Here is an insightful article on the challenges of raising a family on a mission field. This should provoke prayerful exercise on our part for the families of those laboring abroad.
I will approach the topic, assuming that the children have been born to missionaries in the home land and have relocated abroad. This will present more difficulties than if the child had been born in some particular foreign land where their parents labor in the gospel. The child born abroad is, to a great extent, unaware of the country and conditions that their parents have left. This is not to suggest that a child born abroad does not have feelings and interests for the land of
its parents. There are advantages and disadvantages wherever the child is born.
Raising a family could differ considerably in atmosphere and conditions from country to country. Then there are various conditions induced by living in a city, or remote areas of jungle or similar areas of primitive lifestyle.
When parents first mention moving to a different country, the child may anticipate such a move with excitement. Later, when mom and dad sell the house and start packing, thoughts suddenly arise of the seriousness of what is happening. Decisions will be made as to what the child will take abroad from the many gifts received from various family members. This can cause concern bringing feelings of uncertainty. I remember an older experienced missionary advising us to take as many belongings as possible, particularly from the child’s bedroom. This proved to be immensely helpful in the new living arrangement abroad .
Then comes the time of departure, leaving friends, grandparents and all that has helped establish a safe environment.
High on the list of what brings stress is relocation. We are moving to an unfamiliar region. Add to that a new language. The missionary’s child, if old enough, must learn, with his parents, to adapt. Adults often are threatened by relocating to a new job. Children may not be aware of the uncertainty of such events, but they are affected. Children living overseas love to receive their own mail. That someone would care to take time to write and think of them when far away, has a very definite personal effect.
The Child’s Salvation
No matter where a child is raised, “Salvation is of the Lord.” The missionary’s home abroad, as anywhere, must be a place where God’s Word is read and scriptures taught and memorized by the child. The family table is often the place for family reading and prayer, each name being mentioned at the throne of grace, that God would save them. The Word of God makes very clear that salvation is not “which is born of blood” or human descent (John 1:13). The child must be taught. No amount of parental service, or restrained behavior through discipline will suffice. “There is no difference” (Rom 3:22), for, “Ye must be born again”(John 3:3). The missionary’s child can have the advantage of seeing God change lives from all forms of idolatry, open drunkenness and sin. There is no more powerful evidence of the power of the gospel than to witness an assembly being formed from such converts (Rom 1:16).
This type of exposure has a lasting, positive affect on the child. It is a great tragedy to imply to our children in talk, action or deed, that there is something more important than their eternal salvation.
The Child’s Health
A child’s health care is important. It is often necessary to supplement the food eaten to maintain a balanced diet, keeping up strength and energy. Water in many lands needs to be boiled before drinking. Then there are periods during a dry season in the tropics when water is very scarce.
When sickness occurs, requiring a doctor’s attention or hospitalization, such care is often inadequate. Long line-ups at local clinics can be frustrating. After waiting for hours you may be told to return the next day. The missionary’s home usually has a very well stocked medicine cabinet.
The Child’s Education
When the missionary’s child reaches school age, there are a variety of options in most lands. There is the public school, the private school, and boarding school, which would mean a child leaving home to live a distance away from parents. Then there are home school lessons taught by means of correspondence courses. Missionaries have proven in areas that the boarding school is best. The disadvantage is being away from the mother and father, but the advantage is being schooled with other missionary children. In our own experience, when we formerly applied abroad for public school enrollment, we were ignored. We tried private school and found it expensive. In the end, our children took correspondence studies for six years, as did our fellow laborers’ children. I know of no child on our work field that suffered academically because of correspondence studies. It can be a tremendous load, especially on the mother, grinding through teaching material daily, especially if there are children in different grade levels.
The Child’s Mother
The sphere of the woman is regulated by the apostle Paul in I Tim 2:15, as that of childbearing or child raising. This is further reinforced through Titus by Paul. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5). God has from the very beginning given us what is best. The home in every land will be built around a woman we call Mother. The missionary mother is special. In a type of a room she calls her kitchen, she improvises for the many conveniences enjoyed at her former house at home. I have witnessed in my own home and in the homes of fellow laborers, a mother teaching her children in temperatures soaring to 100 degrees F plus, for months. Then she enters the kitchen to cook supper for the family. The constant heat, if living in the tropics, can sap the energy level of the strongest person. It can also dull the mind and slow down your whole thought process.
It is the mother who will shape the character of the child in early development. In the house of Pharaoh’s daughter, there was a boy called Moses. The Egyptian Empire endured the longest of many empires. Moses would have been taught hieroglyphics, chemistry, mathematics, and astronomy. The Egyptians were the first to perform surgery on the human body including the brain. Add to this education, life in the palace as a prince, wealth, and power. The Holy Scriptures in Hebrews tell us that “Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” Who was it that influenced this remarkable man so much in childhood, teaching him of things to come, and pouring into his heart something of spiritual values and the world to come? It was Jochebed, his mother. Who else could it have been? How many of us, as children of believers, can look back on a mother who taught us to fear God (Prov 22:6). If we are going to know in a real way the divine presence, we must keep to divine principles.
The Child’s Father
The missionary father must not put too big of a demand on his child to be special in attainment. Fathers in the world system often have selfish ambitions in the achievements of their children, no matter what field, be it academic, business or sports. There is a certain amount of pride in each of us desiring greatness for the family name. It is interesting to note in the section dealing with the new man and principles for each relationship of life (Col 3), that Paul says in verse 17, “And whatsoever ye do in word and deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. “Then again in Col 3:23, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men. “Let fathers take care that our demands in any area of a child’s life are not unreasonable. Many children have been discouraged by such high attainment goals set by fathers that really were out of reach.
To be consistent in life and living before our children is vital. Children learn as they observe our behavior. The missionary father can be a model in carrying out principles from the Word of God.
The people of God in assembly fellowship have models in their spiritual walk. They are the assembly elders or shepherds. Hebrews 13:7 tells us to recall those who once taught us and have finished their course. The writer then encourages us to “Remember them.” The verse ends with an appeal to consider “their conversation” (manner of life). The home environment is the same. Sons and daughters will not forget a godly father’s manner of life.
In closing, may I encourage readers to pray for those working in foreign lands and also for the salvation of their children.