Liturgy and literacy amid modern challenges (part 2 with Amy Auten)
We’re concluding our discussion with God’s Big WORLD Editor Amy Auten, and we’re bringing our ideas into the realm of action. What does it look like to protect healthy habits in a world of modern challenges? How can hospitality help?
KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. I’m your host, Kelsey Reed. Today, I’m here with Jonathan Boes and one of our consistent partners in conversation, Amy Auten. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We come alongside parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens as co-laborers. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners. We consider the whole person, promoting growth in knowledge, attitudes, in desires, and in our actions in the world. And we welcome other educators and parents to join the conversation. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to email@example.com.
JONATHAN BOES: Today, we are continuing our conversation, as we are standing at the beginning of the new year, thinking through the modern challenges we face as we try to defend practices of literacy and intentional liturgy in the lives of our kids and students and even in our own lives. We spent last week’s episode talking about some of those good practices and some of those challenges. And now we want to turn our attention forward and talk about what that cultural engagement looks like. How do these things inform our actions in a world of new challenges? And so we’re going to take some of that foundation we built in the last part—if you haven’t listened to that yet, we will link it in the show notes—we’re going to take that foundation and bring it up into the realm of action.
KELSEY: As any good educator knows, we always talk about that cycle, where what we know informs our belief and our heart attitudes, and it works itself out in action. And so when we’re intentional about the things that we’re putting inside of us, when we’re intentional about what we’re reading, the things that we are practicing together as a family, that informs our heart’s belief, our desires, our loves. And it naturally flows out into the way that we engage our neighbor—obviously, our family, first and foremost—the way that we engage the culture around us, how we intentionally shape community. And so some of the questions that we want to pivot towards, in this episode, have to do with that action in the world—that “neighbor love” might be another way to say it. And the question that I want to lead out with is: How did these commitments to increase in wisdom and in stature—to guard our literacy, our liturgies—how do they work themselves out in acts of service in community, in your family? And maybe another way to put it is: How does what you cultivate, in terms of knowledge and values, transform into action?
I, for one, know that we have been in what I would say is a just more anemic period in our family. We’re living in a place that is rural Western North Carolina, where we used to be kind of in a hub—a busy, busy hub of activity. And so it requires greater intention for us to be involved, for us to do what we say we believe. How does that convert not only into the care of family but into, for example, just hospitality? We are aware, there’s about an acre between every house in our little street. For us to make connection with our neighbor, we have to go out, we have to pursue. We didn’t even realize until quite recently that there were other kids in the neighborhood. We’ve been there for like a year and a half. And I’d say it was probably about six months in before we recognize that there were two little girls really close to our youngest daughter’s age. And it was she who really pulled us out into the neighborhood by her social drive. She found the people. And since then, that family, you know, the two little girls in that family are quite often in our home. Whereas like, during seminary days, we had students hanging out at the house all the time at our apartment. It seemed like it was always bursting to the seams, in the age that my husband and I didn’t have kids yet. We had youth over at our house all the time. He was in youth ministry. We had youth spilling out of the balconies just everywhere that you looked. They were up in our house until midnight. It is harder for us to do these things, to express hospitality, to bring people in, to be Christ to them.
JONATHAN: So hospitality—I think everything you were just saying really wraps up into that word, “hospitality.” And pointing back to part one of our discussion, we were talking about carving out those intentional spaces of slowness. And I think hospitality can be a great way to do that, where if you’re the host, it can be a bit hectic, for sure. But especially for the person you invite, it’s like, here is a so-many-hour block of time where all you have to do is come over to my house and be. It’s almost a way to create those spaces for other people. And then it can be that space for yourself, if, you know, if you’re able to relax in that situation. I know for myself, I’m not always the most social person. So sometimes hospitality can come with its own level of challenge and stress. But when you get into that sweet spot of—you invite someone in and create that space together—it kind of holds you accountable to create a space of slowness and connection and relationship. But it also creates that space for someone else, especially like, to be invited in somewhere. And I think we’ve all probably had good and bad experiences of being invited in somewhere. Sometimes you go to somebody’s house, and it feels like there’s some pressure not to—if you have kids, specifically—not to like make a mess or break something. But you know those environments where you come in, and you just feel so loved and like it’s okay for you to be there with your mess, with your kids, like, those can be some of the sweetest spots of rest. And the ability to create that for someone else—it’s such a great way to build that slowness into your life, I think.
KELSEY: And I want to point out, as you start saying those things, I’m reflecting on how I am evaluating what our current expression is, from what we have been able to do in other seasons, and noticing loss, and noticing brokenness, but also hearing just by what you’ve described that any bit of just generous intention, to whatever level it is possible, is one—it’s like the widow’s mite, you know, the offering of something, that the creating a space to whatever capacity we can in the season is what is so beautiful about expressing the Father’s heart. It is never going to be a perfect expression. But is it a faithful reflection of where we are in continuing to say, we want to love. We want to have you in our home. Because the alternative is there, failing to practice it at all. And just like the overabundance of, you know, scrolling, and mind-numbing nature of that, we can lapse into the disuse of certain parts of our brains, in that certain parts of our hearts, and when we lapse into the failure to express, a lapse into a non-expression. There’s almost this comfort zone we’ve created, where it’s harder to break out of and to break the ice on having others in.
AMY AUTEN: One thing that I’m experiencing at this stage of life—I don’t have the younger kids and the non-drivers. We used to be a kind of hub. But that shifted radically when everyone got their license. Instead of me driving kids to the creek, to play in the creek and I read a book, now I’m at home and they’re all gone. So it’s a shift. So I started to realize, we’re frequently all waiting for the person to start with the group text or the email. And suddenly you realize, even if you’re not really comfortable with that role, you should take it on. And it’s so easy to take it on. And so sometimes the baton gets shoved in your hand and you didn’t really expect it, but you’re supposed to have it, and you’re sending out a note to like six moms who are all exhausted. They’ve got laundry all over their beds. They haven’t been out in a month. And saying—and I know that this is a Western luxury—but to be able to say, “Can you meet for pizza anytime next month?” And they all say, “Yep, I’m free the eighth.” And then we all meet. It’s huge. No one has to host. They could, some of them could, but they’re so tired. And so it’s such a joy. And then you all gather. You can be really generous tippers, and you can all, you know, just purge your hearts. Talk about your kids. Talk about work. Talk about, you know, neighbors, church. And then everyone goes home.
And so I’m in a space where that’s happening more. I get to be with these awesome, amazing, tired moms. And another thing that’s been interesting—I often have grappled with this passage of scripture where He says, “When you give a feast, invite the marginalized, the poor.” And I thought, Lord, what does that look like? Because I don’t know many of us doing it, except you go to a parachurch ministry and you jump in with what they’re doing. So I’ve been scratching my head thinking about that a little bit. And I know people who are either in a group home setting or who are housebound, where you start to realize the translation of that passage of scripture could be just organic, like—you can’t get out or you’re desperate to get out, and I have the means. You can meet to create that space. Again, that’s a privilege of having access to restaurants and having the means to do it. And you can—you don’t have to do it every day; you don’t have to do it every week. But even once a month, it creates a space of communion with people who need to get out, who need a rest.
KELSEY: I hear in what you’ve described, I hear just the lens of hospitality in place. And you’re thinking like that. You’re looking through this lens of the consummate host, whether that’s in your home, or whether that is just a space in your heart, that you are looking through these eyes that have been renewed by the Host, you know, the One who prepared a table for us, and that you are able to prepare a space, prepare a table, whether it’s yours, whether that is you know, somebody else’s. One of the joys that we have had, at times, was just bringing a meal that we have prepared to somebody else who we longed to be with, but who had absolutely no energy to be the one who created the meal. And we’re doing that increasingly for Chip’s mom who’s 87. It doesn’t have to be patterned after the way that you’ve done it in other seasons. But what are we, you know, what lenses are we looking through? How does it help us to see the potential, see the opportunity? So I’m really thankful for the way you’re describing different possibilities. You’re imagining different ways of expressing this same heart.
AMY: I love technology in terms of—I go online and order somebody a meal and pick it up and drop it off. Because sometimes your heart’s desire and your actual time resources, they don’t match up. But praise God for technology. And you can still make it happen.
JONATHAN: More redemptive ways to use technology. I mean, I’m thinking of like, there was a time where one of my friends who lives in another state—it was a beloved pet had died. And he was just having a hard time. And we were able to send him like a meal via DoorDash, even though he lived, what, like nine hours away or something. And so yeah, technology can create space for new kinds of hospitality. That’s great.
KELSEY: This care for others—it’s so unique to think about the opportunities and to be able to run just across these wires. I’m just thinking about creating technology, you know, as this avenue that we run across. How can we look for other places that we can run across? When we were preparing for this episode, we started talking about what it means to be Christ to one another, and even more, to be the space, the Temple, because in Him, by His Spirit, we are His dwelling place. We have become the Temple. You had some wonderful things to say that I want to draw out of you, Amy. You were meditating on the person of Anna. Talk to us about that.
AMY: What triggered this scrambling, looking to scripture to find a point of reference to look to as a guide—I was researching an article where the loneliness epidemic is extremely acute amongst the elderly. And so they developed an AI device specifically targeting this audience, to be a companion. But they tried to be intentional. They tried to not give it a face. They said they don’t, they don’t want people to mix it up like it’s a person. But it’s devised and structured to function like a person. It memorizes conversations, it remembers your preferences, so that it talks to you. And we can unpack that, the dangers of that, the perfect companion that never disagrees, that only talks about what you’re interested in. That’s so dangerous, because it’s not how real relationships work. It’s not the push and pull of mutual servanthood. Anyway, I was looking at the epidemic of loneliness. And I was thinking, Lord, what do you, what do we do with loneliness and isolation? And how do we redemptively approach that? And I have empathy for people who would want to entertain getting a robot like that. Because if you’ve been widowed, if you live by yourself, the great absence is—no one’s checking in on you daily. And again, I want to say, this is where technology has made us have expectations that we didn’t have prior. So if I’m living in the prairie days, either my husband and I are passing each other in the field, or I’m seeing him at the end of the day. But with a phone, spouse or a best friend is checking in you on multiple times a day. Well, take away that spouse, take away a friend, if you lose a friend to cancer or you lose your spouse, your phone goes silent. Suddenly, no one’s checking in. So that makes a robot very appealing. This “How was your day? How are you doing? Did you remember to take your medicine?” This is what these robots do. So thinking, yeah, what do you do if you’re older, and maybe you’re home or homebound because of disabilities? And I was looking into scripture, and I looked at Anna, who was a widow for a long time. If you remember the dates on her, she was only married for like seven years. And it says she’s always worshiping. I love that. They say that she’s always worshiping with fasting and prayer in the Temple. It didn’t occur to me until I read this article that it says she’s in the Temple. And I just thought, she’s in the Temple to be near God’s people. She’s not just worshiping God, but she wants the communion of His people. So I thought, what does it look like for us, if we’re in these spaces where we’ve had deep loss, or not in as much communion with people as we want to be? How do we function biblically? And we avail ourselves of the gift of the church and each other. And we, as you said, we are all the Temple.
KELSEY: I think of the scaling again, you know, to what level can we engage? We talked again, in part of this preparation for this episode, what it means to be overwhelmed by the yawning need before us. And it can just, as you know, New Year’s resolutions and trying to take on good practices, we can feel ashamed as we fail them. And we can be stymied by that shame, instead of just what it means to put that small amount of action towards an intention, to get the ball rolling, to overcome the inertia as it were, and seek the first step of faithfulness. I think that one of the major ways that our enemy foils us is that He comes against us with accusation. “The Accuser” is one of his names, the Adversary. One of the ways that he wins in his work against us is this inflaming of shame to the place where we are just frozen in place, paralyzed, to where we won’t even make one small step. So I want to just ask the question for all of us, as we are talking about it, as we’re listening: What does one small step of faithful action look like in this month? In February? In March? One small step of faithfulness today. So, as we think about that, with intention, one of the things that I just am desperate to do in our lives is make another small step of faithfulness towards my husband’s mom who is widowed and 87. How can I increase my intention towards her this month? What are some other things that as we look around at the world around us, as we think of some of the responses that we see in our biblical characters of being in the Temple, or being the Temple? And I love this. I’m going to give this hint even to my question as we think about worship and prayer and hospitality and being Christ to one another. What are some other ways that we can hang some intention onto these themes?
JONATHAN: Something that’s been big in my life has been finding a way to serve in the church, and even ways that you don’t always serve. So I’ve done music in church a lot throughout my life. This past year, I did some children’s ministry stuff for the first time, which is really great stretching. And something I love about the church where we are now, you know, we’re going to an Anglican Church here in Asheville. My daughter, she now serves as an Acolyte. You know, the church we’re in, they really believe that kids can be involved in serving, not just because it’s cute or something, but because they are part of the church. And so if there are ways for your children to be involved in the church like that, not just as receivers, but as people who are giving their service to the church, that can be a huge thing as well, to carve out those ways to serve the church and be in the community of God—not just as consumers, where you go in and, you know, get your sermon download or whatever, but as a two-way street of giving and receiving, serving and receiving.
KELSEY: I so resonate with what it means to equip our children to see that every little thing that they do also has profound impact, like we’re not making the challenge so great, the offering so huge, that it is inaccessible, even to our youngest. You know, where they can see that their smile is hugely impactful to the others around, that just hearing a child’s voice on the phone is a big deal for a grandparent. And so thank you for helping us to scale these things, in remembering that we can make the obstacles great. If we somehow inflate what has to be done by us in our own mind, we’re also placing obstacles in front of our children, for engaging these acts of beautiful fellowship, service, the heart of hospitality towards another. I’m thinking about some of the ways that educators in the classroom might also be able to foster some of these practices. And again, I think it’s a good moment for talking about this, because we need to scale things appropriately, so that they don’t become, you know, undoing it, because we’re trying to do such a huge project, take on such a huge project that we don’t even make it anywhere, it doesn’t get out the gate. How would you recommend that we even think about transferring some of these ideas into the classroom?
AMY: One of the first thing that comes my mind—classroom student projects, which I feel like, it can be a default project and feel kind of like, “Oh, we’ve already done that.” But I just want to say it’s timeless, and it always benefits in my experience, is handwritten notes. Handwritten cards. Someone recently wrote me a handwritten note, and I had forgotten what a privilege it was to open the letter and see the scrawl of cursive. And the time and again, intention that went into that, and then I reciprocated, and just the process of it encapsulated much of what we’ve talked about. I had to do remembrance, because I was reflecting on some experience. And then I was reflecting on some things related to, of course, the Lord. And just again, like my son had said, writing a paper on a book was vital for his comprehension of the meaning. Writing a letter has so many layers of power for both the writer and the recipient. So writing letters is huge of encouragement. I think of the redemptive work that kids do when they all gather on a road to clean it up, that not only are they making something beautiful again, but usually there’s banter along the way. When you’re outside together, when we do food drives, and everyone brings in a canned good, and if you’ve ever packaged up boxes at a community center that’s doing that—again, it’s not just the canned food. There’s a community factor happening amongst the people who are present. There’s always so many layers. This is how God designs it. When we’re doing something redemptive, He gives, He surprises us with all the layers of what He’s accomplishing in it, that you couldn’t have anticipated.
KELSEY: I’m thankful that while we’ve talked about the beauty of the immediacy of being able to text or call, that I think sometimes there’s this interesting thing that happens there too, that it’s like, oh, we don’t write anymore because, you know, what people really want is to know right now that they’re being thought of, that I’m thinking of them. And so we, I think—at least I do—undervalue the writing because I think the immediacy is what’s more important. Whereas we are, again, kind of creating and multiplying the beauty and the intention and the power of something when we write it, because we were thinking about somebody days before, and then it arrives on that day, you know: How are we creating more space, amplifying the value?
JONATHAN: I feel like some of the most redemptive ways I have found to use digital communication is, you know, as a way of facilitating or leading to something outside of the digital. So like, using Facebook to organize a book club, using a text to invite somebody into hospitality, or even—I worked for a church for a season, running media and things and, you know, church social media stuff. I was always trying to figure out, how can I structure posts for the church in such a way that it doesn’t just leave people on Facebook, but makes them want to come and be part of something actually happening and embodied? And so I’m always thinking, how can we use these modern digital methods, that are so immediate, as a way to facilitate something more person-to-person? I think there are lots of good ways to do that. And sometimes even like—I have a hard time psyching myself up to write a letter. But I think there’s a lot of power in just sending an invitational text to hospitality, because it kind of locks you in, right? Like, if I feel really inspired to be hospitable in a moment, I might feel tired later. But if I shoot a text now and invite someone over, then I’m locked into it. It doesn’t matter how I feel later. Accountability for yourself. So I don’t know. I love what you’re saying. And I’m wondering, you know, if there are ways that we can redemptively use those more immediate forms, sometimes, to push into a slower form of hospitality and connection.
KELSEY: Such a great way to foil the algorithm, with social media, you know, definitely being designed at this point, or operating at this point, to try to keep your attention online. We have found the way to foil the social media algorithm. I’m just going to put my attention elsewhere or use this to divert our attention and energy back to where we really longed for it to be, which is in the personal, right? I know that this is kind of going back to some of those things of writing. But one of my intentions for this year, that converts into the physical is actually to write more. And my daughter, my artist daughter, gave me a fountain pen. I used to write with a fountain pen when I was in school in Dublin. That was what everybody used. That’s how we took our notes. The feel, and the just glide of the fountain pen is bar none. I mean, it is excellent. And I want to use it. I want to use it to interact with my daughter, who I’ve left some journal prompts behind for her to read her devotional for the morning and for her to interact with the thing that I’ve left behind which—I can’t be there with her today, but my handwriting can, and my pen facilitated it, gave me joy, and made me sit down and intentionally create space for her that is still very personal space. So we’re now talking, you know, about the blend between the digital and the analog, but we can continue to use these things towards the increase of just action and service and to see it bear fruit and how we show up, and what’s going to happen when we show up. I also really appreciated what you were saying about— while I was talking about scale, and I was saying that, hey, don’t let a big project overwhelm you—when you started talking about doing things in the classroom, I also realized, you know, you had 20 students. You’re immediately bringing something that might have been small and multiplying it by 20. So do start small, but then think about the exponential impact, that receiving 20 cards, just—that’s huge. So I’m just thankful for the opportunity to put some legs on my thinking.
There was another thing that we talked about in preparation that I want to pull out because it’s current. It’s related to the things that we’re writing about, related to the things that we’re seeing in the news. And that’s thinking about children in the foster system. I think, Jonathan, you were the one who wrote this article.
JONATHAN: Yeah, we covered it on WORLDkids over Christmas break, a story just about these Christian families picking up the ball in terms of taking in foster children who have been separated from their parents for whatever reason, at the U.S./Mexico border. And the stories kind of highlighting the faith that motivates these families to do this, but also the need for even more people to do this. Because, you know, some of these kids, it’s a situation where they might just be separated for a little bit. And some of the kids, there’s no telling how long it will be. One of the girls in the story, she was separated from her father on the journey to the border somewhere in a desert. And it’s like, she doesn’t know if she will see him again. It was just highlighting the need to bring in these children to create not just—one of the things that really stood out to me in this was that it wasn’t just a matter of meeting their basic needs. But it was the idea that giving them a safe and loving place, creating that safe foundation for them to acclimate to a new culture, to learn a new language. It kind of set the foundation for everything else they needed to succeed in life. And what I loved was that the family highlighted in this article, they rooted their work in that biblical idea of “whatever you do to the least of these, you’re doing it to Christ.” And I just thought that was so powerful.
KELSEY: As we think about that, I just want to return us to Anna, and think about how she engaged, went to the Temple, worshiped, prayed, to remind us again that as we face some of the great challenges in our culture, that the needs of children—the crisis, really, that we need to call what is going on with abortion in our country—that what it looks like for us to engage with intention often needs to be about that reorienting of our hearts towards worship and prayer, that we would ask the Lord, how can I engage in this area? How can I show your value of life? How can I come alongside others? What can I do, and at the level that you equipped me to do it? Yes, you know, we pray for growth, we seek to engage in these areas that are challenging. And with those challenges, that is what will bring our growth. But we ask the Lord. We don’t just jump in and wear ourselves out and maybe even lose our own family members in the process. We ask the Lord to open our eyes, to equip us, to place us where we need to be placed, to come alongside others, to be His hands and feet.
AMY: I like what you said, that you had been doing ministry with children. And I feel like a lot of people with young kids are already exhausted. And so it’s a real push. It is a real push. But I had just listened to a sermon this week where Jesus is rebuking the disciples who are shooing away parents because they’re bringing babies and little ones to be blessed by Him. And His emphasis was, you must become like children to enter the Kingdom, and the beauty of children is, they’re all need. And that’s the gospel. So working with children is such a privilege, whether you’re a parent, or you’re ministering in the church, or you’re a teacher in the classroom, because they’re so modeling deep need. And they’re showing forth that we don’t have all the resources, and everyone’s so dependent on Christ. It’s such a gospel space. I worked at a preschool daycare during the summer when I was about 16. And I remember I was just impulsively—we were on the playground, you know, for just a brief recess, and I swung a kid way up in the air and plopped them down. And suddenly I looked up and a line had formed, that fast. And now, like, I get to do the whirly gig for each kiddo. They just—they spotted the engagement. And then I remember another time, I was sitting down to rest because, you know, the adults get pooped and the kids have never-ending energy. And the kids who are so hungry will forfeit play to sit by you and have you hold their hand. Like, you’ll see it. You’ll see who has the need. And any parent who’s tired knows that if you’re strategic, if you say in your mind, “Okay, if I give my child a focused 10, 15 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted, no-phone play, that will deeply satisfy their hunger.” And we’ll all walk away and be able to do other things. But children are so hungry, so needy on so many levels, and we with our distractions can get so divided. But the ministry of intention, of presence, and the gospel space God creates with children is so powerful.
JONATHAN: That, to me, brings to mind a little bit of what we were saying in our last part about—you’ll have to go on a little bit of a connective journey with me here. It makes sense in my head, I just need to make it make sense coming out of my mouth. Story of my life. But in our, in our last part, we were talking about the chaos of life and carving out space for intentional times, even when the house is messy, and the kids are loud, and you don’t feel like it, and you’re tired—operating out of that need, in the context of hospitality. I think that’s another big thing, because you’re talking about how so often we’re serving even when we have that need in us. And that’s actually—that can be one of the best places to serve, whether inside or outside of the house. And there can be this sense that, in order to serve in a capacity in the church, or to invite people into my home, I need to have myself spiritually altogether. I need to have the house clean, or my kids needs to be well behaved, somehow. (No, they’re great kids. I’m just being silly.) But inviting people into your chaos and into that space you’ve carved out in your chaos—it’s a great testimony to the fact that it allows you to let somebody inside of your armor and show them that they don’t need to have up armor. And it can be a great testament of the gospel, just to be willing to serve and invite, even when you don’t have it all together yourself, and even when you are in need.
KELSEY: I really appreciate that connection. And I don’t know what you’re talking about in terms of needing to figure out the connected dots out loud. I don’t resemble that at all, or resonate with it for that matter. Ha ha. But I am reminded in what you are saying, this welcoming people into our messy process, that what we’re doing is we are not pointing to ourselves. We’re not pointing to our gifts. We’re not pointing to our ability to love. We are being those transparent vessels, those broken vessels—that’s why we’re transparent, it’s because we’re broken—that point to the light that’s in us, that we can’t hold inside, partly because of being broken. It’s going to break out forward, radiantly, I pray.
And so as we wrap up some of our thoughts today, I want to turn us to that passage in 2 Corinthians that comes to mind. 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” This life that we live in the flesh is challenging. Learning how to create these spaces with intention, stumbling along in this messy, almost always chaotic way of striving after Christ, to follow in His footsteps, to grow in wisdom and in stature—it’s a fumbling. And yet, He is with us in it, and He’s pleased with us. And by His Spirit, He equips us. He has equipped you for the work.
We’re concluding our discussion with God’s Big WORLD Editor Amy Auten, and we’re bringing our ideas into the realm of action. What does it look like to protect healthy habits in a world of modern challenges? How can hospitality help?
Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.
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See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.
- Listen to part one of our discussion here.
- At WORLDkids, read “Foster Families Needed.”
- Opportunities to care for the poor and needy are closer than you think. Watch this video from Crossway.
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