Raising Children With Special Needs When You Live Overseas

by Editor on August 28, 2017

By MaDonna Maurer

“Your daughter has a rare genetic syndrome called Cri-du-Chat Syndrome, and she needs a feeding tube.”

My dreams, my desires to live overseas, seemed to shatter with that diagnosis. The past 10 months all made sense. This was the reason she was hospitalized in Beijing for bronchitis at 3 months old. This was the reason for choking almost every time she nursed. And this explained why, just a few months before, she lay limp with pneumonia on a large hospital bed in the middle of China next to six other children with some sort of lung infection. All of this led to me flying alone with her to the U.S. for medical tests. This was the reason I sat in that small clean consultation room with a doctor I barely knew.

Was this going to be the reason God would end our time overseas?

And then the haunting question, How am I going to tell my husband Uwe half way around the world on the phone?

To date, that was the hardest phone call I have ever had to make.

When Uwe and our oldest son (20 months) arrived in the U.S., we believed our time overseas was over. At that time we only knew of one other family living overseas with a child with special needs, but our daughter seemed to have more medical issues. As we consulted with surgeons, therapists, and doctors, not a single one hesitated to tell us to go back. This was incredible to us because we, like so many others, didn’t think it possible that families affected by disabilities could live and work overseas. So with a list of diagrammed exercises, extra feeding buttons and bags, and a feeding machine, we returned to China. Uwe went back to work as principal at the international school, and I began therapy with Matthea. Life changed, but God had not. He was still good. He was still providing.

Our story isn’t unique. There are others like us. Last week I was able to interview eight families ministering overseas who also have children with special needs. All of our stories seemed to share the following three themes.


1. God is good, and He loves us.

One of the mothers whose child has Down Syndrome wrote, “Oh man, He (God) is just so good. He has just blown me away. He is so gentle and loving. He has been an incredible Father to us, preparing us for this journey ahead of time in ways we couldn’t have dreamed… He didn’t just knit our family together. He did it in this country for such a time as this.” We know God is good and He loves us. We even sing about it. But, when we watch others struggle or struggle ourselves we wonder. We doubt. We have to hold on, though, to the truth and trust that God is good and that he loves us.


2. The struggles are real, but God provides.

No matter where you live or what you do, there will be struggles in this world. The Bible promises this, but God also promises to provide for our needs. As parents of children with special needs, we have our share: lack of educational options, lack of therapy options, language barriers, lack of friends for our kids, and emotions that range from fear to loneliness to guilt. All of these struggles are real, but each family interviewed shared how God has provided for them in ways that they would never have dreamed of.

One father wrote that the “Lord is so graciously meeting” the need, though possibly temporarily, of their son with Down Syndrome through friendships. A mother whose son is on the autism spectrum has felt “very lonely and disconnected” at times, but God has provided an outlet through Velvet Ashes for her to connect with other ladies.* As I personally struggle with whatever the need is at the moment, I’ve learned to stop and remember the past: how God provided the therapists to help Matthea eat by mouth (no tube feedings for 7 years now), teachers to help us educate her, and how he has provided strength for each day. I am learning to trust Him to provide for the future for just the right thing at the right time because God is a gracious Father.


3. God called us.

When God places a desire in your heart, when He “calls” you to do something, you obey. Every family shared that the reason they are going overseas or the reason they stayed was because of God’s calling. Just like us, they prayed about the situation, consulted professionals and sought out godly advice. God opened doors and gave affirmation. I can vouch for what one mother shared about how her ministry to older orphans with special needs became deeper after the workers knew of their daughter. “Somehow, by God’s grace, our concern for them is felt as more genuine.” She also added, “the workers have realized through interaction with her daughter that people with special needs have much more potential than they thought.” God uses our struggles, our weaknesses, to reach the lost.

Our family’s story isn’t over. We are no longer in China, nor do we work in schools. God led us to Taiwan and gave us new dreams and desires. He allowed us to start Taiwan Sunshine, a non-profit organization that supports and encourages families who have children with special needs in Taiwan. Our dream is to share the hope we have in Jesus with every family in Taiwan.

In the book Restoring Broken Things by Steven Curtis Chapman and Scotty Smith, Scotty shares, “And who among us willingly chooses a life story which, by its very nature, will be a narration of our weaknesses? No one does, because it incessantly demands a Savior much bigger than us (pages 182-183). God uses our weaknesses, whether we live in our passport countries or as missionaries on the field. Regardless of your struggle or situation these themes apply to all of us. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).


God is good.

God loves you.

God will provide for your every need.


*Velvet Ashes will be hosting one Connection Group this fall for mothers whose children are affected by disabilities.


MaDonna lives in Taiwan with her husband, a German MK, and their three children. She deeply believes that a cold grapefruit tea cures the summer time blues. She enjoys a good book and loves to write stories for children about life overseas. Visit her at her blog, raisingTCKs, or on Twitter @mdmaurer.

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  • Marilyn Gardner

    oh wow – this is so good and so important. The countries I’ve lived in struggled to see children with special needs as worthy, instead too many were unwanted and had lives made even more difficult without the love that would allow them to flourish as ones who are made in God’s image. To be able to live out that love, for others to see those with special needs as precious and wanted, full members of families and communities surely gladdens the heart of God. Thank you for this. I love also that not one doctor told you to stay….that’s so great!

    • MaDonna

      Thank you for your kind words, Marilyn. I agree, there are so many people/cultures who just don’t understand how people with special needs are 1)people 2) made in the image of God. I’ve only lived in Asian countries and the stigmatism that goes along with being the biological parent of the child is devastating in many of those countries. In the last few years I’ve been encouraged by the number of other missionaries that have had the opportunity to live with their child in the communities. It’s not for everyone – and it doesn’t make us superheroes or better than those whose mission is in their passport countries – but it is exciting to me to see how God is moving in the hearts of others.

  • Thank you. I needed to hear this today.

    • MaDonna

      I’m glad I was able to encourage you today, Elizabeth.

  • Kathryn Borba

    One year into our three year term in Japan, our beautiful baby girl was born. She had club foot, and a frozen face. We learned later (through my own research and a US doctor ) that she has an incredibly rare condition called Moebius Syndrome which affects her facial nerves and muscle strength.
    God provided excellent care in Japan for her club foot, and good consultants in the US to get us through those first two exhausting years of her life.
    At the end of our first term (intended to be the first of a career) We felt God calling us back to the states to pursue speech therapy specific to her craniofacial needs. The doctor said start ST at two years, and what do you know, our term ended the week before her 2nd birthday.

    In all of the mess of appointments, consultations, and weeping prayers I’ve become convinced God will care for my little girl no matter where he calls us. I guess there’s a reason we gave her a middle name that proclaims God’s faithfulness. Chiyo- God’s Faithfulness for “1000 generations”

    • MaDonna

      Kathryn, thank you for sharing your story and your heart. I so relate to this, “In all of the mess of appointments, consultations, and weeping prayers I’ve become convinced God will care for my little girl no matter where he calls us.” I have doubts and fears, but God always takes me back to remember that He is God and that He loves my daughter more than I do. But, man it is hard somedays to walk out that belief.
      I love your daughter’s middle name – Matthea means “gift of God” and her middle name is Grace. Isn’t it like God to bring names to our minds for our kids that would remind us of Him?
      Thanks again for sharing. My heart was truly touched…and I pray that as God worked out all the details for your return at your daughter’s second birthday, that He would show you in His time the plans he has for your family.

  • Craig Thompson

    Thanks, MaDonna, for a great post. This is such an important topic, but it’s too easily pushed off to the edges. Tell Matthea, and the rest of the family, hello from the Thompsons.

    • MaDonna

      Thanks Craig for letting me have a “voice” for this specific group. I have been touched by the many messages I’ve gotten from friends and from virtual strangers who are now becoming friends. Love your family…tell them hello from us. Maybe we’ll catch up with you sometime in the near future – we are planning a trip to your part of the world this winter.

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