Friday, July 10, 2015

Our Missionary Kids

After Caleb was born, I was talking with someone about our plans for Africa (which were still a few years away at that point) and the person commented positively that it all sounded good because Caleb would be older by then, implying that we were wise not to leave right away because taking a baby to Africa would be, well, stupid.  I smiled and affirmed that yes, Caleb would be older by then, and left it at that.  What I didn't say was that we hoped to have more kids, who would be younger still by the time we went to Africa, or that we'd be on a plane tomorrow if we weren't stuck here because of residency.  Our son was not keeping us here.  Our fears about raising a kid an ocean away were not keeping us here.  No.  Our commitment and obligation to finish Eli's training (and subsequently our mission training) were keeping us here for now.  Our beautiful chubby-cheeked boy was not.

(2 months old)

A couple years later I had a similar conversation with a different person.  Kai had since arrived and the commentary was much the same.  "So he'll be two years old when you leave?  Oh that's good.  He'll be a little older at least."  Again, I smiled and affirmed that yes, Kai would be older by then, and left it at that.  What I didn't say was that we hoped to have at least one more kid, who would be younger still by the time we went to Africa, or that we'd be on a plane tomorrow if we weren't stuck here because of residency.  Our second son was not keeping us here, just as Caleb had not kept us here.  Our children, while forever changing the picture of missions for us, have not kept us here.

(1 month old)

Now I'm pregnant with our third, and this Baby Horn will still be an infant when we leave next year.  I know we're turning heads because some people think that taking our children to Africa, particularly when they're so young, would be, well, stupid.  We don't deny that we'll have our hands full.  Our hands are already full and we're not naive enough to think it will be easier when we get to Africa.  We don't deny that our transition to the mission field will be more difficult because we now have kids who'll need to transition too.  And we don't deny that our life on the mission field will require more intentionality in our parenting, more heart-to-heart conversations about life and relationships and God and just about everything, and more wisdom and patience as we teach and train our kids to be godly people as they traverse between cultures.  Life will most likely not be easier because we're taking our kids to live in Africa.  But "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).  Our continued prayer is that as we obey God's call to minister in Africa, that He would protect and bless our kids along the way so they will thrive there.

Baby Horn #3
(30 weeks)

Missionary kids (called MKs for short) are sometimes called Third Culture Kids (TCKs).  Because they have one foot in their home culture and another foot in their host culture, they often feel like they don't belong in either place.  Thus, they feel like they embody a third culture altogether, one entirely their own.  Some missionary kids do exceedingly well on the mission field while others do not.  Every kid has a unique experience living abroad, just like their parents do.  We are anticipating that each of our children will succeed and struggle in different ways, and that we'll have to adapt our parenting to address and meet their individual needs.

There are pros and cons to being a missionary kid, as well as pros and cons to being a parent of missionary kids.  Some pros for the kids: having friends cross-culturally, learning to speak another language, and having a greater understanding of the world.  Some cons for the kids: less time with extended family, confusion about where home is, and working to fit into the local culture.  Some pros for the parents: we're forced to keep life simple (less clothes, less toys, less of everything), we can play outside year-round, and we get to watch our kids explore another part of the world.  Some cons for the parents: no luxuries like playgrounds, McDonald's and trips to the library, not much access to childcare, and having to teach our kids the dos and don'ts of the culture all while trying to understand them ourselves.  Few things in life are without both challenges and blessings.  We just happen to be pursuing something that will grant us and our kids unique challenges and blessings.

With that said, there are very real fears associated with our upcoming move to Africa - most of which revolve around the kids.  Will they survive the plane ride?  Will we survive the plane ride?  Will they sleep well in whatever place we'll call home?  Will they remember not to pick up bugs and snakes and other nefarious things?  Will they get sick with some tropical disease?  Will they remember our families?  Will our picky eaters eat anything?  Will they make friends?  Will they still like each other when we throw them into an entirely new place with new people and hope for the best?  Will they still like us?  These are real questions and fears we sometimes have.  But questions and fears alone are not enough to make us change course and retreat from the mission field.

Having kids was a game-changer for us because it forever altered our outlook on missions.  We are no longer doing this by ourselves.  We are no longer making decisions that only affect ourselves.  We are doing this as a family, which will consist of three little tykes by the time we move to Africa.  We are keenly aware of how their lives have changed everything.  But we are beyond grateful to have them on the journey, to be missionaries with us, and to play a role in our ministry.

Again, we know that some missionary kids do well on the mission field while others simply do not.  Two of my professors in grad school had to leave their respective mission fields because one of their children was not doing well and needed to come home.  If our children ever struggle to the degree that it requires leaving the field, we will do it.  Their health and well-being is a top priority because they are God's gift to us and He has entrusted them to our care.  We don't know what the future holds.  We do know that God has called us to Africa, along with our children, and we will follow through with going and ministering to the people all the while assessing the well-being of our children along the way.  Our prayer is that our missionary kids will do well in Africa - that they will thrive there - and that, having lived on the mission field, they will be wiser, more well-rounded individuals than if they'd never lived there.  May they know and love God in a uniquely beautiful and intimate way because He called them to Africa along with us!

Caleb and Kai