Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Family Forte: The Traveling Ten Year Old

by: Topher Wiles
     “Can a 10 year old make a difference in the communist, socialist, and challenging state of Cuba?”  That was the question I wondered before and after my trip with Ethan a couple weeks ago.   I struggled with fear and doubt as we approached this trip together, concerned for my son’s safety and usefulness during our first family foray into Cuba.  After the trip I received this message from that beautiful island country that answered my question.  
Ethan praying with little David in Matanzas, Cuba
     “Dios les bendiga hermanos, gracias por todo el trabajo realizado en su estancia en Cuba, los jóvenes pudieron tener las mejores condiciones gracias a la obra de amor hecha  con las manos de todos ustedes, muy especialmente del pequeño y ya gran misionero Ethan. Las más ricas bendiciones de Dios para todos. Hoy Susana usó para traducir un texto la Biblia que él le regaló. Mil gracias nuevamente. Un abrazo en Cristo. – Ludmila”
     Here is Ludmila’s message roughly translated. “God bless you brothers, thank you for all the work done in your stay in Cuba, the young people have the best conditions thanks to the work of love done with the hands of all of you, especially the little and already great missionary Ethan. God's richest blessings to all. Today Susana used the Bible he gave her to translate a text. Thanks a lot again. A hug in Christ. – Ludmila”
  Believe me, the need is great.  It’s hard to describe to you the poverty in places where the social services and resources to better yourself just don’t exist.  It is an annual reminder of how blessed I am to live in the United States where truly anyone can find success.  I shed tears each and every time I’ve left those countries, due to the plight of the beautiful people there.   
Ethan and Susana in a Bible class working on telling
the story of the paralytic and his friends in
Matthew 9:1-8.
   Allow me a few words for explanation. For the last 8 years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to underdeveloped countries in Central America to help meet the needs of poor and share the loving story of Christ.
     As a father, I believe the experiences would do a world of good for my own children as they develop.  To build relationships with kids in other countries, to get their hands dirty and bodies sweaty under the hot sun for little or no reward, to see the inescapable hardships that others experience on a daily basis: these are all reasons why I took my second son on his first international mission trip.  I knew the effort would leave a mark on him, but would Ethan be able to leave a mark on others? 
     Ethan is a good kid, don’t get me wrong.  Yet, he’s like most 10 year olds, as much of his focus is spent asking for more dessert and video games.   Yes, we’ve had Ethan studying Spanish since 1st grade.  Yes, we’ve taught him world cultures and geography in social studies classes.  Yes, we provide a structured schedule so that he reads Scripture daily, helping him desire to serve and love others.  Even so, I still wondered if it was worth the large monetary, time, and energy investment to take my son on a mission trip at such a young age. 
     Ludmila’s description of my son being the “little and already great missionary Ethan” settled my quandary once and for all.   
Ethan breaking up gravel for flooring the kitchen
in the sweltering Caribbean sun.
   Ethan swung a pickaxe with gusto to break up a gravelly dirt pile for flooring while we built a kitchen that would feed elderly and orphans in Cuba.  Ethan kneeled in prayer alongside children with different skin colors, accents, and experiences.  Ethan also wrote a short letter and a prayer into the cover of a bilingual Bible and gifted it to Ludmila’s 12-year-old daughter, Susana.   Ethan showed that in that culture, youth can be an active participant in success now, not just the future.  Yes, I now believe that the time, energy, and money invested to help Ethan be a part of Central Church of Christ’s mission effort will pay dividends in my son’s life and the lives of others in the world. 
   That young man may not have been the build site manager, mission trip leader, or class teacher but his example, friendship, and gifts left a lasting mark on people in Cuba.
     Most of all, it gave this dad a renewed respect for the influence a young person can have in bringing faith, hope, and love to a world in need.  My gratitude goes out to all of you that helped support Ethan through prayer, encouraging words, and donations.
     Parents, I know the lure of our culture pushes us to spend exorbitant amounts on our children’s travel experiences such as basketball tournaments, band trips, and Disney experiences.  I urge you to also set aside time, money, and efforts to give your children a mission experience serving the hungry and hurting of the world.  You and the world will be glad you did. 

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
(Author’s note: Due to volatile situations and government relationships, I must be cautious and measured with what I write publicly about the challenges of serving in Cuba.  If you have any questions about the state of the Cuban people, the government, or the needs, I’m happy to share my experience privately with you.  If you’re curious how to prep your child for missions, I’ve got a few ideas as this is our second successful effort for our children to be foreign missionaries. To ask questions, share your own experience, or meet together to talk, please email me at

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,