Some have voiced their concern for our kids, how they are doing, and how our care for them impacts the decisions we make on the mission field. Our deciding to come to live in a developing culture has prompted voiced concern for how it might impact the four lives that we so cherish. They are a certainly a major factor in every decision we make, including the most recent decision to move to a remote Amazon Basin town (Porto de Moz), away from other missionary kids their age. I will try to share my thoughts.
I see our role as parents as two fold. The first and primary is to love and encourage our kids, providing a safe, supportive family environment that will prove foundational for the rest of their lives. Relationally, our kids need to know their value to us and to their Father, a priority responsibility for all parents. This can occur in any culture or environment, anywhere on the planet. The second responsibility we have as parents is to prepare our kids for adulthood and the challenges that they will face as they live the majority of their lives independent of their parents. One without the other will leave deficits. Love and support without tough preparation can result in a happy childhood and an ill-equipped adult. Tough preparation without love and affection can render a person functionally prepared for adulthood but insecure about who, and whose, they are. A balance of both, without compromising one or the other, is certainly the goal.
The former is established in our day-to-day interaction, conversation, and demonstrated affection relationally. It is the latter that is more impacted by some of our specific decisions on the mission field. The certainties that our kids will confront in their adult lives are change, pain, and decision-making. As parents, it is our responsibility to prepare them to handle especially these primarily, though certainly not exclusively. If they are prepared to expect, and to handle wisely, these certainties, then we will have done well.
In coming to work in a cross-cultural setting, we have introduced our kids to the challenge of all three of the above. We have left the familiar, with all the comforts that it provides, and have stepped into the unknown (with all its discomforts and adjustments), relationally and culturally. We have resisted the temptation to see our kids’ temporal happiness as primary. This is a great temptation for any parent. I have explained to our kids that, though I desire their happiness, I would be a cruel parent to make this my priority, as I would have to forsake my responsibility to prepare them for adulthood to do so.
We endeavor to share, especially with our older children, our reasoning, our struggles, and our processing as we make these decisions. We share with them that listening to our Father, and obeying our sense of His requests of us, are of primary importance in deciding the steps we take as a family. Our kids know that our decisions are made not on what will bring us (and them) happiness, but rather on what God desires from us. In our case, this involved stepping into a culture where the majority don’t know God and are without basic health care. It involved, for all of us, sacrifice of temporal happiness, as in extended family relationships, financial security, and familiar American experiences, such as private or public school, team sports (as a fan and as a participant), English speaking church, seasonal activities (especially winter), etc.). They know that if the benefit to many outweighs the cost to us, it is well worth it.
The modeling of behavior is, of course, more important than instruction. Someone has said, “We teach what we know, we reproduce who we are.” Our kids’ observations of how we (their parents) order our steps, holds more value than what we teach them. Especially as they mature to young adulthood, our transparency before them becomes instructive. Our time in Brasil has provided ample opportunity for them to see their parents’ work ethic, our sacrifices, our handling of conflict, how and why we make decisions, how we handle boundaries, adversity and frustration, and how we deal with the certainties of pain and change. They’ve been able to not only watch their dad work, for example, but they’ve been able to participate in the work with me. This environment has also provided opportunities to step into uncertainty and difficulty as a family and deal with the same, as a family. I know you face similar challenges in your family.
This move to Porto de Moz involves change again, and the discomfort and insecurity associated with change, for us and for our kids. Our kids have thoroughly enjoyed their two years in Altamira, mainly because they have established some beautiful friendships with both missionary kids and local Brasilian kids. Though it is again tempting to alter our life’s course based on what will keep our kids happy, this would not be best for us or for them. We can, however, allow this move to be what coming to Brasil was for them, one of some change and pain, and allow it to be a life lesson, preparing them to experience the same as adults. They have already seen, first hand, how the change that was two years ago painful, resulted in many good things, for them and for others. It is my hope that, if after their journey through their cross-cultural childhood, they leave in a better position to embrace change, and have learned a little about making sound decisions and embracing those hurting, they will be better off.
The support and security that we provide as a family as we face challenges together are far more important than creating an environment that focuses on their temporal happiness. And more, if we can teach and model handling well the certainties of life (change, pain, and decision-making), as well as the uncertainties, we will, regarding our parenting, perhaps be able to one day hear, “Well done”.
Please pray for us as we muddle our way through parenting. It just isn’t easy for anybody, is it? Please tell us how we can pray for you. Please ask some parents you know how they are really doing, and provide an ear for them to share their struggles. We all struggle, we all doubt our abilities, we all are striving to be better parents. We all need help and support, no matter where we live.