Mom & Dad nurtured athletic sons for God
CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP) -- "Keeping up with the Joneses" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the family of college football star Barrett Jones.
Rex and Leslie Jones have raised three hard-working, respectful sons who have a heart for missions -- and they happen to be talented football players.
"We wanted to be very intentional about how we raised [our boys]," Rex said. "One of the things I wanted to do is to raise my children with one goal in mind … [to] teach them to make good decisions.
"We just decided we were going to use the Bible as the foundation of truth to teach our kids."
Their three sons are now grown -- Barrett, 22, Harrison, 20, and Walker, 18 -- but Rex and Leslie, members of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., have watched that early foundation shape their sons into godly men.
Barrett and Harrison play football at the University of Alabama -- Barrett is an offensive lineman playing his last season, and Harrison, a junior, plays tight end. Walker, a senior at Evangelical Christian School in Cordova, plays for his high school team and plans to follow in his brothers' footsteps.
Despite their athleticism, the brothers have remained true to the values their parents instilled -- to make missions and ministry their first priority.
The Jones family took their first mission trip in 2001 when the boys were 10, 8 and 6. But missions wasn't the only way Rex and Leslie exposed their children to ministry.
Church -- despite hectic school and sports schedules -- was always a priority. Rex didn't allow his sons to participate in any sporting events on Sunday mornings. Leslie made sure the family was at 8 o'clock Sunday School and 9:30 a.m. worship services even after late-night Saturday activities.
"[The boys] thought that was a little harsh because, honestly, there aren't many people that do that these days," Leslie said. "But I think … it's been a great thing because the kids have made church a priority since they are older now, too."
Barrett said his parents "did a great job of teaching me not only about the Bible and what we believe, but also how to study it for myself and how to find out why I believe what I believe."
Besides a Christ-centered home life, the boys received a Christian education at Evangelical Christian School and strong biblical teachings through Bellevue. Each child began violin lessons at age 3, Leslie said, to teach them discipline and focus -- while sitting still. They also used the violin as a ministry tool. The boys performed at nursing homes, schools or the Baptist Children's Home and would then visit with the audience.
"I do think that gave them a love for people and ministering with people that they wouldn't have had," Leslie said.
Going on mission trips together has obviously strengthened the family's bond. During a trip to Nicaragua in spring 2012, the Joneses often had arms around each other, sat by each other, gave one another hugs or were encouraging each other.
"You bond on these trips more so than you would at the beach or just on a regular vacation just because you see your family members growing spiritually," Barrett said.
"I learned a lot from [my brothers]," Walker added. "They definitely made me tougher just because I'm the youngest, and I really wouldn't trade them for anything."
While the brothers are close, they are still competitive with each other -- whether in basketball, football or a sport they just make up.
"I love both those guys, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let them win anything," Barrett said with a grin.
Leslie said she's thankful all three sons share a special connection with their mother.
"We do have a special bond, but it's just such a natural thing because they've always been very affectionate children," Leslie said. "They've always communicated with me a lot about things going on. I guess not having any girls, I had to talk to my boys, so they're just sweet to their mother."
"My mom is great," Harrison said. "Obviously, it's a really tough task to raise three boys … really, when you're in a house of four boys, including my dad…. But that really can't be compared to anything else -- the job of a mother -- and she's done the best job I could ever ask for."
The relationship between Barrett and Leslie is so close that Rex describes Barrett as a "momma's boy." Though Barrett disagrees with that title, he admits he shares a special connection with his mom, partly due to their similar personalities.
"I couldn't do all the stuff I do today without her," Barrett said. "She helps organize everything for me and helps me handle all the things I have to do -- so I'm very grateful to her for that."
Challenge to make a difference
Because of her closeness with her boys, Leslie struggled as her two oldest sons left for college. "I just found it very difficult to be so involved with their daily life, and then suddenly they move away and start a whole new life and routine," she reflected.
Rex, however, felt differently.
"As a man raising boys, I want them to go out and conquer the world, and mothers sometimes have a little harder time understanding that part," he said. "But it has really been great to watch Leslie let them jump out of what we call 'the nest,' and to really fly."
For Leslie, sending the first child to college was especially tough.
"It was really hard on me, but I knew that it was just something I had to adjust to," she said. "I had to be so happy for [Barrett] that he was physically and spiritually and emotionally prepared to leave home and to be on his own."
Barrett is thankful for his parents' continued support, especially when it comes to his vision and passion for missions.
"This is not something you can do by yourself," Barrett said during his mission trip in Nicaragua. "They've always just been great parents for me and have supported me in whatever I wanted to do."
"I think at the end of the day, that's really what our job of parenting has been," Rex said. "It's not to keep them at home for a lifetime, but to really challenge them to go out and make a difference."
Laura Fielding is a writer for IMB. To learn more about how to expose children to missions, visit imb.org/students or Kids on Mission. To read more about raising godly children, click here to hear from Mike Young, founder of Noble Warriors (noblewarriors.org), a men's ministry organization that seeks to encourage all men to walk with Christ and be leaders in their families. Also see the following article relaying Young's advice.
Raising missions-minded adventurers
Mike Young, founder and executive director of Noble Warriors, a ministry that serves churches in the area of men's discipleship, offers parents ideas on how to involve their children in missions.
-- Know your children. Each son and daughter is different. Spend time with them individually so you know their hearts and can speak to them uniquely.
-- Make sure they see you reading, studying and being transformed by the Word of God. Parents, they need to know that you value God and His Word.
-- Live a Kingdom adventure and share it with your family. Kids, especially young boys, are wired for adventure. When mom and dad view their Christian lives as an adventure, the kids begin to look forward to adventurous living.
-- Lead in local "missional living." Parents need to set the pace for their families by serving others in both church and community as an expression of their faith.
-- Challenge children to live and think beyond their local region. Even as you serve locally, begin to cast vision for expanding your circle of service across your state or the country — ultimately around the world.
-- Live out and expect them to live out 1 Corinthians 13:11. Young men, especially, need to have seasoned men call them to maturity. The boy in them must sit down as the man stands up. We need some authentic men on the mission field.
-- Teach endurance and hardship. The life of a missionary is not typically easy. Look for and/or create scenarios where your children have an opportunity to suffer for the Gospel.
-- Practice "releasing the arrows" in your quiver. Many parents hold their children so tightly that God can't pry them away. Parents must practice many releases along the way. Remember, they are His!