“Yes. It’s easier to go when your kids are young.”
I wouldn’t exchange my growing up for the world. My kids have also moved around a lot, but they feel the same. Although your two small children will need care, and one of you will likely have to devote a good bit of time to childcare, it’s widely accepted to have an hired helper. This can help free Mom for quality time with the kids and also help their adjustment to the new culture.
Younger is better in terms of family adjustment. The earlier your kids accept the host culture as their own home, learn the language, etc. the easier their adjustment (in my opinion).
As wonderful as it is to visit the U.S. and grandparents, I’d encourage grandparents to visit you, instead, during the first two or three years. A minimum three-year commitment makes the new home “real.” Refer to the U.S. as “the U.S.” and the host country as “home.”
Answer from Elizabeth, who grew up in Palestine and Egypt as a missionary kid (MK) and now is a missionary mom who has served in India and China.
“Yes. Children can open the hearts of hard-to-reach people.”
We took our two kids to the mission field of West Africa when they were very young. It is highly possible to be effective missionaries with a growing family: my parents did it with five kids.
Families often have advantages that single missionaries don’t have. For example, through our children, we can more easily interact with another culture. The people most resistant to the gospel can be open to interacting with missionary families.
Stay focused on the high calling of missions. The needs are great and the stakes are high, but the rewards are limitless.
Answer from Dick, who served with SIM in Nigeria for thirteen years.
“Yes. Consider these benefits of going now.”
With such a broad spectrum of mission scenarios, it’s hard to generalize. As with any family, much depends on your job as parents as well as the specific place where you serve. There are, however, many benefits to going when your children are young, including:
1. Your family is young and adaptable.
2. It’s easier for all of you to learn a foreign language.
3. The more comfortable you get at home, and the more your family patterns are set, the harder it is to make a major move.
4. Having babies is a worldwide experience. In most countries, there are adequate facilities, unless there are complications. I was born in Pyong Yang, Korea.
My assistant, Paul, grew up overseas, and went to the neighborhood school. He said he doesn’t know how to answer the question, “how was going to school overseas?” He said it’s just growing up. Some things are fun, and some aren’t. To get an idea of how missionary kids live, visit mukappa.org.
Answer from Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously, Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Colombia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
“Yes. Missionary kids are more likely to succeed.”
Not only can a couple with two small children make it to the field, I’m sure you can survive and thrive there. I went to the mission field in 1981 with a wife, a two-month-old baby and an eighteen-month-old child. We had two in diapers and a lot of concern, but I have learned that God calls families and uses families. The children opened doors for us. Everyone likes a baby. All true ministry to others flows out of what’s happening at home.
I’ve heard and read that one out of every eight missionary children make it in the Who’s Who in America, compared with about one of 100,000 regular American children. All three of my children were blessed growing up on the mission field. They are bicultural, multilingual, have people skills, and are musicians. (And all three are in Who’s Who in America!)
Answer from Dale Pugh, International Coordinator of World International Mission, who served long-term in Mexico.
“Yes. Your agency can help you prepare as a parent.”
You are wise to wait if God is really telling you that you’re not ready. So I can’t pressure you to go now.
Hundreds of Wycliffe families have successfully gone to the field with small children. There are many great advantages in starting out with young kids. We went to the Philippines pregnant with our first child. By the end of first term we had two boys, and, on furlough, we added a third son.
Smaller kids are so much more adjustable. Some teens can go overseas for the first time and adjust, but often it is harder to go through adolescence at the same time.
If you like up with an agency or your church denomination you can get much expert help. Most have candidate categories that allow you to be one of their “missionaries in training.” You might consider this. You could apply for an agency and have two years to get ready to go, but with the agency’s wonderful help even before you go.
“Yes. Children open doors to people’s hearts.”
When my wife and I first went to the mission field, we had a one-year-old son. We went back five years later with three children ages one, four, and six. We’d do it all over again. Children open doors to people’s hearts. Families are the backbone of every culture, and are especially important in non-Western ones. Kids are everywhere, all the time, and yours will grow up loving and being loved by the people you work with, both the other missionaries and the nationals. Children are a definite advantage on the mission field!
The younger they are, the easier it is to take them into another culture. Our children learned to speak the language much quicker, easier and better than their parents. And when they’re young, they don’t undergo as much culture shock as when they’re older. The longer you stay in your home culture and the more possessions you acquire, the more difficult it is to let go and go. Get some training and then go! Don’t stay until you think you know everything and then you’ll be “ready.” The only way to learn to be a missionary is to go be a missionary. You won’t learn it in books. You won’t learn it in Bible college. You’ll learn it by doing it!
Answer from Tim, who has been a member of Wycliffe since 1974, serving in Cameroon and the United States.
“Yes. But first learn to really communicate with your spouse.”
We came to Japan as missionaries in 1993. At that time our oldest was two and our youngest, five months. We spent the first two years in language school. We made it, but we weren’t really ready to cope with the struggles of adjusting to a new environment. More than anything else, we needed to learn to communicate. So we returned to the States for three months of counseling at a residential center where we were able to learn how to communicate.
Now after about eight years on the field (with ten- and eight-year-old boys and a three-year-old girl), our marriage, family and ministry are solid and growing. We don’t go too many days (hours) without struggle, but now with a strong relationship with each other and with our heavenly Father, those struggles are not devastating.
Make sure your relationship with God is strong and growing (and not dependent on the Christian sub-culture of America). And make sure that as a family (especially as a couple) you are ready to be, many times, each other’s main and perhaps only close friend on the field. Are you able to work through disagreements? Do you know how to express love to each other? Do you know how to deal with and talk about all sorts of feelings?
If I had been confronted with those questions before coming to Japan, I may have delayed and better prepared myself for life and ministry overseas. Having gotten that help, I know that it is possible to make it overseas as a young family. And children are often a terrific means of making contact with strangers.
Answer from John, who has served in Japan for eight years with Touch the World Ministries.
“Yes. And your children will get a better education.”
It is very simple to go to the mission field with a growing family: you just go! But you’re going to have to make many changes in your thinking and expectations of life. You’ll have to step right out of your own culture, adopt a new culture, drastically change your life-style and standard of living, and most likely, learn a new language.
The good thing is that your children will get a far better education than ever they would at home, will learn a new language and, most likely, never want to return to the States (if they remember the place!).
Answer from Malcolm, who has served in Southeast Asia for fifteen years. He and his wife have had two children born on the field and another is on the way.
“Yes. Let God carry you.”
I remember thinking, “I must be crazy to take two babies, bottles, and all of our stuff and leave the country I know and love for the rest of my life.” But my husband’s calling was to Colombia, which meant I was also called there, so I trusted the Lord above and beyond those immediate circumstances. That first year was especially challenging. God gave me the physical and emotional ability.
Another challenge was living in constant upset until we were finally able to put down roots. After arriving in Colombia we were able to rent a house after looking, on foot and by taxi, for a couple of weeks. Our sparsely furnished apartment made me think of the beautiful couch I had just sold in the States. You soon learn that materialism is not important when you find you can live with very little.
Excerpted from the book Scaling the Wall: Overcoming Obstacles to Missions Involvement, by Kathy Hicks.
Answer from Jan, who served in Colombia.
“Yes. Your children will gain so much.”
I knew in my head when we moved that Jesus loved my children more than me and that they would be okay growing up in another country – however, it’s harder to tell your heart. So, the first year, I grieved a lot about all the things I couldn’t give them: woods to fight dragons in, making bows and arrows with their grandfather, green grass for running barefoot, friends they could relate to, etc. The list went on.
After being here for two years however, I think less and less about “all the things they are missing” and think instead of “all the things they are gaining.” I see so many blessings in their lives each day. Although I sometimes still grieve for some of those things for them, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to raise my children here, and for the fact that they now call Asia “home.”
A few signs that this is home:
1. The littlest children think chickens only live in the zoo.
2. When one of them sees a picture of someone on a horse she exclaims in disbelief, “You don’t ride horses. That’s silly! You ride elephants.”
3. As we went through the airport on our only trip out of the city our daughter saw the carpeted floor and said, “Wow, look at this big blanket. Can I sit on it?”
4. Our son thinks electric locks on the car door are amazing.
5. Upon seeing a big wooly dog on a leash, our daughter exclaims: “Mom! Look at that lady walking that lion!”
6. They naturally play “outdoor market,” turning the whole living room into individual stalls with cheap goods for sale.
7. They choose fried dumplings over McDonald’s.
Answer from Annette, a home-schooling missionary mother. She and her husband have six children and live in a large Asian city.