finally, the editor in chief, who was Norm Bomer at the time, decided that he really needed someone in the office. So he started tuning me in, because I had been doing a lot of work with this gal, and I learned by the seat of my pants really, or maybe going back and forth to the fax machine or whatever. But I had paid attention to how she spoke to children. She had taught kindergarteners. And of course, I had taught school too, but I was an English teacher and I taught kids in middle school and high school. So I really had no commerce with teaching younger children, besides having my own, and then of course having grandchildren come along—and those were the kids who really helped me to see what questions they were asking, how they learned. And through trial and error, I think I became fairly good at what I did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Because seeing the world through the eyes of a small child is invigorating. And that’s how I got here. And that’s how I’ve been here. I retired in September, and I’m enjoying a maybe a little more relaxed life. But obviously life intervenes too.
KELSEY: Yes, like us intervening and bringing you in to make you learn something new. Thank you for your willingness to jump into podcasting with us.
JONATHAN: When you thought you were out, we pulled you back in.
KELSEY: And what a wealth of experience. Just hearing you tell your story is such an encouragement to me, to think of the way the Lord has used you, has gifted you, and continued to train you for what He had for you to do for work, and what He continues to have as you mentor us today, through your words on how we connect with our young children. Both Jonathan and I have young children, my youngest being almost eight, Jonathan’s both younger than mine, but close in age. And you help us to think about how to engage these lovely little creatures well, and with tenderness. So, God’s Big WORLD editor—how long did you end up being editor for God’s Big WORLD?
VICKI: I worked for the company for 30 years. And I think for the first 10 years or so, I was either writing exclusively for teachers, or I was being brought in on upper-level writing, maybe the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade level. And then, when the need arose, I of course took over the job of writing for the smallest children.
You have to think about vocabulary. You have to think about the length of a sentence, and you have to think about what they’re thinking about. Again, that’s why my grandchildren were a big help to me during that process. And it was slow learning. My editor had a bright red marker that he used, and I learned that way. It was just like teaching children English. Same kind of thing—we learn by doing.
KELSEY: Yes. You’ve already begun to answer the question I have about what to keep in mind with communication to those younger grades, but particularly fine tuning it towards this topic of war: What do we need to bear in mind when we’re communicating about such difficult topics with kids, in writing or in person?
VICKI: First of all, we tried to avoid that topic with the smallest children, as much as we could. We could talk about soldiers. And we could talk about war in general, but nothing that was going to bring it to close to them—partly, or mostly, because we didn’t want to frighten them. Also, we didn’t know when the parents wanted to introduce the topic to their children. So I don’t remember ever writing anything specifically about a war that wasn’t pretty general in its context, always reminding them that God knows what’s going on. God is in control, and He loves them. And they needn’t be afraid. And that was about the extent of it.
KELSEY: It sounds like the grammar school of our Christian worldview. I hear tenderness towards the heart of the young. And I hear that sense of, the greatest supply they need is that relationship with the Lord, and understanding of His authority and His goodness. What a great reminder. We often talk about the use of the redemptive narrative as a tool we suggest parents employ at home. You’re starting with that understanding of “Who is God?” and “Who is the One who created and sustained all things?” So thank you for driving us right back to the gospel, to our Christian framework.
What are other things that you might begin with? Or how did you handle those conversations even at home with your children? Or what ways might you have used to introduce war to your kids? Maybe not through the news story. Did you have other tools?
JONATHAN: Like you were saying, allowing parents to introduce that topic to their kids. You as a parent, how did you choose to introduce a topic like that to your children?
VICKI: Well, I think you have to listen to your children. They ask questions. Of course, even television news was much more mild I think, when our children were small, and I barely remember those days. But I think the television set wasn’t on very often. So things like that didn’t come up. And I really can’t pinpoint when I might have had to have the opportunity, when my children were young, in school, or even just young at home, to consider that topic. But I do think that children listen very well to other people, oftentimes not their parents. And if they were anything like me, it was easy to sit quietly in a conversation with my grandparents and my parents around a table, not saying anything, but absorbing an awful lot. And so I’m sure that as parents, you might be talking about some of those things you’ve seen or heard, and your kids hear you. And you’re going to have to be willing to let them ask you a question. But you might even start with asking questions of your own, like, what have you heard? What are you concerned about? Are you afraid? Those kinds of things to begin with, I think.
KELSEY: I am so encouraged by that posture. It’s one that I seek to operate with at home. But you support that, you affirm those practices for me, and it holds my heart in ways that I hope we’re able to encourage anyone listening, that these are key practices: the asking of questions, the recognizing that our children are observing and listening. And maybe that also helps us to be conscious of how often we have the TV on, or the screen, the screen in the context.
JONATHAN: When I was growing up, the TV news would be on. But now with social media and everything—there’s a news widget on my phone, and if I scroll the wrong way, no matter where I am or what I’m trying to do, I see the latest headlines. It’s a lot harder to escape even nowadays, especially if your kids are at an age where they’re on social media or on their phones and things like that.
VICKI: And of course, children live in families, and many of them have older brothers and sisters who already are talking about those things in school, or with friends, or whatever. So you kind of have a blank slate, I think, when you have your first child. And then after that, of course, it gets more complicated.
So as I said, allow them to ask questions. And really just try to answer those questions in the simplest way possible, because you don’t want to frighten them. I recall as a child being in school, and we had air raid drills. It was during the time of the Cold War. So war was on our minds. I can picture us in third and fourth grade doing that. It was kind of a novelty, that we could get under our desks, because some of the desks we had were pretty old looking. But there was tension. I think the teachers were just matter of fact. If anything happens, this is what we have to do. I also grew up in tornado country, so we were not averse to fleeing to the darkest corner of the basement in order to sit out a tornado that might be coming through. So that would be something I would compare it to, as a small child, if you have something like that, or hurricanes or something like that, that you could compare it to. But that might be a little over-the-top for a young child. So again, I think don’t come in with both barrels, but just scope cautiously. And sometimes you can give him a really simple answer and your child is content with that and will go away and ruminate on it and come back and ask you another question another time, so that you don’t have to hit them with everything all at once.
KELSEY: We can feel that temptation, can’t we? I know that’s something I’m often doing, trying to download all the information they might need to defend themselves emotionally or mentally. And even in the context you’ve provided today, I’m reminded of something we covered in a recent episode, something we can hardly fathom—that they have to do drills for the potential of shooter incidents in the school. You remind me, through your story, that there have been drills in place that are a part of our practices, and that so much of it has to do with the matter-of-fact posture of the adult who’s engaging.
But there’s also something you mentioned before, about allowing for there to be a degree of separation, or not downloading all of the information at once. But in that degree of separation you mentioned, specifically for our younger ones, we’re talking about a person who’s a soldier, or we’re not going into explicit details of a war that is currently in place. We’re telling aspects of the story, not the full story. It reminds me of something that happens when we read fiction. So just jumping into that place for a little bit, where we talk about that degree of separation, when we read a story that is not detailing the facts, but gives us a chance to become acquainted with the idea of war. I think of Narnia. I think of Tolkien’s works. Each of these paints a picture of what war looks like, and helps us even to grasp that there are just reasons for war, at the same time as there being broken engagement of war. But because it’s not something that is currently occurring in our lives, we can look at it together, shoulder to shoulder as parent and child, and think about it with a little bit less of that anxiety. So you’ve talked a number of times about being aware of the emotional response. Here’s another tool that can help to mitigate those difficult emotions.
JONATHAN: One question I had—and this is getting a little bit more into older children: So what I do at God’s WORLD News, usually I’m writing either for the Kids level or the Teen level. I know your work at God’s Big WORLD was for much younger children, but you as a parent have walked through things like this with teenagers. When we get into the topic of the complexity of war, when we’re dealing with it with the younger children—the Teen level of our magazine really doesn’t go up that far into the teen years, so even a lot of that audience is still children—so we’re trying to paint facts, but not causing anxiety or fear. But we also start touching on some of the more complex issues of war. Just the other day I was writing about this incident where a Russian jet took down a U.S. drone, and how both sides tell different stories about what happened. And maybe Russia is a bad example, because it’s very clear that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is wrong. But so often nowadays, it can be hard to tell when something is a just reason to fight or not a just reason to fight. So I’m wondering if you’ve had any of those experiences of having to deal with that topic with children or teens, of the complexities that come with war.
VICKI: I think we have to remind ourselves, and our older children too, that not all people are like this. We all of course have a tendency, because we’re sinful people. And this is how we act. But at the same time, remembering that, for example, if the children are talking about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, not all Russian people are like this. Maybe a good number of them don’t like what’s happening. Maybe they’re afraid, like we might be. Often, when we’re talking about something like this, we just paint every—you know—Russia is bad. And there are a lot of people in Russia who are not, and certainly there are a lot of people in Russia who are believers, and who know at least to some extent what is happening and don’t understand it. They can be calling out to God right now, asking
“Why are we doing this kind of a thing?” So I think that’s one thing we should keep in mind when we’re writing to kids, not to label everybody.
JONATHAN: I know one thing that was mind-opening to me when I was growing up, when I was a young teenager, was learning about German people who resisted the Nazis in Germany, especially young people like the members of the White Rose, who were college age and younger, writing essays against what the Nazis were doing. Just that remembering, like you said—not all people are the same, even in a nation or under a government that’s doing something wrong. There are people who are still wanting goodness.
KELSEY: And you brought it back to the redemptive narrative. Again, we see that there is depravity or the potential for depravity, sinful acts, in every person—as well as the goodness that is inherent to our being as human beings. So it traces back to creation again, that the Lord made us all as image-bearers, and He has redeemed us to be agents of His goodness in the world.
So you’re tracking us through, you know, there is a complexity as each person lives out a life that began as very good, but has been corrupted by sin. And that as we have our institutions of man, we corrupt those institutions with our sin. And yet there is this mystery you’re running us back to, that when we can’t fathom why there have been these heinous acts, one country’s atrocities against another. Yet there’s goodness within. There’s a group of people who are living out the gospel, and helping to be culture-shapers there. And that is a part of the mystery of the way the Lord works. So you’re driving us back to that mystery, with the complexities of what we see in war.
VICKI: Another thing that we can do is, we can soften whatever may be frightening effects your children are experiencing or thinking about, with reminding them that God has people who are helping in these bad situations. And enumerate them, you know—the people who have taken supplies in, the people who have taken medicine in, the people who have taken refugees into their homes in the different countries surrounding Ukraine—things like that, that remind them God has His hands and His feet on the ground, as well as in our hearts. So we need not fear that either, because there are people there who are willing to help.
JONATHAN: That is so good. Because I think often that thought of, you know, “God is in control” or “God is working”—it can feel kind of nebulous. But when you remember that He called those people that do those good things, when we see people providing aid and helping—that is God at work. And that’s really incredible truth.
KELSEY: So you’re telling the good news, at the same time as telling the bad news. What a joy that we have the privilege of doing that where we stand here at God’s WORLD News, within WORLD News Group—that we have the great privilege of telling the Lord’s best news, of His people who are seeking to live faithfully in these circumstances.
JONATHAN: My wife, Chelsea, who has been writing for WORLDkids for a good 10 years now—she didn’t even know we were talking about this today—but she posted Proverbs 15:30 in our team Slack channel. “Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart and good news gives health to the bones.” And she was saying that, even when the news isn’t good per se, in the work we do we can still have light in the messengers’ eyes. We’re not painting a fake light on, she said, but we’re showing that God really is in control, and that He really does care, and that when we do this, we are giving health and hope to the people who are reading the news, and the kids who are reading the news. I thought that was a really great thought, and it so applies to what we’re talking about now.
KELSEY: It does. And it connects me with that last portion of our redemptive narrative, or the topics of the redemptive narrative, in that we have a hope in something that is yet unseen. And yet, because we’ve seen the Lord’s faithfulness through His people, we know it’s not this hope-against-hope thing, that there is the promise of these days being brought to completion, and that we will be someday in a posture where there will be no more war. I’m already thinking about those rich scripture verses we want to leave you with today. But what a promise, that there is going to be glory—that there’s going to be a time where war is no more.
JONATHAN: So before we wrap up in our usual place of providing you some tools and sharing some scripture supply that relates to this topic—Vicki, thank you so much for being here. We covet your wisdom on this topic of talking to kids. The experience you bring to it is a literal treasure.
So before we end, is there anything else you would like to share with us and our listeners?
VICKI: I would just say that you know your children best. And you certainly have—if you have more than one child—you have different personalities, and different ways in which they process things. And while you want to be proactive, and you want to be able to help them through some of these things, remember that you also have fears—for them, and for yourself. And you also have questions that you cannot answer. So when they ask you a question, and you aren’t sure what the answer is, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Now sometimes that means you can also add, “But we can ask so and so, and maybe he or she can give us some help with that.”
I think that, particularly when we’re new parents, we think we have to know it all, and we have to be able to cover every base. And that’s just impossible. And it gets even more impossible in a household where you have many, many children with different personalities, and each one is going to react to things differently. So of course, you have to be attuned to that. But don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” And then go to scripture, and show them how they can help you with your questions, find some answers. And that is really comforting, that we have God’s word written down, and we can open it up and look at it, and think about it.
So be encouraged, because you’re doing the very best that you can, and God is rewarding you. You might not see it today, but you definitely will see it.
KELSEY: Thank you for helping us plant those seeds of hope, and thoughts that can bear such beautiful fruit as we encourage those practices of even saying, “I don’t know; let’s go find out together,” and affirming the questions that our children come to us with, and maybe drawing them out with questions of our own. Question-asking and being able to say, “I don’t know; this is a mystery”—those are great things.
So some tools to potentially leave you with for fostering those conversations. We talked about a couple books that are fiction books. And I want to say that, another great book for your older kids and teens is All Quiet on the Western Front. We talked about that being an excellent place to also source some material for conversations.
JONATHAN: And I would reiterate: older teens. Be aware, it is a book that does not shy away from the graphic depictions of war. That was the Great War. How old am I? It was World War I. But yeah, it is a powerful book.
KELSEY: And it helps reveal those complexities of whether it was a just war or not. So many questions you can ask in engaging this specific work of fiction. We use a tool to do that, to engage media well. We talked about it in our blog, we’re talking about it in our podcasts, and we’re even modeling it in a very specific episode that I think, at this point, will be coming out sometime after this recording. We use something called the SOAR method, where we ask the questions: What is this about? What do we observe going on? Why did this happen? And how do we respond? So when we’re looking at stories, whether they be fiction, whether they be in the news—sit down, ask those questions with your children, draw them out. Ask them how they’re feeling, as Vicki just encouraged us to remember. Think about the emotional response, along with those mental processes that are going on behind the eyes.
And now that we’ve left you with some of those tools to think about and consider and employ at home, we also want to leave you with provision. So from scripture today, Isaiah 2:4 says: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
JONATHAN: Psalm 46:9: “He makes wars cease to the end of the Earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.”
KELSEY: And from Matthew 24:6-8: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
JONATHAN: Birth pains. When we hear about these things going on in war, and our kids may have questions about it, there’s another spiritual application we can point them to: the fact that—these are evidences of a fallen world—but these are the birth pains that tell us there is another kingdom coming, where there will be no war.
KELSEY: And we’ll be made just like Him, when we see Him face to face. And He will wipe every tear from our eye. So many beautiful promises to help us to gird up our response to the challenges.
So parent, teacher, mentor of children and teens: You are best placed to engage these conversations with your kids. You will have the greatest impact as you nurture their faith and talk about the difficult things. He has placed you there for a purpose, and He has equipped you for the work.
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