When I was growing up, I had dreams. Not the kind of dreams you have in your sleep, but the dreams of potential. One of the questions children hear most often is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most children answer that question with a list of high ambitions: doctor, lawyer, astronaut, firefighter, etc. No child ever says, “When I grow up, I want to be a janitor, trash collector or plumber,” although these are important and noble jobs. If you don’t believe me, go a month without garbage pickup. The job’s importance will soon grow clear. Or, if you want to find out the importance of a plumber’s job, call and ask one to come to your house. You will need a college education just to pay for the visit.

The Winter Olympics has reminded me of my all-time Olympic hero, Eric Moussambani. Have you heard of him? Probably not. He has never won a race, contest or medal of any kind. He had a dream of representing his country, Equatorial Guinea, in the 100-meter swim at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. He had one problem, and it was a big one: he didn’t know how to swim.

Where the average person sees a dead-end, a dreamer sees an opportunity. Not only did Eric not know how to swim, but the Olympics were only a few months away. He began to train in the biggest swimming pool he could find: a hotel pool only 20 meters long.

By the time he reached Sydney, he had learned how to swim, but had never competed. When he arrived for his heat and learned that the two other racers had been disqualified, he stood on the platform alone. The gun went off and he dove into the pool to swim the 100 meters. Somewhere along the way, he began to struggle. One hundred meters suddenly seemed much longer than he had anticipated. The fans saw his plight. They admired his determination and rose to their feet to encourage him.

Amid the applause and cheers, Eric struggled to the finish line with what may have been the slowest time in Olympic history. He told an interviewer that he wanted to send hugs and kisses to the crowd. “It was their cheering that kept me going.”

Not only did Eric have a dream; but he also worked that dream. Against all odds, he found a swimming pool, learned to swim, made it to Australia, finished the race and received worldwide attention. He represented his country in the Olympics. It wasn’t easy, but obtaining a dream never is.

I believe it is important to teach children to reach for the stars and to dream dreams, especially when those dreams involve a significant accomplishment. But we also must teach our children that obtaining a dream takes hard work, discipline, help from God and encouragement from others. The Bible is full of stories of people who had dreams. But have you noticed? These stories are not as much about the dreams themselves as about the journey of reaching them. Sometimes it seems as though this generation wants to reach the dream without the effort of the journey.

Just as Eric dreamed of representing his country, we should instill in our children dreams of representing the King of kings. Last week I was in Abidjan, Ivory Coast with our IMB missionaries to Benin, Jeff and Barbara Singerman. Barbara has written a book about their life as missionaries in the shadow of voodooism called Beyond Surrender: One Family’s Quest to Bring Light to a Dark and Desperate World (Hannibal Books, 2003).

Like Eric, the Singermans had a dream, and they knew it would require work. Barbara writes, “The Call holds your feet on germ-infested soil when your emotions have flown away. The Call drives you with passion when your sweat and strength have puddled at your filthy feet in the baking heat . . . The Call is a living contract with the Creator to be His messenger, His ambassador, His sacrificial offering to a people who do not acknowledge Him as Lord.”

The dream to bring the Gospel to the least of these will never gain these missionaries a gold medal this side of Heaven. But there will be a day when they stand in front of the Eternal Judge, and He will speak to them the words of gold: “Well done, thou good and faithful servants.”

Ask your children about their dreams today. And while you’re at it, spend some time in prayer about . . . your own.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail walker@awestar.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.