"What About the Children of Missionaries??"
I'm thankful to be a missionary in the 21st century. Things were so much more difficult in the past when transportation and communications were not what they are today. But still, it can be tough on the children who did not ask to become Missionary Kids. It was the parents calling to go and minister in a foreign country, and like it or not the kids were brought along for the ride.
The lives of MK's are very different from their peers back home in the USA.
There's a good book that refers to MK's as "Third Culture Kids" because they don't entirely possess either the culture of their home country or of their adopted country where they live as a missionary family.
There is a definite give-and-take of pluses and minuses. In some ways they're sacrificing tremendously - even perhaps more than the parents. And in other ways they're benefiting.
Beth & I are incredibly thankful - now that 2 of our 3 daughters have left the nest - that our children have done so well. This was by no means guaranteed or "automatic", so we give God the praise for this, and we don't take it for granted. Often our biggest prayer requests as missionaries have been about how our children handle the adjustment.
We are now in our 4th country as missionaries, and coming home each time has also had the effect of what is known as "reverse culture shock": Things are different. People have changed. Life in general has moved on without our knowledge or permission. You feel as if you're in a time-warp because things are familiar but different simultaneously. There's a sense of helplessness that the children feel just as strongly if not more than the parents.
So, I don't know about all missionary families but I know that ours has certainly been through a LOT of adjustments in our 10+ years as missionary personnel.
As some of you may know, our oldest daughter went through a process called "enculteration" which is when someone falls in love with their adopted country so much that they want to make a complete transfer to the new country - body, soul, and spirit.
When we returned from Vanuatu we sought Christian counseling for Havilah (she was 16) because she was truly suffering from a broken heart. She did not want to come back to the USA. For her, "home" was there in Vanuatu. Vanuatu became the place where she felt fulfilled and found her identity.
There are many who cannot understand what this is like. This is a very profound and heart-wrenching thing - - you cannot just say to your child "snap out of it!" I tell people that each of us left a piece of our hearts there in Vanuatu - but especially Havilah.
She once explained to me that, "Dad, this was a bigger chunk of my life than it was of yours because I'm so much younger than you!" While not especially flattered I realized that she was completely correct, and that this is one reason why our time there made such a deep impact on her life.
When you live in another country you begin to understand things in ways you never saw before, and this can be very difficult on a child - especially in their formative years - when this is then yanked away from them. On one hand they're abruptly thrown into the new country, and then once they've acclimated and made friends and built a whole new life - - then they have it taken away from them, and they're thrown right back where they were before (the country of origin), only now things there are strange and different and they don't want to be there - - and the whole arrangement seems like an unfair and surreal nightmare.
This is some of what I've put my kids through, being missionaries.
There have been times I've struggled with guilt, and the Holy Spirit has had to re-inspire me, and show me things from His dimension. I have found that when you trust God, He really does come through.
Today, years later, Havilah is glad for everything and wouldn't trade it. She's married to a young man she met in our next field, after Vanuatu, and they have a child who bring much joy. They've had their struggles like all young couples but they're doing very well.
She still dreams of one day going back to visit Vanuatu - with her family - and she's supportive of her mom & dad continuing as missionaries. She has the benefit of more maturity now, which shows that part of the problem with missionary kids is that, when they're younger, they don't have the abilities to reason and to cope with what is happening to them. So as the parents we must seek to be understanding as we are there for them, and try to help them through these things.
To me it seems like a miracle that our children are doing as well as they are. They've been through a lot. We've seen that kids are indeed tough and resilient, and that they do better when life does have a certain amount of challenges and difficulties.
Even now, with just one child left with us, there are still things that we just have to trust God for. In Christina's school for example - as in all schools on the island I believe - corporal punishment is practised if the children behave badly. Christina has witnessed kids getting whipped with belts for misbehaving. As a north American the prospects that my child might some day get hit with a belt in school is something that doesn't sit well with me...
In Vanuatu there was only one outdoor water faucet and one cup for a school of 140 children. This (and many other things) Beth & I learned from our daughters only after we'd returned home.
Each field has had its own set of strange risks, conditions, and challenges. But whenever you leave home and go to any foreign country you know that there are going to be certain risks involved.We are so grateful that things have gone as well as they have, to date, with our family – and that our children have turned out well – thank God, and to Him be all the glory and praise.