My mom and dad raised five children in Pakistan. At the time, options for educating children were limited. Here is her story about kids, trust, and ultimately learning that God loves and cares for her children. All five of us have come to know the God that she trusted.
“Do YOU think it’s right to take innocent children to those heathen countries?”
The small elderly woman confronted me with the question. Ralph and I were newly appointed missionaries hoping to go to India. I glanced down at my tummy- had she guessed I was pregnant? I didn’t think it showed yet. I likely mumbled something about God’s will and tried to change the subject. We did take that innocent child with us to Pakistan, not India, and in the next 10 years we had four more. We were 20-somethings, full of hope and excitement and ideals. God in His mercy hid the future with its pain and struggle and tears of raising children overseas from us.
Not too many years later it had become clear to us that for most missionaries’ children in Pakistan boarding school was a part of that future. Our mission actively supported the founding of Murree Christian School in the northern mountains, eight hundred miles from where we lived. Five children from our mission were enrolled in its first year of existence.
“How can the Lord expect such an enormous sacrifice of us?” I asked myself. “It’s too much. I can’t do it. It can’t be right.” I struggled, asking how this could be God’s will for parents to send such young children away from home.
Eddie would start first grade in my home town during our first furlough. This timing put off our painful decision for a year. But God’s call to Pakistan was very clear to both Ralph and me. Did that call have to mean sending our children away at such a tender age?
In February 1959 Ralph went off to Karachi to arrange our furlough travel leaving me at home with the three children, behind the brick walls that surrounded our tiny courtyard. The Addleton family (Hu, Betty and their two little boys) were the only other foreigners in that small town in the desert and suggested we all go to the canal ten miles away for a picnic. Eddie was so excited that we were going to travel on the Queen Mary from England.
“I’m going to sail my Queen Mary in the canal,” he said, showing me the long string he had tied to a nail in the bow of his small wooden boat.
A couple of hours later, he stood at the edge of the canal, throwing his boat into the water and pulling it back. I kept an eye on him, but he was such a careful little boy. He would never fall in – Stan (his younger brother) might, but not Ed. A jeep driving along the dirt canal road, raised clouds of dust, and we checked the whereabouts of each of the children. Assuring they were all safe, we adults sipped mugs of coffee.
I looked around again just as the jeep passed us. Eddie was gone! I couldn’t see him anywhere. I jumped up and called his name, only to see his boat floating down the canal. Hu Addleton dove in, swam to the middle and began treading water, feeling the bottom with his feet. Bettie gathered up the little ones and the picnic things loading them into the Land Rover. I stood, helpless beside the canal. The water was so muddy, the current so swift. How could Hu possibly find my little boy in that murky water?
Then Hu called out, “I’ve found him!” He dove under and came up holding Eddie’s limp body. He handed Eddie up to me and somehow I knew what I had to do – that morning waiting for the Addletons to arrive, I had re-read a Readers’ Digest article about what was then a new method of artificial respiration, called “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Eddie’s face was purple. I cleaned mud and sticks out of his mouth, before turning him onto his stomach to see a gush of water from his mouth. Laying him on his back, I started breathing into his mouth. Hu knelt beside us on that grassy canal bank praying loudly, begging God to give us back our son. How many minutes passed? I didn’t know, but then we saw a miracle! Eddie started breathing on his own!
I wrapped him in the picnic blanket and we hurried home in the Land Rover. Bettie took the younger children and Hu drove Eddie and me to the Mission Hospital fifty miles away. Eddie was still unconscious. I couldn’t voice my thoughts, “What about brain damage? How long had he been under water?”
But the miracle was not finished yet. As we neared the city of Sukkur, Eddie opened his eyes and sat up on my lap. He pointed to the lights of the irrigation dam across the Indus River. “Mommy,” he said. “That’s the Sukkur Barrage. Why are we in Sukkur?”
The Lord chose to give our son back to us, but He did not have to. We had given Eddie to the Lord before his birth. Three weeks later on his sixth birthday, my tears came in a flood. I sensed the Lord asking me to give my son back to Him, to relinquish ownership of all our children to Him, even if it meant sending them away to boarding school.
My prayers for our children began to change. While I had previously been focused on my feelings, my anticipated pain, my struggles, I was learning to ask God to fulfill His purposes for each of our children. I began to ask the Lord to show me ways I could prepare them for going away to boarding.
A year and a half later in Murree, I sat sewing name tags on Eddie’s school clothes. I heard a knock on the door and a friend walked in. She sat down and picked up a needle to help me. As we chatted, she shared a verse from Isaiah that the Lord had given her for her children in a time of crisis: “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” (Isaiah 54:13 KJV)
In those verses I knew I could trust the Lord to teach my children.
This did not mean abdicating our responsibilities. We were still their parents, but He would also put others into their lives to influence them in ways we couldn’t. In making this decision my husband and I also promised ourselves that if any of our five found being away from home too difficult, we would have to move to a large city with the right schools or leave our work in Pakistan. God’s call on our lives was primary, but it was first and foremost a call to Himself. The life He called us to had to be right for our children, too. He never asked us to sacrifice their best interests, only to let Him show us what was best for them. And He reminded me often that best also includes the hard.
As I prayed this scripture for our five children over many years, I asked the Lord to bring the people of His choice into their lives, to use them to mold and shape each one. I prayed for good friends and healthy friendships. I prayed for each one a “Jonathan” who would strengthen his or her hand in God. (I Samuel 23:16) I prayed for kind and loving dorm parents and understanding teachers. At times I had to accept that those in charge of my children were not always kind and loving. In God’s sovereignty, He occasionally put difficult people into their lives. But I learned I could thank the Lord for those He chose to mentor our children. I think of Auntie Eunice, a teacher who gave up teaching to spend her life as a housemother nurturing the smallest girls; of Auntie Inger, a widow, who prayed that each of her little boys would receive Christ as personal Savior; of Uncle Paul, from New Zealand, a great dorm parent to our boys. Someone said of Paul, “He gave those boys a long leash, but they knew he was there to pull them back.” I think of Chuck, principal of the school during most of the years our children attended; of Debbie, sent by the Lord to influence our own daughter, as well as so many other teenage girls. There were many others, more than I can name here.
Would we make the same decision today if we were young parents living overseas? With the internet and the homeschooling options available now, we would probably keep them home longer.
I have learned that each situation is unique. Every family is different. Each child has his or her own personality and needs. For you who are raising your children overseas, there are still no easy answers to these questions. May our loving Lord give you wisdom to discern what is best for them and the courage to trust the Lord to be their teacher. May all your children be taught by the Lord and may they experience His great peace.
About the author: Pauline Brown and her husband Ralph spent over 30 years in the Sindh desert of Pakistan. Pauline has five children and is now grandmother to 17 grandchildren, and great grandmother to a growing number of littles. She is the author of a book, Jars of Clay that chronicles the journey of a small group of ordinary missionaries in Pakistan.