Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Raising Kids on the Mission Field

Ring-bearer for a wedding at our church in Haiti
"I don't remember where I am from."

 Sometimes it is a simple question, like "Where are you guys from?"  Other times it is the obvious moment when your 7-year old still won't eat with utensils, because none of his friends eat with a spoon or fork.  And then there are the even more obvious moments when he carries a bowling ball on his head when his aunt takes him bowling "for the first time" because he could not remember what bowling is.  And why wouldn't he carry the ball on his head? Everything is carried on the head in Haiti, and it really improves posture and allows you to carry even more weight...this is his world.

Each of these moments make us chuckle, but they tell a much deeper story.  While enjoying a day at the beach here in Haiti, a gentleman struck up conversation with our family.  The very typical first question was, "Where are you from?"  Our youngest paused and then replied, "I don't remember where I am from."  Our friend explained that she is from Oklahoma, and then informed the gentleman that we live here in Haiti.  Without missing a beat our youngest said, "Oh yea! I've been to Oklahoma before!"  We all chuckled and reminded him that is where we lived - and he was born - before moving to Haiti.

In the moment I handle these moments pretty well - at least I feel like I do.  But later they come rushing back to me and I think through all the blogs and books I keep reading (or have on my to-read list) about third-culture kids (TCKs).  Our youngest was just 4 when we moved to Haiti, so he will adopt more of the TCK posture than our older kids.  Reflecting on this moment though - the moment of not remembering where he was from - I had to surrender it to God.  American culture says so much about the foundation we give our kids, putting down our roots, and them knowing where they come from. All the parenting books I read before missions were completely focused on life in America.  I often find myself out of my element and the enemy knows just where to attack.  He likes to take these simple moments and innocent conversations and use them to tell me that I am a failure; surely I must be ruining my children.  Yet, I look at the photo below and see a fun-loving, enjoyable young boy who loves life.  So I cry out to God once again and ask that He guide us in this often lonely road of raising children on mission in a developing world. 

So, when you find that your child cannot remember where he is from, or eats with his hands when clearly he is old enough to remember a utensil, focus on this: are you teaching them to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)"  Because in the end, that is what God requires of us...that we live in this way, and that we teach our children to do the same (Deut. 6).  So let go of the little things, don't give the enemy any foothold, and keep on pointing your children back to the One who holds them closer than you imagine.

Celebrating his 7th birthday with ice cream sundaes - thanks Aunt Shari for the ice cream machine!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Parenting Shifts: raising kids in a developing culture

"Don't touch your face!"
"You can't play in the dirt!"
"No running while in the village!"
"Please don't share your water!" 

These are phrases that we have consistently said to our children.  None of these are things we ever thought we would say - definitely not with the frequency we now say them.  My six-year old is a typical boy and he loves to run and play in the dirt.  He has probably scared more than his fair-share of women in the community by running around and playing in the dirt.  He simply does not understand their concern.  They see a boy running and their memory jumps back to some child who ran and fell, and the scratch got terribly infected, causing amputation or worse - death.  They see a child playing in the dirt and remember a young child who played in the dirt and ended up with a serious infection or worms - perhaps this too resulted in death in the story that replays in their minds. 

Parenting on the mission field just is not the same as parenting in your passport culture.  You have to adapt to your surroundings, learn new cultural "no-no's," keep kids safe from totally new things that are often just as foreign to the parent!  While you work to raise respectful young adults, you suddenly find yourself balancing and teetering between two worlds.  It seems your family is always one step away from offending someone.

It is in these moments that you start to observe how others parent their children.  Maybe you are blessed with a more experienced "veteran" missionary family to watch and model.  Maybe you have met an incredible family on the mission field in your new home culture, and you can learn from them what is acceptable or not.  Maybe you're pulling your hair out because you feel completely lost in this adventure and it is not quite what you imagined it would be.  Praise God for His grace!

I remember in our first months in Haiti that I would change my responses to my children to match what the culture did.  I realized this was not productive, as my kids did not know what was expected of them.  We began to have lots of conversations about what is acceptable in each culture.  Our kids will one day be masters at fitting into the crowd anywhere they go, because they can assess the situation and adapt to what is expected of them in order to avoid cultural mishaps.  I pray that God uses this for His glory one day! Parents - it does not matter where you are raising your children - do not underestimate the importance of talking with them and sharing with them what your expectations are and why!  If you do not have a good reason, you may want to re-think your expectations.

If you are at the beginning of your adventure, trust in God's Word! His Word will guide you, even if you have nobody else around you to tell you what to do. 
Teach your children to love unconditionally, to be gracious and kind, to care about and for others, to respect their elders, and to listen well. 
Teach your children to pray about everything, without ceasing.
Teach them to follow your example by being a good enough example for them to follow! 
Teach your children to seek God's will first in their lives by modeling it for them, even on the hardest days.
Lastly - but definitely not least! - teach your children to be humble and ask forgiveness when they blunder, because they most definitely will.

Raising your children in a foreign culture is not an easy task, but God is faithful and will equip you.  He will walk with you as you try to guide your children closer to Him.
This, my friends, is what parenting is all about.