When my child is sick: Missing the promise and illusion of safety

On Friday my fifteen-month old baby, Dominic, started running a fever for the first time in his life. We live in Northern Laos. The hospital beds here are full of dengue fever patients at the moment, and fevers of any kind aren’t to be taken lightly.

I did what any worried mama living out of reach of good medical care does nowadays … I googled. And after 24 hours of fever and fussiness, my husband and I put Dominic in his stroller and set out for the doctor who runs an after-hours clinic out of her house down at the end of the little dirt lane we live on.

Going to the doctor here is a little different than going to a doctor at home. There is no such thing as an appointment. The clinic opens when the doctor comes home from her work at the hospital at about 5:30pm, and she sees patients on a first come first served basis.

When you arrive at the clinic you take off your shoes and pick up a number outside the door. Then you wait your turn on a bench in the front of the room while Dr Payang sees people in the back of the room where she has set up a desk, a chair and a camp bed. Only a large dresser that acts as a partial screen separates the waiting room and the consultation area.

We waited our turn with half a dozen other families, and exhaled in relief when the tired doctor peered into Dominic’s mouth with a small flashlight and then showed us the source of all that heat – a throat infection. She handed over some antibiotics, wrote down the dosage instructions on a sheet of paper to make sure that we had the details right, and we headed home.

Living outside the reach of carpeted, colorful pediatricians’ offices is possibly my least favorite aspect of our life in Laos. I miss ambulances with their purposeful sirens and English speaking paramedics. I miss emergency hotlines. I miss gleaming hospitals with their bright lights and shiny instruments and reliable X-ray machines. I look at my baby when he’s running a fever and I really miss the promise and illusion of safety that all provides.

I say promise because, let’s face it, medically-speaking, Dominic would be safer if we were living in the more developed world. Malaria, dengue fever, and the tropical parasites that thrive in our garden here don’t even exist in most of Australia. And some of the more globally equitable childhood maladies, like meningitis, you really want to catch and address fast. As we learned the hard way when Dominic broke his femur at five months of age, you can’t address things fast when you live in a small town in Northern Laos.

But I say illusion because living right next door to the best hospital in the world can’t guarantee you safety or grant you total control. It just can’t. No matter how much we might want to shield our children from catastrophic injury or illness, we never erase those risks entirely. In fact, Dominic would be more at risk of experiencing something like a car accident in that situation. We don’t own a car here in Laos, so he rarely rides in one. The same could not be said if we were still living in our previous home, Los Angeles.

So the questions that I must continually confront are these: How do we calculate risk? How much risk are we willing to tolerate, and to what end? What do I do about fear? We are living in Laos because my husband is doing work we both believe makes an important, tangible difference in the lives of people poorer and much more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life than we are. Is that a good enough reason to have my baby risk dengue fever? On average, the answer to that question so far has been yes. On average.

Now, three days after starting antibiotics, Dominic’s fever is gone. He had seemed to be much improved, but two hours after going to bed last night we woke to the sounds of retching and screaming. It heralded the start of Dominic’s first all-night vomiting marathon. This morning has brought more vomiting for him and more questions for me.

So now I’m off to consult google again, this time about oral rehydration. If only I could search out answers to all of my questions so easily.

Do you feel any tension over how your choices impact your children?
How do you resolve that tension?

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Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field

Just last year, I was a culture-shocked newbie stumbling through my first months living overseas.  And we came as independents {we still are}, brought three small children with us, and probably arrived before we had technically raised enough money to sustainably stay. You could say we’ve done a lot wrong in regards to our transition into full-time missions.

But you could say we’ve gotten a lot wrong about a lot of things.

Regardless, here are a few pieces of advice I wish I had been given {and then been humble enough to listen to} during our first year overseas:

1. Learn the Language, First and Only. When we got here in April of 2010, we hit the ground in a full-out sprint. We gave ourselves very little time to adjust or get culturally-acclimated. Instead, we dove into ministry in a panicked frenzy. And while much may have been accomplished at the girls home we worked for, our long-term ministry and effectiveness have suffered because it has taken us so. much. longer to learn to communicate.  We’ve had individual tutors, we’ve done 6-week long classes for tourists, we’ve promised {and then re-promised} to do Rosetta Stone daily, we’ve made flashcards and more flashcards. And we still only have a workably-mild grasp of the language. I assumed we would be fluent by now, honestly, and it frustrates me that I still have to pre-plan my Thai phone calls.

Learning the language while you are in the thick of ministry is like trying to get your Masters when you have small children and a full-time job. You can still do it, but it is much harder and much slower and much more frustrating. Trust me, the three months or six months {or more?} you devote to simply learning the language and adjusting to your new culture will pay off dividends in your long-term effectiveness. 

2. Sandwich Vacation. I wish our family would have taken a vacation between when we left the States and when we showed up in Asia. The stress and emotional weight of the goodbyes at the airport are brutal, for you and for the kids. And the stress and emotional weight of diving in to your new culture are equally as brutal. I wish we would have given ourselves a breather between the two— a few days at some nice hotel or some beach somewhere to process the leaving, to rest from the moving process, to collect ourselves.  I think for the kids that would have made the “adventure” of moving overseas more enjoyable, right from the start. {I think it would probably be an equally great idea as a family transitions from living overseas back to home, too, for the same reasons.}

3. Do Not Dive In. Really, Stay on the Dock for a While. The tendency for go-getters is to go-get-some-ministry-on — especially if your term overseas is two years or less. Your plane lands, and the Great Clock of your missionary life seems to start its countdown.  And so you give yourself a week to get settled, and then you attack whatever ministry it was you came to do. I get this tendency. I’ve lived this tendency. However, I wish I wouldn’t have. Because it takes more time than you think to find housing and food and the closest place to buy lightbulbs. It takes time to begin to learn the culture, to figure out your role in ministry, and to look realistically at the effectiveness of your/your organization’s work. People that jump in too quickly tend to either A) Burn Out or B) Make a Mess of Things. It’s better to avoid both of those, I am thinking.

4. Beware of Going Solo. We did not come with a missions organization. We did not come with a team. We lived out in a rural area, where we didn’t know the language, at all. {Because, obviously, I hadn’t listened to the advice of other missionaries to learn it first.} The kids didn’t have a school to make friends at, and on so many levels we felt very alone. And while I’m not a big fan of some of the hoops missionaries have to jump through because of missions organizations and while I understand the risk of your team “not working out,” I do know that community is essentialAnywhere. 

5. Expect Disappointment. From yourself. From your marriage. From the ministry you came to serve. From the culture. From your finances. From the nationals and other missionaries. From your walk with God. From your kids. And while I am typically a sunshine-daily optimist, I know I would have done better during our first year if I had lower expectations. When you are gearing up to go, you can feel a bit like you are attending a perpetual pep-rally of sorts. And in some ways, you need this inspiration to just get on that plane.

However, when you expect to walk into your new very-foreign land with the guts of Hudson Taylor, making converts like Billy Graham, while toting kids around as well-behaved as the Duggars, well, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Grace, grace, and more grace. I guess that’s advice that translates anywhere.

* Adapted from original post on LauraParkerBlog, 2011

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All right, let’s play a game. Pretend you have the ear of a new missionary, heading to the field. Assuming they want advice, what would you tell them to do or not do? Is my advice off?

– Laura Parker, freelance writer and former missionary in SE Asia 

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted and All That

I’ll be honest, this missions gig hasn’t gone like I thought it would. 

When I was a teenager, I devoured books on Amy Carmichael, determined to live in some hut rescuing orphans. I wanted to “accomplish great things for God,” and I assumed that meant a dramatic adventure, namely, taking a plane somewhere.

When I had kids and my husband began feeling the pull towards a life overseas, the dream began to morph.  Now, I’d just be Amy Carmichael with Kids, my children walking amongst the impoverished, learning a sacrificial love, developing a sold-out faith on foreign soil {while at the same time maintaining a sense of national home, cultural-relevance in America, minimal transition-issues, and general up-to-date fashion sense}.

I thought before we began this journey that it would be easy to find our niche of ministry– we are working for free, after all. I assumed we would do what we came to do, and when that shifted, I assumed it’d be simple to find the gaping hole of need that we had been divinely equipped to fill. That the Story of our purpose here and role would make sense, sooner, rather thanlater. 

But, two and a half years in, and I am continuing to find that Amy Carmichael I am not, that missions can be brutal on a family, and that fog is no respecter of the Jesus-disciple. 

And I was reading just the other day in this book I happen to love, and the words caught my breath, as is often the case when I have the guts and discipline to really ask the Living Word to speak.  And it said simply this:

And now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 corinthians 13

And I’ve read that a million times, but this week, it’s struck a new chord. Because, this, this is what I so desperately need– faith, hope, love– qualities not dependent on my circumstances, missed expectations, or personal doubts.

Faith. That God is in the smack-dab-middle of writing a good Story — for me, for us, for them.

Hope. That beautiful things can rise from ashes. That the next bend could bring what we’ve been waiting for all along.

and LoveFrom God, for God, and for all his kids around me. The extravagant, never-stopping, everybody-included kind.

And I don’t know where you find yourself this weekend, what circumstance or fog or barrier weighs heavy on your soul. Maybe it’s a job you hate or money that can’t stretch far enough. Perhaps it’s a child you don’t have yet or one who’s drifted far, on purpose. Maybe it’s the  drag of the mundane or the failure of the adventure. But whatever it is, whatever circumstance threatens to speak doubt or anger or depression, my prayer for you, for me, is that these three will keep on remaining,

faith. hope. and love.

Played out in a million, daily, gritty, far-from-dramatic choices

The kinds of choices Amy Carmichael probably made, but that never made her books.

 – from the archives of LauraParkerBlog, 2012
Laura Parker, former missionary to SE Asia.

Avoiding the Missionary Kid Syndrome

We’ve all heard horror stories of P.K.’s (Pastors Kids), M.K.’s (Missionary Kids), and W.K.’s (Whatever other ministry oriented kid turned out bad).

While my wife and I have a long way to go to declare success, here are some things we have been practicing to keep missions appealing.

1. Priorities
I can hear all the above mentioned K’s shouting “Amen”. Most families with the dreaded K syndrome, are linked to more time, energy, and focus being placed on ministry than family. It’s fashionable to say “family first”, but much harder to live that out. It will require making sacrifices, many schedules, and constantly re-evaluating the season your family is in.

Missionary Family
By: Andrew Comings

Billy Graham, when looking back over his life and ministry, had one regret. He wished to have spent more time with his family. You can read about it in his autobiography, “Just As I Am”

2. Boundaries
Going hand in hand with priorities, is making decisions to keep boundaries. Since our children are young, we have made the decision for only one of us to attend evening meetings. We want to place a priority on the boy’s routine. This also gives each one of us the chance to have some quality time with the two boys before bed.

There are little choices that need to be made like this each day. Your checklist never gets fully accomplished, so something has to give. I recently read a book by Andy Stanley I bought in response to his leadership podcast. In Choosing to Cheat, Andy shows how everyone cheats. You will either rob your family of time or you will create that time by trimming things in your ministry.

3. Involve them
Seemingly contradicting a previous point, this is the balancing act of parenting. Our kids love being involved in the ministry. They recite testimonies from our weekly staff meetings, know the people we work with, and put their faith with ours when we dream bigger than ourselves.

My wife was a pastor’s kid when she was growing up (still is actually). She recounts with fondness sitting at the top of the stairs, eavesdropping on board meetings. Her father was excellent at involving her, even asking her opinion on things. He made ministry attractive!

4. Protect them from some of the Ugliness
On several occasions my wife or I, have stopped friends from telling horror stories of crime or human failure in front of our children. They will learn the ugliness that missions brings soon enough. We do not want to keep them in a bubble, just ease them into real life. Living on the mission field, they still have to confront issues of crime and poverty in their own childlike ways.

5. Be Positive
Your children will know more than anyone if you really do not love the people you minister to or the nation you are in. Love what God has called you to and they will too.

6. Advertise them
Ok, this might sound a bit like exploitation. Hear me out.

Present your mission as a family mission. When we are at home visiting churches, we always bring the kids on stage with us. In our newsletters, there is always a corner for what is going on in their lives. We’ve found that other young families in churches connect with us, and have become a part of our team.

Do you have anything to add to the list? What makes ministry or missions attractive to your kids?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog:  NoSuperHeroes  Twitter: @lautsbaugh      Facebook:  NoSuperHeroes