Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers”

It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life! Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

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Now, most missionaries don’t dress their kids in navy and white, and rock music isn’t seen as much of a threat. But I sometimes wonder if young parents have exchanged a “solution” from the ’80s and early ’90s for a new “new approach”?

– If we can give our kids enough vision.
– If they can get enough gifting of the Spirit.
– If they can catch a fire for social justice.
– If they can quote John Piper or Bill Johnson (depending on your stream),
– If they can get energetic like Young and Free or Rend Collective….

THEN OUR CHILDREN WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

And the world better watch out, because we’re releasing an army – no, we’re waking up an army and then releasing them, and they will rule the world. For Christ.

This is hyperbole, of course. Sort of.

I feel like I’m watching a replay, where passionate young parents think they’ve found “the solution,” which, when applied correctly, will help their toddlers “tear down this wall!”

I hear parents from both ends of the fundamentalist-charismatic spectrum talk like this. I see parents Instagram like this. And it’s not from a bad heart, I know that. It’s from a gut-level desire to see our children succeed. We want them to have God-sized dreams and we want them to chase those dreams until they actualize their potential and save the world. I get it.

But can I sound like an old guy here? OK, well, here goes. THEY ARE JUST KIDS. Remember, they’re three years old. Or seven. Or even thirteen. They don’t need to save the world. They need to learn how much they’re loved. They need to learn about mercy and grace and hard work. They need to learn how to read, and sometimes, they just need to learn how to use the toilet.

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Have we forgotten the simple things? Have we forgotten the power of quiet love and small faithfulness?

Have we forgotten Paul’s advice to work with all your heart, whatever you do?

Have we forgotten John the Baptist’s counsel to the soldiers? “Be content with your pay.” To the tax collectors? “Don’t collect more than you’re supposed to.” To the crowds, “Share your food, share your wealth.” Have we forgotten that small lives lived in small places matter too?

Have we forgotten the instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life”?

You know, maybe those instructions aren’t for everybody at all times, but they at least apply to some people some of the time.

It may be that God will call my child to do simple things well, with faithfulness and honesty. He may want them to grow into men and women of integrity who do banal things, boring things. That does sound to me like something God could do.

Not all are called to be apostles.

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As cross-cultural workers, we may be more naturally inclined to love big, global, world-changing talk. Perhaps that’s how we got here. Our children, however, with their individual callings and giftings, may not resonate with the ideas the same way. Remember, what motivates and inspires you might crush your child.

Be careful you don’t project your desires onto them. Do YOU want to save the world? Fine then. Go forth and do it. Maybe God’s called and gifted you to do it. Awesome! But you’re not them and they’re not you.

 

An Alternative
You know where normal people go to worship? You know where normal people go to learn and grow, slowly, steadily?

The local church.

You want to bless your kids? Be part of a local church. Church should be a place where slow faithfulness and deep relationships are encouraged.

Cultivate in your children a deep love for the local church, wherever that is, and see what happens. Be careful that your family isn’t so holy and set apart that you cut yourself off from local fellowship. I’ve seen fundamentalist-conservative families and hyper-charismatic families do this, flitting from church to church, never finding the perfect fit. Consider honestly assessing your family’s pattern of church involvement.

Hopping around might not be detrimental to you, but your kids may end up lacking the attachments that will really make a difference in the long run.

Again, the old man speaks: settle down! Get used to church being not perfect. Find a local, inadequate, warty Church, and love her. Love your brothers and sisters and let your kids develop some long, slow relationships with real humans. Read Eugene Peterson and Tim Keller. [I hope this goes without saying, but it’s important to clarify: I’m NOT saying you should stay in an abusive, legalistic, graceless church just for the sake of staying. That type of environment could suck the life right out of you, and your kids.]

Now, of course I realize that our overseas communities are largely transient. And I realize that there may not be an identifiable church where you’re at. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s not the case; if we lack a good church fellowship, if our kids are Homescapes MOD flipped and flopped from here to there and back again, that might be more on us than on our circumstances. Don’t blame the environment or the cross-cultural lifestyle unless that’s actually what’s caused the disconnect.

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May our children play. May they explore and experience life, without needing some grand purpose or some world-altering goal.

May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, flowing straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

And when they doubt our love or His, may they remember. May they turn.

And in their search for Home, may they find the One who’s been standing there all along, at the other end of baggage claim, with a beautiful hand-written sign, that says “Welcome Home.”

 

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Further Reading:
I realize this has been heavy. I realize it’s potentially been a downer. So I’d love to dialogue with you about it, if you want. We can visit in the comments below or on Facebook. Do you disagree? I’d love to hear from you too. This issue is worth some conversation, for the children’s sake.

In the meantime, here are some articles that explore similar ideas:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

It’s Not All About War

The Idolatry of Missions

Why Be a World Changer [I don’t know this author, but I’m indebted to him for his well-formulated thoughts on this issue]

10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, A Quiz

(I wrote this a long time ago but never hit “publish.” Two of my three kids are now adults, which slightly changes my personal context. But, the essay still stands, a little encouragement for expats as we face life in sometimes challenging locations.)

“You’re Much More Likely to Be Killed By Brain-Eating Parasites, Texting While Driving, Toddlers, Lightning, Falling Out of Bed, Alcoholism, Food Poisoning, Choking On Food, a Financial Crash, Obesity, Medical Errors or “Autoerotic Asphyxiation” than by Terrorists.” (washingtonsblog)

A quiz:

  1. Are Americans more at risk of dying by terrorist or dying by an appliance falling on us?

Death by appliance.

  1. Is a predator more likely to attack a child walking home from the playground alone or to attack a child playing in the home?

Child playing at home.

  1. Does a child face more of a health risk while climbing a tree or while staring at an iPad?

Staring at an iPad.

  1. Are more kids injured by sledding or by television sets?

Television sets.

10,000 kids went to the ER in 2012 because of sledding accidents.

26,000 kids went to the ER because of television set injuries.

  1. Are kids more at risk while walking home from school or while riding in a car?

Riding in the car.

  1. Is a kid more likely to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger or struck by lightening?

Struck by lightening.

  1. Do more children die at homes with a swimming pool or a gun?

Swimming pool.

  1. Are parents more likely to be afraid of the house with the swimming pool or the gun?

The house with the gun.

  1. True or false: The five most likely things to cause injuries to kids are: kidnapping, terrorists, school shooters, dangerous strangers, and drugs.

False. Those are the five things parents are most worried about.

The five things most likely to cause injury to kids are: car accidents, homicide (by someone they know), child abuse, suicide, and drowning.

We fear the dramatic, the unexpected, the unknown, the stories that make news headlines, and the events that are out of our control. If anything, we should fear the every day, the mundane, the average, the things that are so commonplace they don’t make the nightly news. To be clear, I’m not encouraging us to be afraid of anything, just saying we have our ideas mixed up.

According to the CDC, the least safe thing we can do with our kids is drive them anywhere. And, according to Warwick Cairns, author of How to Live Dangerously, if we wanted our child to be kidnapped, it might happen if we left them on a street corner for 750,000 hours. That is 31,500 days or 85.6 years. But if we want them to be in a car accident, all we have to do is drive them around for 18 years, which we all do.

I don’t think parents can ever entirely get rid of the fear of something happening to our children. I’m sure even my own parents, 40 years after my birth, worry about me. But we can stop using our fears to constrict our children and we can stop using our fears to construct a false sense of security.

We need to refuse to live in the world of ‘what if.’ Living in that world is what is actually dangerous for our children. It is dangerous to model fear as the guiding force in our lives. Dangerous to not engage in the world as it is, broken as it is.

We can live with an expansive, wild love that is stronger than our fear. We can train our kids to think creatively, act decisively, and to understand the world around them. We can model courage and resiliency.  We can demonstrate faith.

I don’t want to raise children who are afraid but rather children who are engaged, courageous, and who know that life will not be perfect or risk-free. I want to teach them that yes, something bad might happen to us, and when or if it does, we will walk through it together to find hope and healing. Because that is the reality.

I can’t protect them every second, even if I wanted to or tried. I am not in control and pretending I am leaves all of us unprepared for pain. And that is what would be dangerous for my kids.

How do you face your fears and those of your family?

Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

This year two of my three Third Culture Kids are graduating. Last year, we went on college tours in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We observed some, um, interesting cultural things. Our observations were specific to the Midwest and our perspective comes from 16 years in the Horn of Africa. But, they just might help you with your own college tours and if you’d like some tips on how to get through these trips with joy, check out these posts: Tips for TCKs Going on College Tours and Tips for Parents of TCKs Going on College Tours.

Girls wear sport shorts, tight and short sport shorts, or pajamas (dressed to impress?).

Minnesotans play a lot of hockey and broomball.

If you grow up in a country with no snow or ice, you don’t know what broomball is (it is okay to ask, get used to asking).

TCKs are the only seniors in a room who have to clarify the question, “Where are you from?” (do you mean where was I born? where my passport says I’m from? where I go to school? where I keep most of my belongings? where I stay every few years in the summer? where my parents pay taxes and will get in-state tuition? where I came from just this morning?).

There are a lot of white people in the Midwest, especially in rural areas (notice, my kids are also white, but they barely realize it. What this means is that the color of a person’s skin tells you very little of their actual history and story. Ask questions, listen, be slow to judge).

Parents and students respond with more excitement to the prospect of a Starbucks on campus (as opposed to all the way across the street) than they do to a $15 YEARLY membership at a club that provides bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, sports equipment, and intramural teams to join. Or than they do to pretty much every other thing mentioned on tour. Starbucks is very important.

They also care that much about Chipotle. As in, there were more comments and questions about Starbucks and Chipotle than about tuition or study abroad opportunities.

My kids are the only ones without their driver’s license.

In a room of 100 prospective students, the American coming from Kenya (or Djibouti, depending on how they answered the question “Where are you from?”) stands out.

Dorms are intriguing unless you’ve lived the last five years in a dorm.

TCKs don’t know what they don’t know about American culture and life. College will show them, real fast. Again, ask questions.

TCKs should probably start saying, “soccer” instead of “football.” Sorry.

Americans really, really, really love their pets. Like, really.

American parents tend to hold their kids back in Kindergarten, especially boys, but then they shove them out early through PSEO (post-secondary education) or AP (advanced placement) courses. Ostensibly, this is about opportunity for the kids. A large part of me wonders how much of this is also about boasting opportunities for the parents?

When you are going to college or you have kids going to college, it is like being pregnant. Meaning it is all you talk about. All the time. Every day. All the time. Like, always. All the times. TCKs might get tired of this and might enjoy talking about something else. Like the World Cup. Or international politics or the monkey that swiped their breakfast muffin. In other words, TCKs going to college, like all young adults going to college, are way more than college.

Parents are super nervous about sending their kids an hour away. Their adult kids. I recently heard a mom say that when her daughter didn’t answer the phone for one day, she drove to the campus and searched until she found her daughter and then made her promise to respond immediately to phone calls. Her adult daughter. Who went to school practically down the street. (Parents of TCKs, and myself, be slow to judge. We all need this reminder.)

College campuses are stunning. They are cleaner, more beautiful, and better equipped in terms of restaurants, entertainment, medical facilities, bathrooms, etc, than the country in which we live.

Yes, some people think Kenya is a city near Africa. Even college-bound people. And correct, no one knows what a Djibouti is. Again, sorry. And again, try not to judge. Remember how you didn’t know what broomball was?

Race and gender really are significant topics on college campuses and TCKs, who have grown up in very different racial or gender dynamics, can both offer a unique perspective and will benefit from a parent and also a peer who can help them navigate these topics. Everyone has a lot to learn and that’s a huge part of what college is for.

Enjoy your tours, make the most of them! Take notes on some of the cultural things you notice.

What are some things that helped you and your TCKs explore universities?

Here are a few more resources on college and TCKs:

Janneke Jellema’s essay in Finding Home for advice on transitioning to university as a TCK.

Marilyn Gardner’s book Passages Through Pakistan, especially the last chapter, for help in handling the emotional side of this major transition.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University, by Tina L. Quick

Should TCKs Take their Parents to College, by Lauren Wells, in A Life Overseas

On Your High School Graduation, by Elizabeth Trotter

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles

Dear Missionary Mom of Littles,

I see you.

I’m starting with that, because I know that often you don’t feel seen. You stay home with the kids while your husband goes out to teach the Bible study. You hang around the back of the church, trying to keep the baby quiet. You have to leave the team meeting early so that your toddler gets his nap.

Of course, every mom of littles, in any culture, is going to struggle with similar things. But I think that this particular season of life is even harder on missionary moms.

Quite likely, you are raising your kids in isolation. You don’t have your own parents or other relatives nearby to help out. There isn’t a Mommy-group at your church or a pee-wee soccer league in your city. There might not even be a McDonald’s Playland or a safe park to walk to. And you feel trapped.

Yes, there are other ladies in your host country with small children. But they may be parenting their children very differently from you. They might live in their mother-in-law’s house. They might put their kids in all-day preschool at two years old, or hire a full-time nanny, or be okay with letting their children freely roam the streets. They might criticize you for not keeping your child warm enough or spoiling them too much or not spoiling them enough or for giving your child a popsicle, even when it’s 90 degrees outside. And you feel very alone.

Maybe you’re remembering earlier days, when you worked right alongside your husband, or when your job felt significant. When your ministry was thriving and you could look back at the end of the day and feel satisfied with all you accomplished. Now you feel exhausted but have nothing to show for it. Your newsletters are full of your husband’s adventures, but you don’t have anything to contribute. And your life just feels….boring.

And you may wonder, What’s the point? Why am I here? You know the importance of spending these years with your little ones, but it feels like you could be doing the exact same job in your home country. Except there, your life would be less lonely and less difficult.

I was you for ten years. When I see you, I remember.

This is what I learned, and this is what I want you to know today.

Be creative. You get the opportunity to take the best parts of parenting from multiple cultures. You don’t have to do it exactly like they do, but you also don’t have to raise your children exactly the way you were raised. Work within your host culture’s expectations of raising children. Maybe that means hiring a part-time nanny or housekeeper. Maybe that means letting your kids play outside in much colder or hotter weather than your home country.

Find your ministry niche. This is so, so important for moms of littles. True, you probably won’t be able to engage in full-time ministry during this season. But find something. Something that will allow you to use your gifts and interests in your host culture. Maybe it’s hospitality. Maybe it’s doing accounting while your kids are napping. Maybe it’s teaching for a few hours a week. Maybe it’s connected to what your husband is doing, but maybe it’s not. Either way is okay.

Embrace the advantages of this season. Adorable small children are a great way to start relationships. Even better, people talk slower and more simply to children—which is exactly what you need as a language learner. And if the combination of your kids and your city restrict you to your house most of the time, then think of this as an excellent season for learning. Listen to language lessons during playtime. Read books on culture during nap time. Pepper your neighbor with questions about culture. You will learn a side of your host country that your husband or teammates won’t see, and that is an important contribution.

Be brave. Cross-cultural work is always hard, but it might be easier for your husband, who has a school or office or business to go off to every day. It can be a lot harder for a mom who needs to summon up the courage to knock on the neighbor’s door, initiate the conversation in a new language, get to know the woman who just criticized your baby’s sockless feet. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay home. Fight against that tendency.

Be faithful. This season will not last forever. It feels like it—trust me, I know. The days are endless and mind-numbing, but one day you will throw away your last diaper or brush your last set of teeth. Your kids will become more independent and you won’t have to watch them every waking second. Your life will not always be this restrictive or exhausting.

Hang in there, Mom of Littles. Take joy in their giggles, pray through the long nights, and get up in the morning. God will not waste your faithfulness.

 

If you live cross-culturally and are not a mom of littles, I encourage you: Show these missionary moms you see them. Hold the baby. Offer to baby-sit. Ask for their contributions in your strategic planning. Value their voices. Work around their schedules. Look for ways to use their gifts. You and your team will be stronger for it.

My littles from nine years ago. Seems like yesterday.

Parenting in Real Life: Ministry Version

by Mandi Hart

As long as I can remember,  I have been captivated by the thought that we reproduce who we are in others. We will reproduce not only what we say, but who we are. It is something that is ‘caught’ and not ‘taught’. Apple trees will reproduce apples and orange trees will produce oranges. I first heard that concept many years ago when I was learning about discipling others and the teacher was telling us that we need to live out of who we are in Christ.

Joseph Chilton Pearce says that what we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become. We really do reproduce who we are in our children even when we don’t want to admit it. Our children know without being taught whether you are sincere or not. They see through our masks in ways that adults often can’t.

One of the challenges I have encountered since becoming a missionary is that we pray for the work on the field, we plan various activities on how to reach those who do not know Jesus, and our conversations centre around the gospel most of the day. And then we come home. Our children need us, and my husband and I discovered that we had poured ourselves out to their detriment during the day.

Our children go to a ‘secular’ school. We prayed as a family and all agreed the Lord was leading them to be around children their own age from all spheres of life. As a matter of fact, this helps us. It is a great reminder that we are the primary source for teaching our children about the Lord. The Old Testament reminds of that as well. It’s so easy to let the churches or schools teach our children about God and His ways.

One evening, my husband and I looked at each other and shook our heads in sadness. We realised that we were too tired from all our conversations during the day to speak to our teens about the Lord. Then, one day, we had a valuable discussion about it and understood how purposeful we really needed to be with them.

We have to parent intentionally. The result was that we changed a few things in our schedules so that we could be more available to our children. We stopped having afternoon meetings at our home and removed many of the work items from our lounge and dining room. Our home had started feeling like a missions base and not a safe place.

Within a short period of time, we started to notice a few changes in our children’s hearts. We had more energy to have those spiritual discussions them too. All of us started to enjoy doing Bible studies again, and we spent more time discipling them.

Whilst we don’t always have it right, we’ve learned some things through this experience:

1. Keep your home a haven — a safe place from the world (for you and your children).

2. Set some boundaries around your work so that your children feel like they can enjoy being at home.

3. Make sure that you have enough energy left to spend time with them. You need to intentionally invest spiritually into your children.

4. Admit your mistakes and be real.

5. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you as you parent and love them.

Being a missionary doesn’t mean that my mission field is only ‘out there’; it starts at home with my children. They are the ones I want to minister to first. After all, I will reproduce who I am in them rather that what I say or do.

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Mandi Hart lives in Cape Town, South Africa but carries the nations in her heart. She and her husband, Neil, are the leaders of All Nations Cape Town and have been involved in church planting, discipleship, and missionary training for over a decade. Mandi holds a certification in counseling and a degree in communications and has ministered to mothers and families in a number of ways over the years, including leading a moms group of over 75 moms of babies and toddlers. She has run parenting workshops in Africa & the Middle East and thinks that every stage of parenting is the best stage (she currently has two teenagers). Mandi loves spontaneous adventures, traveling, and sharing a delicious meal with friends and has just released her book Parenting With Courage.

It was an accident!

I never wanted to be a writer. Ever.

My first article for A Life Overseas was only the second article I’d ever written. Seriously.

But God retains his sense of humor, and I retain my sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the leaders of the site who gave me the bandwidth, and I’m grateful for you, the readers, who continue to give me the brainwidth. Thank you.

There are about 9,000 more readers now than there were three years ago. So I thought I’d go retrospective with this post, collating former articles and re-presenting them to you. I’ve divided them into some rough categories:

  1. Rest & Laughter
  2. Family
  3. Missiology
  4. Grief & Loss
  5. Theology
  6. People

Feel free to browse around and see if there’s anything you missed that you want to unmiss. And if you feel like these articles could serve as a resource for someone else, we provide handy sharing links at the bottom. Merry Christmas.

 

REGARDING REST & LAUGHTER
Please Stop Running
God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics. Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion
To remember the sun’s existence on a rainy day is to remember Reality. Dancing in the downpour is a prophetic thing: It will not always storm.

No, Seriously, Laugh
“If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.”

 

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REGARDING FAMILY
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

Missionary Mommy Wars
They are battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest.

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Marriage is for intimacy. The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh. The first taste of summer.

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

 

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REGARDING MISSIOLOGY
10 Reasons You Should be a Missionary
Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.

The Idolatry of Missions
For too long, we have idolized overseas missions. We need to stop now.

10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
The toilets are different.

Why Are We Here?
Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement
We need the Psalms; not because the Psalms will teach us how to be super Christians, but because the Psalms will teach us how to be human Christians.

Misogyny in Missions
Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private.

Go to the small places
When we overdose on our own importance or the magnitude of evil in the world, the small places are the antidote. Narcan for the soul. Or at least, they can be.

It’s Not all About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric
One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom. One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
“Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

 

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REGARDING GRIEF & LOSS
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
How could we question the plan of God by crying?

When Grief Bleeds
Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Worthless
The feeling rises and crests like an impending wave barreling towards the surface of my heart. And with each wave of worthlessness comes an intense weariness of soul, a near drowning.

To the ones who think they’ve failed
So, you failed to save the world. You failed to complete the task of global evangelism. You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region. You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

When you just want to go home
He’s longing for home too. So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland
Grief is a gift that the Church needs to learn to deal with.

 

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REGARDING THEOLOGY
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
If you find yourself in the dark today, not sure of what to do or where to go, I’d like to give you three pinpoints of light. Three true stars by which to navigate the night.

My House Shall be Called
If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

A Christmas Prayer
The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may the Church.

Before You Cry “Demon!”
Blaming the devil shouldn’t be our default.

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want
Maybe Jesus says it’s bread, maybe he says it’s nourishing and important, but maybe it looks an awful lot like a rock. Do we throw it back in his face, screaming?

 

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REGARDING PEOPLE
Anger Abroad
I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

How to Communicate so People Will Care
Speak from the heart. Or be funny. Or both. But never neither.

6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester.

Facebook lies and other truths
Our supporters and friends probably won’t lose money by showing a picture of a vacation. We might. On the other hand, our friends won’t make money by showing a picture of a destitute child or a baptism. We might.

In 2017, Get to Know Some Dead People
Wisdom was building her house long before people started tweeting in the eaves.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.
Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

REGARDING THE ENDING
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

And so it happened that I stepped out the door, aware that God might start sweeping me to places unknown. And he certainly did. But it was there that I met all of you, and you’ve turned out, after all, to be not so dangerous. Thank you for journeying with me. Let’s keep going…

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

Don’t Ask Me About My Christmas Traditions

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My first Christmas on African soil was when I had just turned six years old.  We had arrived in Liberia only three weeks earlier, and my mom was in the throes of major culture shock.  My parents had shipped over a few presents, but nothing else for Christmas.  My mom managed to find a two-foot plastic tree at a store, and decorated it with tiny candy canes wrapped in cellophane.  After just a few days, the candy canes turned into puddles inside their wrappers.  My mom says it was the most depressing Christmas she’s ever had. 

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Our first Liberian Christmas: My brother and I with our punching balloons, and my sad Mama.

I remember that Christmas, but the funny thing is, I thought it was great.  I remember being concerned how Santa would get into our house without a chimney, but my parents assured me they would leave the door unlocked.  We had a tree, we were together, and it was Christmas.  I was happy.

Fast forward 25 years to when I started raising my own TCKs in tropical Africa.  I was a young mother around the time when social media was really taking off, and I felt suffocated under the expectations of creating a magical Christmas for my children, complete with handmade crafts and meaningful traditions. Not only that, but I was quite literally suffocating in a southern hemisphere tropical climate.  There weren’t going to be any pine trees or snuggling up in pajamas while going out to see Christmas lights.  In fact, the only festivity to be found in our city was a five-foot high, mechanical, singing Santa in our grocery store that terrified my two-year-old and made her run away screaming.

We can tell ourselves that “Jesus is the reason for the season”—and even believe it—but we all know that we have expectations for Christmas to be more than that.  The traditions, the parties, the “magic,” even the cold weather, all are wrapped up in what we dream Christmas is “supposed” to be.

Which is why my first few Christmases as an adult in Tanzania were hard.  I missed my family.  And I missed the smell of wood fires in the air, wearing hats and scarves, and Christmas carols by candlelight.  I mourned over what my children were lacking.   But then I remembered that first Christmas in Liberia, and how I really didn’t care about the absence of icicle lights or pumpkin pie.  I remembered other childhood Christmases in Africa, like when our neighbors from Arizona taught us the Mexican tradition of luminarias—paper bag lanterns that lined the road on Christmas eve.  Or how our British friends introduced us to Christmas crackers, or the time a German guest stuck sparklers in the turkey.  I remembered being thrilled with the goofy, cheaply made presents found at the open-air market.  Or that year in Ethiopia when the Christmas tree was just a green-painted broomstick with branches stuck in it.

Just as TCKs dread the question, “Where are you from?” as a child I also dreaded the question, “What are your family’s Christmas traditions?”  Because growing up, we didn’t have traditions.  Every year was different because we absorbed the traditions of the people around us.  We had a tree, we had each other, and we had joy.  That was enough.

I’ve learned to relax about trying to create traditions or give my children a magical Christmas.  I’ve learned to be happy with our green, warm Christmases in Tanzania, even if it means I need to delete the “winter” songs out of my holiday playlist in order to be content.  My kids don’t need Hershey’s kisses, black-and-gold velvet dresses, or Toys R Us catalogs to be happy.  It’s often refreshing to be away from the commercialism and the psychotic busyness of the States at this time of year.  In fact, sometimes the untraditional, lonely, sparse aspects of an overseas Christmas help us to identify with the Incarnation just a little bit better.

And as for our traditions in Tanzania, they have sprung up naturally, with little effort on my part.  We close the windows and splurge on air conditioning in the living room for two weeks in December.  We have a water balloon fight.  I love to bake, so we make gingerbread houses from scratch.  But even these traditions I hold loosely, knowing that every year will vary by country or climate or what’s available at the grocery store. 

If you are one of those amazing moms who manages to build traditions that transcend country and climate, go for it.  Share your ideas with us.  But if you can’t, or won’t, or the mere thought of it stresses you out, then take a lesson from my childhood and don’t worry about it so much.  If you have a tree—even if it’s two feet tall or made from a broomstick–if you are together, and if you have joy, that’s all you really need.

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No Easy Answers

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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.

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“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.

Parallel Lives: TCKs, Parents, and the Culture Gap

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By Tanya Crossman

Something I’ve heard a lot of expat parents say is that their whole family is “in it together” or that they are “called” together. The basic assumption is that all members of the family go abroad and live overseas together – they are bonded by the same experience. When I hear this, however, I think two things:

First, I am so glad you and your kids are on the same team!

But, are you aware that you aren’t sharing the same experience?

To explain what I mean, I need to define some confusingly similar acronyms: TCK, ATCK, and TCA.

TCK stands for Third Culture Kid – a young person who has spent a significant part of childhood outside her passport country.

ATCK is Adult Third Culture Kid – an adult who had a TCK childhood.

TCA is Third Culture Adult – an adult who has lived outside his passport country, but only as an adult.

An important thing to grasp is that TCKs (who become ATCKs) begin their expat journey as children, while TCAs do not live abroad until adulthood.

It might sound subtle, but the difference is actually very significant. The children of expat families are TCKs – but the parents are usually TCAs. They are living in the same country, but while parents experience and process the challenge of cross-cultural living as adults, TCKs grow up and form identity in the middle of it.

Expat parents have parallel experiences to their children – in the same places, but qualitatively different.

You live in the same countries.

But it affects you differently.

Overseas life is different for TCAs/TCKs in a few ways. These differences do not mean the TCK has a better (or worse) experience. If these differences go unnoticed, however, they lead to misunderstandings between parents and children. This leaves many parents feeling frustrated and many children feeling unheard.

I’ve worked with TCKs for 11 years (I lived in China for most of that time). And I’ve spent the last three and a half years working on a book that explains the TCK experience of life to those who care about them. I interviewed nearly 300 TCKs about their experiences (and surveyed 750 TCKs). Most were aware that they experienced their host countries and passport countries differently to their parents; many felt their parents were far less aware of the differences. In fact, one third of the 750 TCKs I surveyed said they felt misunderstood by their parents.

I am going to outline three of the differences between what a TCA and a TCK experience overseas: connection, identity, and choice.

 

Connection

A TCA moves abroad having experienced comprehensive connection to one country as a child. A TCA has deep emotional connections to her passport country because a large percentage of her life was spent there. These emotional connections are experiential – memories of lived life there.

A TCK, however, experiences multiple countries/cultures during childhood. Two-thirds of the TCKs I surveyed first moved abroad before age five, 58% spent more than half their childhoods abroad, and a 30% spent less than three years in their passport countries. Most TCKs have more time in their host countries than in their passport countries, so that is where most of their emotional connections are made.

Why does this matter?

Your TCK children will not have the same emotional connection to the people, places and activities of your country (and your childhood) that you do. Things that mean the world to you may not mean much to them. They may dislike your comfort foods, find your favourite sport boring, or be unmoved by things which bring you to tears. They may intellectually understand that these things are supposed to matter, but not feel a connection to them. If they fear disapproval, they may learn to “fake it”. Giving your TCKs space to feel differently, even if it is sad or disappointing to you, is vital to maintaining open communication and strong understanding between you.

 

Identity

A TCA comes abroad with a fully formed sense of self, connected to a particular country – the place that is “home”. A TCK grows up caught between two places that are both “home”. Most TCKs develop personal identity against a backdrop of frequent change. TCKs are not just experiencing life overseas, they are trying to make sense of the world (and themselves) while doing so.

The events of international life certainly affect TCAs, but they affect TCKs much more deeply – becoming part of the bedrock of their emotional worlds. For example, many TCKs I interviewed spoke of learning that “everyone leaves”. Watching friends leave, or moving on themselves, affected how they saw the world. Woven into their sense of self was the knowledge that nothing is permanent.

Why does this matter?

TCKs are individuals, and they deal with international life differently. But regardless of how they process the experience, living overseas will impact how they see the world, and the people in it – leading to what may be very different worldview to your own. When your child’s view clashes with your own, take time to understand why they think what they do, rather than trying to “correct” their perspective.

 

Choice

Being an adult, a TCA has far more control over the decision to live abroad. No one becomes a TCK by choice. Not that it’s a bad thing (quite the opposite – 92% of MKs surveyed were thankful for their experience) but it happens because a decision has been made on the child’s behalf. Even when a child (especially an older child) is consulted about moving abroad, it is still the parent who has the power to actually make the decision.

While a few MKs I interviewed said they felt they as children were missionaries alongside their parents, that living abroad was their own “calling” as well as their parents, most did not share this feeling. A few expressed strong resentment that these choices were made on their behalf (12% of MKs surveyed felt resentment about their childhoods).

Why does this matter?

All parents make decisions on behalf of their children, but the decision to take a child overseas means giving them a very different childhood. It is important for parents to understand their choices have created a culture gap. That gap is not evidence of a bad decision – it is a natural consequence of a different cultural upbringing. Denying it or trying to “fix” it does not change the situation. What does make a difference is recognising the gap and taking steps to listen to the child’s point of view.

You live abroad together.

But the impact of that life is different.

 

My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel. Having spent years helping expat parents understand their children, I wrote a book to do what I do – give insights into the perspective of TCKs.

When parents (and other adults) recognise the difference between an adult’s experience of life overseas and a child’s experience, it is a huge step toward the sort of understanding that encourages and comforts TCKs.

You are on the same team.

You do experience life abroad differently.

But with awareness and care, you can still understand each other deeply.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TC_headshot-sqTanya Crossman went to China to study for a year and ended up there 11 years, working for international churches and mentoring Third Culture Kids (her book about TCKs releases this week). She currently lives in Australia studying toward a Master of Divinity degree at SMBC. She enjoys stories, sunshine, Chinese food and Australian chocolate. |www.misunderstood-book.com | facebook: misunderstoodTCK | twitter: tanyaTCK

The Balancing Act of MK Education

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I can still picture them:  Miss Eager, Mrs. Sacra, Miss Davis, and many more.  They gave up a good salary and a steady career to teach missionary kids in an unstable African country.  And I was in their classrooms.

It was the investment of teachers like these who inspired me to pursue education as a career, specifically MK education.  And that’s exactly the path God has taken me.

My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right)
My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right in pink)

As a child living overseas, I experienced both MK school and boarding school.  As an adult, I’ve been involved in MK/TCK education for 12 years.  I’m passionate about MK education, and over the years have spoken to many missionaries about schooling decisions for their children.  Here is what I’ve learned.

 

First, what are the choices?  Some parents have many to choose from, others have only one.  Each has their own advantages and disadvantages to overseas life.

Homeschool:  Maybe you are called to it, no matter where you are living.  Or maybe it’s really the only option available to you.

Pros:  Homeschooling gives you complete control of your kids’ education, and gives the family a lot of flexibility.  It can make travel and transition easier, and it can be a great way to get the kids into the community and include them in your ministry.

Cons:  Homeschooling overseas tends to be more isolating than in your passport country, where there are lots of groups to join.  It also can be challenging for the homeschooling parent to get into the language and culture; and it limits external ministry options for that parent.

 

Missionary school (or Christian international school):  MK schools are not available for many missionaries, but it’s great when they are, because they are specially created to meet the needs of your kids.

Pros:  MK schools can be a great “bridge between worlds” for your kids, especially if the school includes local children.  Usually, MK schools provide good academic and social preparation for returning to your passport country and a safe, nurturing environment that doesn’t require a lot of cultural transition for your kids.

Cons:  Sometimes MK schools create a missionary “bubble” that keeps the children (or even the family) separated from the local culture and language.

 

Boarding school:  Even though boarding school sometimes gets a bad reputation, many wonderful boarding schools exist, and there are good reasons why it is the best option for some families.  I’ve known many families who said they would never send their kids to boarding school, but relented in the end because they could clearly see it was the best option for their kids.  And their kids thrived.

Pros:  For families in cultural settings where kids don’t get to experience any of western life, or if the culture doesn’t allow them to make peer friendships, boarding schools are a wonderful blessing.

Cons:  Pretty obvious:  Being apart stinks.  But often it’s worse for the parents than the kids.

 

Local school:  This is a diverse category!  There are local government schools or private schools, both in English or the local language.  These type of schools have a huge range in cost, resources, academic options, language, discipline style and social dynamics.

Pros:  Local schools can be an amazing way for a family to get into a community.  They are also one of the easiest ways for kids to learn another language and make local friends.

Cons:  These schools are often very different than western schools in culture, language, and teaching/discipline styles.  They can put kids on a huge learning curve, and parents will need to work closely with their children to know how far to push them and how much to support them.  Many times, parents will need to supplement their kids’ academics to make sure they will be ready to eventually assimilate into their home culture.

 

Some considerations when choosing:

  1. Know yourself and know your kids. 

You know yourself and your kids better than anyone else.  Regarding yourself, you need to ask:  Given my ministry calling, language learning requirements, and my own wiring, how much time and energy can I devote to my kids’ education?  Unless your kids are at an effective MK school or boarding school, you will likely need to be highly engaged with your kids’ learning.  More parents can effectively homeschool or supplement their kids’ education than they might realize, but it is important to consider how your kids’ schooling will balance with your ministry.

Regarding your kids, you need to ask:  How adaptable are my children?  Would they be able to handle school “cold turkey” in a new language?  How far can I push my kids in a hard situation without breaking their spirits?  How many transitions have they already gone through?   How will this type of education affect my child’s ability to make friends?

You might not always have the right answers, and even the right answers might change from year to year or kid to kid.  Every year and each child is different, and it is totally okay for each child to do school a different way.

As a side note, let’s remember that this is true for every family, so let’s make sure to support other family’s educational choices, even if they are different from our own.

 

  1. Remember that you are always your child’s most important teacher.

You, Mom and Dad, are the most important teachers in your children’s lives, whether or not you homeschool them.  Keep this in mind when considering their education.  Does your child’s school ignore the history of your passport country?  Then make the effort to teach it to them yourself during the summer months.  Is your child going to school in a different language?  Then you need to supplement their education with your own English lessons.  Is your child being indoctrinated by a secular worldview?  Then make sure you are actively and intentionally training them in a biblical one.  Don’t just sit by and fret about the gaps in your child’s education.  These days, there are a plethora of resources available to parents; take advantage of them.

 

  1. Don’t worry so much.

I attended seven schools growing up.  So much change was hard at times, but each school played a part in making me who I am today, and I’m thankful for those experiences.  A missionary friend told me how both her girls were held back a grade due to so many transitions, but eventually both graduated from college with honors.  As a teacher who is now raising her own kids, I am far more concerned about my kids’ social and spiritual progress than I am about their academic grades.  I know that the academics will come; the other stuff is a lot more important.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry at all.  Your kids’ education is a big deal, and you need to take it seriously.  But if they lose three months of school because of a move, or the homeschooling shipment doesn’t make it on time, or your kids’ MK school has a substandard substitute for six months, don’t panic.  In the older grades, it does get more complicated, but especially when they are young, your kids will recover.  As long as your kids are at least average learners, they will catch up.  It will be okay.

There is an exception:  If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, or if you have any suspicion he or she might have one, then you must take it very seriously.  Some learning disabilities absolutely require early intervention to have the best results.  So find a specialist to Skype with, and don’t put off getting help quickly.

 

  1. There’s never going to be a perfect situation, so trusting God is important.

Perhaps the best question to ask yourself is:  How can I best balance the needs of my children with the ministry God has called us to?  At times, you might feel like that balance is like standing precariously on the top of a sharpened pencil.

No matter what educational road you go down, there are going to be bumps.  There are going to be things your kids miss out on, there are going to be many transitions, and you will probably make the wrong decision sometimes.  Thankfully, God is holding our children, He knows what is best for them; and He can redeem even the hard circumstances of our kids’ lives.

 

This is a big issue; really too much for one blog post!  So let’s get the conversation started.  This is a great place to ask questions or share your advice.  What works for your family?  How about we hear from some MK’s themselves?  And if we broaden this discussion to non-missionary TCK’s, we can bring in other types of schooling as well.  How can you add to the discussion?  Lots of people want to hear! 

How Does Working with Human Trafficking impact a heart, a marriage, and parenting?

I am delighted today to share a conversation with my friend Lauren Pinkston. Lauren is married and has a delightful toddler who will soon become a big sister through international adoption. Lauren is super energetic, fun, and so graciously open to chatting. She and her family live in Southeast Asia and work with human trafficking. I wanted to talk with her because I wondered how working with human trafficking impacts other aspects of being a Christian and a human.

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Lauren, first of all I love chatting about these kind of topics and I know you do too. Please share a little bit about where you live and the work you do a little bit about where you live and the work you do.

I live in a creative access country in SE Asia, so it is really difficult to talk about what I do. Based on the audience reading this interview, I believe people will understand the heart behind all the dreams I have for my work in this place. I am also greatly bent towards justice, so other than praying like crazy for Good News to be spread, I want to see physical redemption brought to the people of this land.

I work in the mornings at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where I’m writing my dissertation and researching human trafficking patterns in the area. In the afternoons, I direct a new social enterprise where we employ women who are seeking safe work…from girls in safe houses to women actually running brothels. We believe that if we rescue one girl from human trafficking, we will be opening up a spot for other girls to be victimized. So, slowly, we are developing relationships with brothel owners and offering employment if they shut down their business as usual and reopen their business as a handicraft co-op.

Being a wife and mom are my full-time, fun jobs. : )

 

Human trafficking seems so dark, I think many don’t even know how to approach the subject. What have you learned about darkness from your work? Paradoxically, how is it not as dark as you thought?

You know, there really is so much darkness. Just last week I sat across the table from a woman who answered a phone call from a man looking to buy a prostitute for the night. As I listened to her talk so casually about selling another woman’s body, I got so angry on the inside it took everything in me not to turn the table over and scream at her to get out of my workspace.

It reminded me of just how blatantly evil walks around on this earth, and how as Believers we forget about it. We stay tucked away in our comfortable faith communities where people understand us and think like us and welcome us. We do this even on ‘the field.’ I’m guilty! We just simply forget that the majority of the world is living unthinkable realities every day.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen how truly resilient humans are. It’s incredible to see the young girls we’ve employed giggling, running around, and going about their daily lives as if they haven’t experienced the horrible abuses they once knew. His redemption really can blot out painful pasts, and I am so thankful I get to witness this first-hand.

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How has working with human trafficking impacted your marriage (for good, or maybe in ways that have surprised you?)? 

I can honestly say that there are good and bad ways that this work has affected my marriage. Some days I am so disgusted by the stories I read and the things I see that I don’t have many positive things to say about men. Some days I am so emotionally tired that I have nothing left when I come home. And some days I can’t think about intimacy because the images and filth I’ve encountered are stronger than the relationship I have with my husband.

But MOST days, honestly almost ALL days…I am nothing but grateful to have my incredible husband standing beside me. He has become my biggest cheerleader in this line of work, and supports me day in and day out with such long-suffering. I am so thankful that the women and girls I interact with can also see me interact with a husband who is affectionate, kind, and patient. When they see a God-fearing man who leads his home with intentionality and fathers his daughter with such gentleness, they see the opposite of what they’ve experienced with men before. And THIS strengthens my marriage more than anything. I am so, so grateful that my story is one that includes my loving husband.

 

Tell us a little bit about your daughter and the tensions you may feel knowing that many who you work with are equally valuable to God, but for complex and varied reasons have had very different childhoods.

Wow – how did you know I feel that tension?! I feel it some with my biological daughter, but I REALLY feel it when I pray for the little girl my husband and I are adopting from Uganda. Knowing that in a few short years, if she wasn’t adopted, she could easily become another statistic as a human trafficking victim…whew. I feel a lot of feels.

I just want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR!!! on behalf of all the kids that don’t have safe home environments. It makes no sense that one child can have parents doting on every single developmental milestone while another is sold by her parents to pay of a small land debt. It literally makes me sick.

But that just takes me back to the power and the purpose of the Lord’s church. Shame on us when we don’t live out the incarnational person of Christ. Just shame on us. There are too many believers in this world to still have so many children at risk of exploitation. There are too many parents that need friends and mentors so that they can raise their own children to be happy and healthy. There are too many dark places without the slightest glimmer of light.

 

Any final remarks you’d like to make?

Well I guess while I’m preaching, I’ll just say this: I don’t understand why the church has so much trouble being the church.

I’m thinking about light and darkness a lot in this interview, so an image of an auditorium with a stage is coming to mind. You know how, when you have a really bright spotlight shining on a stage, the other parts of the room are still dark? And when you’re standing on the stage, if you look into the spotlight, it’s really hard to see anything else in the room? The light kind of blinds you for a minute.

I feel like so many times as the church, we are that spotlight. We all clump together in our safe huddles, and become this spotlight shining in one direction so that we are too overwhelming for the person standing in front of us, while the rest of the room is left in the dark.

For example, when a hot-button topic comes up in the news (like Planned Parenthood), we shout and scream and wave our Bibles so much that the rest of the world is blinded by our yelling. They can’t hear our message. The issue of abortion is center stage, but there are pregnant, single moms and orphans without homes scattered throughout the audience. No one is wandering into those dark places of the auditorium. We can’t all go to one orphan in a group. We can’t sit beside our friends if we go to that young, scared teenager. That’s all too uncomfortable.

How I wish we could just forget about being the spotlight and instead just carry a little cell phone flashlight. If we dispersed ourselves amongst all the people in the room without light, we could all see. Sitting side-by-side with those in need, offering the little we have, and being the church that believes in lighting up the whole world. With whatever talents we have, with whatever little thing we have to offer. Just spreading out our little so that the whole room is lit up.

Lauren, I love how you peer into the dark corners of the room and say to those sitting in the dark, “I see you. You are not forgotten and we are coming for you with the Love of Christ.” Now for the day when we can hang out for hours in person :).

How has your work impacted you as a person? How has it impacted your marriage or parenting? Any questions for Lauren?

If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, she can be found at:

instagram: @lmpinkston

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

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We don’t go into cross cultural missions without a fair degree of idealism. We would never leave our home, family, friends and culture if we didn’t think it was our calling and that we would make a difference. As parents, our children become part of that idealism. We can’t help having expectations and dreams of how our kids will be shaped by an amazing cross cultural experience.  As I look back over the years, I can see how my ideals didn’t line up so well with our family reality. For me, growth has included embracing a continual lowering of expectations and perhaps a little more acceptance of being who we are.

My sons are now 19 and 17. As a family we are about to leave SE Asia for a season to help them settle, or become unsettled (depending on how it goes), back into our passport country. They were born in our passport country and moved with my husband and me to SE Asia at the ages of 4 and 6.

We had already spent 3 years in that country before they were born and had a reasonable grasp of the language. We wanted to go deeper this time. I imagined us becoming a culturally-integrated and truly incarnational family, making a profound impact by our deep identification with the people. We somehow thought that immersing our kids into the culture would be easy even though our own previous experience of living in that culture had been extremely challenging. So many people had told us that kids are incredibly adaptable and resilient. They teased that our boys would soon be much more fluent in the language than we were and love all the new experiences.  It didn’t work out like that for us.

It’s easy to see things clearer in hindsight. At the time it seemed like a good idea to please our local friends by placing our boys in a national school of 6,000 students, where our children were the only little blond foreigners that the school had ever had. That was the beginning of an exhausting and painful inner struggle that felt like a tug-of-war in my guts. I was torn between what was best for my kids (helping them grow, learn, and be stretched, but still protected) and doing whatever it took to build relationships with local people and feel accepted by them.

We did come up with a strategy, after a few disastrous experiences, for how our kids could avoid being touched, kissed and pinched by strangers, or teachers who should know better, and still maintain some level of respectfulness. We made it clear to them that snarling like a rabid dog as adults approach is not OK. But giving the formal greeting of hands in front of the face and then running off before they can touch you is usually acceptable.

There were many days out visiting in a village where after several hours of intense connecting with local kids I could see my boys were just about to reach that point of things getting ugly. They were exhausted from the cross cultural relating, and it was in all our interests to leave NOW.  Again I felt the inner wrenching of being torn by the desire to stay and go deeper with our local relationships and ministry and giving our kids what they needed.

I now see how children have culture shock and culture stress like we all do, and they don’t just adapt because they are kids. They react according to their personality and a myriad of other factors that can be hard to identify or predict. They need support and acknowledgement of their struggles. We came to realize that although we really valued local relationships and knew they were key to our ministry, our relationship with our kids was the one that would last a life time. That was our top priority. That didn’t mean life was all about them, or we never expected them to learn patience and self-control. It did mean that we wanted them to know we were always there for them and were trying to make the best decisions we could for us as a family, trusting that God was in it all with us. One time this meant relocating to a city where they could attend international school, quite a change and unsettling for our ministry, but definitely the best decision for us as a family.

When the boys were 12 and 14, we moved to another country in SE Asia with a different language and culture. This time I accepted from the beginning that it was the international community that would be their life. My husband and I went to language school again, and they went to an international school. After five years they have friends from all over the world but only speak enough local language to tell directions to a Tuk Tuk (local taxi) driver.  They have not gone to a local church or become friends with the local neighbors. But they do have a supportive school community. They can get around the city independently and are fully engaged in the international church and youth group. I’m more than content with that.

My kids are definitely TCKs, although they don’t like to be labeled as such because, like most of us, they just don’t like being labeled. They are TCKs who connect deepest with other TCKs but they are also their own persons. They have their own experiences of being a TCK and don’t necessarily tick every box on the ‘you know you are a TCK whenlist. They may not have connected very deeply with this culture we live in but that is OK and I really like them.

Sometimes parents of younger children who know my boys and see how they are usually pretty comfortable relating to other kids and adults ask me something like “What are your parenting tips for TCKs?” I don’t think I have anything to offer that is different from what you would read in any quality parenting book. I naturally think my sons are great, but I believe that has more to do with who they are than anything my husband or I did or didn’t do. We made plenty of mistakes. There have been many influences in their lives. If I believe that they are great young people because of my incredible parenting, then I am setting myself up for some difficult days ahead. If they start making decisions I am unhappy about does that mean I really messed up as a parent? We really don’t have that much control. I’m grateful that God leads us all on a journey of grace and healing, our kids included.

Accepting who we are and who my kids are means being willing to not hold too tightly to certain definitions or ideals. It means being open to things being a little fuzzy for a while and different from what we expected, and that can be hard. It means letting our kids be the people they are becoming and letting go of a desire to make them into any kind of extension of ourselves. Yes, we have been in this cross cultural life together as a family and we are all shaped by that, but they are not little missionaries. They are themselves. And I really like them.

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My name is Rachael from Australia. Before having children, my husband and I served in Thailand for three years, working with people living with leprosy and other disabilities. After a significant time back in our home country we returned with our two sons for another five years of working with the Thai national church. We later moved to Cambodia and served in team leadership with our mission for five and a half years. Our boys have done Thai national schooling, home schooling, Australian government schooling, and both Christian and secular international schooling. They will soon be university students in Australia and more importantly, they are still talking to us.