The Service Oriented Homeschool


This time of year it seems there are so many service opportunities from soup kitchens to Operation Christmas Child to nursing home visits. However, God has been prodding me, raising my desire to raise my boys with servant’s hearts. He is teaching me that service projects are only a drop in the bucket, and I’m so excited about what I’m learning.

You see, having a servant’s heart isn’t just about a weekly visit to a shut-in or a yearly gathering of canned goods for the hungry. It’s about a way of life. That’s part of why I love homeschool. All of these important lessons that you can’t learn from a book, or in some cases even the best pre-planning are far more accessible in a lifestyle that revolves around learning. Let me share what Jesus is teaching me about making our homeschool service focused.

Like most things in life, a servant’s heart is caught and not taught. I can tell my boys about serving others, but it’s seeing things in action – the examples I set, that encourage this spirit of truly caring for others. Even the simple act of writing a sympathy letter (yes snail mail) shows my kids that the tears of others matter.

A servant’s heart springs from a willing spirit. I am going to regularly start praying with my oldest (Samuel, 3 years old) asking God to open doors for us to serve. Then we will look and listen. I think I will make it into a game. Let’s see if God can work through us to help at least one person from Sabbath to Sabbath. Our ears will be open as we listen for opportunities to act and not just hear the needs around us.

Living a life of service requires sacrifice. The sacrifice may be money, time, or something all together different. Sacrifices are never easy, but I’m sure as we start to make little sacrifices, it will quickly be apparent that the payoff is far more than could be expected.

As God has been teaching me these things, I’ve gotten increasingly excited about homeschooling the boys. The flexibility of a homeschool is the perfect place to teach service. We can forego school work for someone in need. We can turn an impromptu service project (like growing flowers, cooking a meal, shopping for clothes, etc) into an educational experience. The most exciting thing is that this kind of school is the kind that will really make Jesus smile.

How about you? How does homeschooling help you foster servant’s hearts in your children? How can you make your homeschool one that cares for the needs of God’s children?


*This is an encore blog post. It was originally written and posted to our blog by Laura Byrd in December, 2013.

International Service — A Personal Outlook

Malawi Camp GLOW

My girls and I at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Malawi

From the age of nine through my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to go on six short-term mission trips. In my junior year of college, I studied abroad for a few months. After college I lived in Malawi for a year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer. I am here to share with you my experiences.


A Sabbath afternoon hike to a cave in Honduras

I always had a burning desire to travel. I thought it was a glorious thing! Travel is still wonderful, but I’ve learned the value of the closeness of family and friends, and that I don’t need to go far, far away to be “valuable” or “successful.” I’ve proven my independence and have learned a great deal about myself in the process.

An article by Tarja Parssinen, entitled “We’re not meant to do this alone: American individualism is destroying our families,” had a quote to which I related: “It’s as if Americans must always be Lewis and Clark on a brave embarkation, and if we’re not, we are provincial, frightened, and uneducated. Unlike our ancestors, young people today are not concerned with America’s place in the world. Instead, we ask ourselves, ‘What is my place in the world?’”

I definitely started out being a stereotypical American individualist, but now value and respect the collectivist culture of other countries. Probably I still have individualist qualities, but I think I have achieved a balance, and that is always the preferred state with most things.


Buying greens at the local market in Malawi

If you ask, “Should I send my kid on an overseas mission trip?” I would 99 percent of the time say “Yes!” But, it may not be for the reasons you would expect. Yes, it is for an honorable cause, to help the less fortunate, but that isn’t the only reason, nor is it the most significant thing that will happen. There is no way that a person can go into this type of service without coming out changed. The opportunity to see a new way of life, have a new cultural experience, make lots of new friends, and learn to love the unpredictable…is priceless.

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There were so many incredible experiences and learning experiences:

  • Not ever being sure of how things would work out, but they always would
  • Having faith in my fellow man while hitchhiking in Africa
  • Driving, seemingly aimlessly, around the savannas of Guyana in the middle of the night
  • Sleeping on a very narrow wooden church pew on a hot night with mosquitoes buzzing around
  • Washing girls’ hair with a water hose, treating for lice, and giving them pretty new hair clips and combs
  • Being put under house arrest while under the investigation of Hugo Chavez’s government
  • Backpacking, just able to put one foot in front of the other

Things didn’t always go according to plan, but those were some of the most memorable experiences.

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Hiking Mt. Roraima on the Venezuela side

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I made it to the top!

Sometimes I look back and wonder what it was that I accomplished? Well the truth is this — maybe not much. But, that’s okay. Sometimes we have to lower our expectations. That’s not something you typically tell your children. Usually parents say, “You can be whatever you want, you can reach the stars,” which is an awesome, positive message and should be encouraged. The thing is…you can’t expect to always achieve whatever it is you set out to do. It may be that you started out with unrealistic expectations, not through any fault of your own, just that you didn’t have the whole picture. It could be cultural differences, not taking into account the other “human” factors in the equation, or that God had a different plan. I may never be able to measure my impact on others, but I know that my life was changed, in a big way, by the gracious people who befriended me.


Waiting for a ride to my village in Malawi

I look back on all the mistakes I’ve made, and one specific incident sticks out in my mind. I was a speaker for an evangelistic series in the Ukraine when I was 16. I was so nervous at one point that I skipped an entire page of slides of essential information on the topic “Who is the Beast?” I can only pray that God blessed this talk in His own way. Maybe it did have an impact on someone, but I won’t find out until heaven, and it will certainly not be to any “glory” of my own.


Teaching a health lesson in Malawi

Some trips were very adrenaline filling, especially the short term trips where we rushed in to “save the world.” At one point on a trip, we had kids lining up for our autographs! And, we obliged. Looking back on that, was that really the message we were there to send? Probably not. But, it’s easy to get caught up in the glory of being a “famous American.” And yet, the job isn’t always glorious. On one trip I remember being stuck on the clean-up crew after meals instead of being at the job site. In naivete I complained that I should be able to help with the “real work.”


Hanging out and eating sugar cane in Malawi

Additionally, there was often a layer of hidden danger that, as a naive traveler, I was unaware of. There were forces at work to stop the job we were there to do. In a way this goes to show that God was using us to do His good work.

  • Priests from other churches working to shut us down
  • Being accused of spying for the U.S. Government
  • Kids chasing us with rocks because they wanted more candy (because they were hungry, and the only way to cut that hunger was by sniffing airplane glue)

There was even more danger to workers who lived in the countries we visited. Soon after a trip to the Ukraine, we found out that the pastor we had worked with was shot and killed by one of the teenage boys we had come in contact while there. The struggles are real: drugs, spiritual war, poverty, poor hygiene, lack of water, and on and on. We take many things for granted in everyday life. Once in a while a reality check can be very grounding.

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A village girl in Venezuela

Preparing for experiences like these are impossible. Even if I knew then what I know now, I doubt it would have changed any of my decisions. That is a blessing. I value all the friends I made, all of the “unknowns,” the tough adventures.

My message to you is this: Find a purpose in whatever it is you are tasked to do, and relish the experience.

Nature-based Service

One thing we are working on as a family is having a servant’s spirit. Service projects are a good way to keep that thought in the forefront of our minds. I really wanted to stick with our outdoor nature theme even in the service opportunities. These are a few things we have done or plan to do in the future.


Visit an animal shelter to pet cats or walk dogs: Don’t you just feel so sorry for the poor little animals that don’t have homes? My heart aches thinking about the homeless creatures biding their time at shelters. Not long ago, we went to Safe Place for Animals in Gallatin, TN. My kids were too young to walk dogs, but we were able to give some love to the many cats who craved attention. We pet, cuddled, scratched, and played with them for quite a long time and still couldn’t satisfy their need for affection. We had cats jumping on us, climbing us, and following us around from room to room. It was a great adventure and simple outreach that was therapeutic for us too! In my opinion, there’s nothing better than running your hands through soft and fluffy fur. Purring never hurts either.

Set up habitats for the wild things: Put out a salt lick. Create shelters. Feed the birds. Even leaving shrubs and grasses untrimmed for the winter can provide shelter for God’s creatures in the cold winter months. There are many do-it-yourself recipes for feeding birds and other animals to be found on Pinterest. Also, we got a great little book from the library that had some simple but excellent ideas of things to do for animals in the winter (click).

Gardening… with the purpose of sharing in mind: What if we grew a sharing garden, planting an abundance to be shared with neighbors or whomever God leads us to? Or better yet, invite friends who don’t have space for a garden to come help and learn to grow food, giving them some of what they’ve grown as a reward. Either way, it’s sure to be a blessing.

Animal therapy: Another opportunity to bring sunshine to someone’s life is through the power of pets. There is training and certification necessary to be able to take your pet to visit someone, but what a fun project and accomplishment that would be for a homeschooler. For more information about requirements to become a therapy animal handler, check out Pet Partners (click).

Pick up litter: This can be at a park or just along your street. Though not glamorous, this is one that can be easily done with all ages. It’s simple, doable, and we have even found a few treasures along the way.

Volunteer in nature: For older kids, nature-based places to volunteer could be a zoo, nature center, a ranch or stables, a farm, or a place that provides equine assisted therapy. Paradise Ranch is one such place that provides therapeutic riding for people with disabilities, and accepts volunteers ages nine and up (no experience necessary) for various jobs. Check out more about Paradise Ranch here (click).

Lead a nature walk: My daughter came up with the idea to give woods tours at our home. While we still haven’t worked out all the logistics, I think it’s a great idea! Wouldn’t it be fun to invite families who don’t have the opportunity to live in the country or get out in nature often to come on a woodland exploration, and to share fun facts about what they see? Having this goal in mind has also encouraged research, observation, and working on presentation skills in my own children. Win-win.

Give a virtual nature walk: If people can’t come to you, why not bring nature to them via video chat? This could be an amazing opportunity to reach out to someone who is in the hospital, in a skilled nursing facility, or homebound, so can’t get out in nature to enjoy it’s benefits. What joy can be brought simply by sharing the nature God has given us — even over the internet. For inspiration, check out Virtual Photo Walks, a unique nonprofit.

While nature itself is inherently giving, we can do our part of showing love for our Creator by being of service to others through nature. I’m sure there are many more ideas I haven’t thought of and would love to hear from you. What are some nature-based service projects you have tried?

What are you doing to get youth involved in your church services?

I wonder if all churches have the same problem ours does — th2013-05-04 11.10.45at is, where are the youth? Well, OK, many youth during the school year are away at academies, or so you might think. But, in reality, at most only a few families have chosen to send their youth to boarding school. This school year, we have one from our church at the academy; we had only one last year, and that was only part of the year. Does that mean we have a small church? No, we are one of the five largest congregations in the state! So, where are the youth?

Working at summer camp? Well, possibly, but camps don’t run all year.  So, where are our youth?

In the case of our congregation, they simply don’t come, or if they come, they wander around the church or gather in the parking lot to talk; they don’t participate in the church service. Why?

The answer is simple. There is nothing that attracts them.


In our church, what few youth we do have in our congregation tend to migrate to other Adventist churches which have dynamic youth leaders with great programs. That is all well and good, and I’m glad to see they are welcomed and appreciated, but what about our congregation? Even I have had to keep very close eyes on my son and redirect him to the church service at hand when he is distracted by his disinterested friends (on the few occasions they do come to church).

Have you encountered, “I don’t deal with youth well.” Or, “So-and-so can do it, I just don’t have the time.” Or, “My kids aren’t that age, so I have no interest.” Or, “I’ll help if someone else leads out.” I thought so — because not only have I encountered it, I must admit, I have said it.

So, what we have done to change that? My family and I have begun using video cameras and young people (pre-youth age) as our camera crew. About six or seven years ago, the church purchased a couple of cameras and a camera switcher (known as the Tri-Caster). For six months those cameras remained unused, until my husband pushed the church board into providing additional funding to wire the church so we could connect the cameras to the Tri-Caster to use them for our church services.

After a few trial-and-errors, and a lot of desperate attempts to recruit adult help, I finally turned to our pre-youth young people. They were eager and excited! I did have to convince a few very skeptical board members, but with the head elder on my side, we moved forward. Very quickly I had more kids than positions, so I set about making new positions! Over the course of the two-and-a-half years we’ve been using kids, it has been amazing to see what has happened. Families are becoming more involved. One family (and this is a story in itself*) is now involved with Pathfinders and teaching Primary.  Another young person, now a youth, is in academy at her request after spending all her previous school years in public school. Our camera crew kids include those who were naughty and troublesome before, but now are striving to become leaders and positive role models.


Our congregation is giving each of these crew members not only the video skills they are gaining, but also leadership, organization, accountability, and, most importantly, a feeling their church accepts them and loves them.

So, what are you doing to keep your youth, or youth-to-be in your congregation?

*That family that is a story in itself? I didn’t even intend to ask that boy at the time, but I did due to a misidentification. You see, we had two kids, siblings, whose dad had recently passed away. Our head elder had asked me to specifically ask these two kids to be a part of the crew to help them deal with the grief of their dad’s death. As requested, I asked the older girl if she wanted to be a part of this, and she agreed. Then I turned to her younger brother (or so I thought) and asked him. He agreed. A few seconds later I realized my mistake. I couldn’t really un-ask the boy, so as promised, after church, I went to the mother and explained what we do, not saying a word of my mistake. Her reply stunned me and convinced me that in those few brief seconds, God blinded me as to the true identity of the boy I was asking. She told me, “Thank you so much for asking. We were about ready to go to another church which had more activities for him.” Today, not only is this boy a dependable and hardworking member of our crew, but because of his involvement, the whole family is involved with Pathfinders, Sabbath School, and in other offices of the church. And, that boy was recently baptized…all because of a mistaken identity. The family gratefully acknowledges it is because their boy was asked to be part of our camera crew.


Using the Kitchen as a Laboratory for Unit Studies


A unit study is a method of teaching across the curriculum using a topic or theme. Many subject areas are studied within that theme. With a unit study, different topics revolve around and tie into an interest area of the child or children. A unit study differs from a traditional textbook approach by being very hands-on. Instead of memorizing facts or filling in the blanks on a workbook page, children participate in applied activities that teach a concept.

Generally unit studies are interactive in nature, and easily incorporate a parent-teacher or siblings in the study. A unit study can be complicated and take weeks to complete, but it is not required that it be so. Sometimes short, spur-of-the-moment unit studies are effective and useful because you can follow the interest of the child on an immediate level. An excellent source for spur-of-the-moment unit studies is in the kitchen!

A kitchen is an integral part of the home and is a built-in laboratory for a lot of interesting learning and experimentation. Use your time in the kitchen to teach across the curriculum. Relate what the child is doing to arithmetic, reading, science, and geography. Guided questioning is very helpful in expanding your child’s field of knowledge.

Here is an example:

1) Have the child prepare Navajo Fry Bread (recipe below) and then answer the questions given. [sequencing; learning from cause to effect]

2) Why do you think this is called Navajo Fry Bread? Research Navajo food traditions online. Look on a map and find where the Navajo Indians live. [social studies and geography]

3) Why did you use oil in the skillet when you fried your Navajo Fry Bread? What made the bread puff up? How does it work? [science]

4) Describe how the dough felt when you kneaded it. Use as many different adjectives as you can think of to describe it. [language arts]

5) What kind of shapes did you cut your Indian Fry Bread into? Which shape did you like best? Why? [math]

6) How can you use your skill in making Navajo Fry Bread to be of service to others? Learn about the Monument Valley Adventist Mission School. [Bible]


Navajo Fry Bread

Mix these ingredients in a small bowl:

1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder

In another small bowl mix these ingredients:

4 Tbsp. flour mixture
2 Tbsp. warm water

After the flour mixture and warm water is mixed together, take it out of the bowl and place it on a floured cutting board.

Knead the dough until it is soft and like elastic.

Roll it out so that it is flat. Use a rolling pin.

Cut the dough into shapes using a biscuit cutter and table knife.

Pour a small amount of oil into a skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. Put your dough shape in the skillet and fry each side until golden brown.

Take your dough shape out of the skillet. Blot it with a clean paper towel.

Fry another dough shape until all the shapes are fried.

Serve your Navajo Fry bread with honey while it is still warm.