How to Help Your MK’s Keep in Touch with their Home Country

Girl holding the Planet Earth

In 1980 we carried a baby onto a plane bound for the mission field of Taiwan. We didn’t plan to return to the States for four years. That baby and another one yet to be born would grow up in Taiwan, but we had to look past that. Someday they would want to return to the States for college. Unless the Lord called them to be missionaries in Taiwan or some other Chinese country, they would have to fit into American culture. Actually, no matter what they did as adults, they would need to be able to fit into American culture on furloughs. Even in foreign countries they would likely have American friends they would need to understand. Little did we know then that the Lord would lead us away from Taiwan during their high school years and move us to a very different country of New Zealand.

Last month’s blog talked about adapting to the culture of the host country, but we were aware that our kids also needed to be able to interact in their home country. They wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the latest TV commercials which, for some reason, form such a strong part of American culture.  But we needed to help them understand American culture as well as the cultures of their host countries.

1. Give your kids a regional identity.

“Where are you from?” Generally MK’s hate this question.  They hardly know where to begin to answer. If they say they are from some foreign country, other kids may disconnect because they can’t relate, or even feel your kids are showing off.

People don’t mean that to be a trick question. They are just looking for connections. Giving your kids a regional identity with some part of your home country will give your kids more connections. It gives them a group to belong to. Face it, in their home country, almost no one will be from the country they grew up in.

We realized that Americans have, not just a national identity, but a regional one. Art and I grew up in Montana and Colorado. That American sub-culture is different from the South or California or the Northeast. Our kids needed a regional identity too.

In Montana, our furlough home, people hunt, fish, climb mountains, and chop wood. None of these activities seemed very important in Taiwan, but our girls needed to know what it meant to “come from Montana.” We did take our kids hiking. On furlough we sent our kids to Bible camp in Montana. We tried to give our kids a taste of the farm and the mountains. Furlough gave them the opportunity to meet our friends and their kids. We never succeeded in making them avid campers, but we tried to give them enough activities in those places to at least give them some sort of regional identity.

2. Avoid disposable friendships.

“Friendships are disposable.” I remember thinking this as a teen. My dad was a church planter, and because of some special circumstances in his ministry at that time, I moved at least once a year during high school. One year I went to three schools the first month. I finished up the year at the school I liked the least. I didn’t fit in and finally decided that I didn’t have to make friends there. I just had to get through the school year. In time I revised that a bit, but you can see how friendships seemed disposable.

Many MK’s visit a different church every Sunday during furloughs. Even if they are friendly, many American teens aren’t prepared to make friendships that quickly. Short term friendships can be valuable too. Sometimes short term friendships come back around as you get older.

Help your kids to understand that life is enriched by many kinds of friendships. Help them to keep in contact with some of their friends. Email and Facebook makes that easier than it was in years past.

Kids can also benefit from friendships with adults. They can extend their family with “aunts and uncles” who are co-workers on the field or take a special interest them in their home country. We had some adults that worked hard to stay connected with our kids. My daughter Lori writes, “Whether the relationships MK’s make are with kids or adults, In the States of on the field, these meaningful relationships can easily last a lifetime if they keep in touch.

Make the effort to help your kids build relationships with people in your supporting churches so that when they leave home they will realize they have friends in their home country who care about them.

3. Visit well-known national places while you are on furlough.

You have to travel anyway. Go the extra mile to see historical places, see national parks, or do fun activities. Research ahead of time so your kids will understand the significance of where you are going. One thing you kids may not get overseas is the significance of being a citizen of your home country. They may never be as patriotic as the average citizen, but they do need to gain some understanding of why a citizen feels proud of his country.

Years ago most Americans felt a strong pride for their country, many feeling it was the best in the world. Sometimes today they have the opposite problem. Politics and problems have stolen their pride to the point they aren’t even respectful of government leaders.

Missionary parents need to give their kids pride in and respect for both their host country and their home country. They need to help them see the good and deal with the bad realistically.

4. Choose books and DVD’s that will help your kids understand the culture of their home country in a good way.

Helping your kids become comfortable in two cultures may be a big task, but it is well worth it. It will help them reach adulthood with a positive attitude about their MK experience.

Jordan Axtell is a fictional missionary kid in my two most recent books. In Broken Windows Jordan comes to terms with some of the issues M.K.’s face. He is especially haunted by the fact that his parents have been faithful missionaries, but seen little fruit for their labor. Broken Windows is currently free for Kindle through Tuesday, June 14. This weekend I launched Deja Who?, Book 2 in the same series. In that book, Jordan finds himself especially suited for a ministry to international students because he grew up in Taiwan.

You can find Broken Windows here.

You can find Deja Who? here.

Teaching your MK’s to Appreciate Their Host Country

All united in the world

Most missionary parents want two things very badly. They want to serve the Lord completely and passionately in the place to which he has called them. And they want to give their children a rich childhood that will prepare them for adult life and make them happy that they could grow up on the mission field. Often the mission field is quite different from their home country. Parents have to make some tough choices.

When we raised our girls in Taiwan, we had high goals. We wanted them to learn Chinese well, become close friends with Chinese kids, and adapt completely to the Chinese culture. We also wanted them to have a great command of English and fit in well in America. In the beginning we wanted them to be equally proficient in both cultures.

Before long, however, we realized that few MK’s in Taiwan fit really well in both American and Chinese cultures. Some MK’s went to Chinese school and had Chinese playmates, but couldn’t talk to their grandparents when they returned to the States. Others lived in the American segment of Taiwan and seemed really well-adjusted in American society but cared little about Chinese people. Like many missionaries, we had to balance ministry needs with the personal needs of our family.

We expected to spend the rest of our lives in ministry in Taiwan, at least until retirement. But we knew God might not call our daughters back to Taiwan as missionaries. They had to be able to function well in America as well. If they chose to be involved in Chinese ministry as adults, we wanted it to be a choice, not something they did simply because they didn’t fit into American life.

How can you teach your kids to appreciate their host country without losing the identity of their home country?

  1. Have a positive attitude toward your host country.

There will be times when life in your host country will seem totally illogical, backward, and ridiculous. You may fight your own battles with contentment on the mission field, but make sure you model a positive attitude to your kids.

Talk about the cultural differences with your kids. Voice positives and negatives of both your home country and your host country. Let them voice their problems but help them to see the positive side of the culture and the people. Resentment is contagious.

  1. Set reasonable expectations for adaptation to the new country.

The Brazil MK’s we met on furlough were so annoying! They spoke Portuguese as fluently as English and played a big part in their parents’ ministry. Our kids were smart, so what was wrong with us as parents?

We had to realize that our situation was different from theirs. Our daughters spoke English at home, heard Taiwanese at church, and took Mandarin lessons at their English school. Chinese is more difficult for Americans to learn than Portuguese. We had slower growing churches and our kids didn’t know Christian Chinese kids. They didn’t belong to a Chinese youth group. We had to quit comparing our ministry expectations with those of missionaries from other fields and make decisions that were right for our kids.

We needed to give our kids good experiences in both cultures. Our kids did play some with Chinese kids. They grew up in Chinese neighborhoods and churches. They took their turns eating strange Chinese foods with chopsticks to please Chinese friends. But ultimately their closest friends were ones who spoke English and shared a similar culture. In our situation, they were able to have close friendships with other MK’s.

It’s easy to get into the trap of comparing your kids to other MK’s, as if all MK’s are alike and all mission fields are alike. Look at the different situations MK’s live in. Home schooling, boarding schools, national schools, MK schools. Dripping hot climates and freezing cold ones. English speaking countries, easy-to-learn second languages, difficult languages with strange alphabets. Deeply religious cultures, very immoral ones, voodoo followers, primitive tribes, wealthy cultures with high expectations. Cultures that emphasize group mentality or individualists. Friendly and emotional or standoffish and reserved. To that you add the countless varieties of missionary kids and their unique personalities.

If you are raising MK’s in your home, ask the Lord to give you a good balance that embraces both your host culture and your home culture. Instead of competing with other missionary parents for how well your kids know the language or how adapted they are to culture of the host country, determine what works best for your family and ministry. Your kids will face enough pressure to return to the mission field simply because they have been raised there. Give them an example of finding the Lord’s will for your life and being content with that.

  1. Take advantage of unique opportunities on your field.

My grandson’s other grandma was making him a picture book about family life and animals and asked me if I wanted to contribute. She and the other grandpa had been to Yellowstone the past summer and had pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo. “Great!” I thought. “How am I going to compete with grizzly bears and buffalo?” We had changed our missionary ministry to New Zealand, an exceptionally tame country. I would be pushed to find anything more exciting about our life than the ostrich at the zoo.  On further reflection, however, I remembered my picture holding a koala bear in Australia, petting a pink dolphin in Singapore, and sitting on an elephant’s knee in Thailand!

Sometimes we feel we’re missing out as missionaries, but if think about it, we have often travelled to some amazing places “on our way” to normal ministry.

All families need to have fun together. Instead of thinking about the things you miss in your home country, relish the differences in your host country. Maybe you can go to the beach on Christmas day or snow ski to school. Raise a pet monkey. Fish or hunt. Ride an elephant. Climb the Great Wall. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Visit Machu Picchu. Ride a double decker bus. Visit a castle. Go on Safari.

Crafts and sporting activities often give us chances to experience local culture. I learned to do elaborate Chinese paper cuttings and origami in Taiwan. Lisa still enjoys some of these Chinese crafts. Your field may give you great opportunity to participate in soccer, rugby, or cricket. You may be able to watch unique musical instruments being played or become acquainted with a musical scale different than the Western one.

Of course, your child can also enjoy crafts and sports and music on the mission field that are similar to that of your host country. You don’t have to only pursue those activities that are different from your host country.  But whatever you do, give your children good memories that them make  proud to be MK’s. Part of that is helping them to appreciate their host country.

Here are two of my fiction books that show kids who learn to adapt to a new culture. Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World shows Amy Kramer who moves with her missionary family to Taiwan. Two Sides to Everything shows Josh McKay moving from big city USA to rural New Zealand. Broken Windows features an adult who grew up on the mission field and ponders the significance of his experience.

Coming soon: I’ll talk about more ways to make your missionary experience positive for your children.

Away from Home for Christmas?

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

Christmas wreath hanging on door.

If you’re a foreign missionary, you may find yourself away from home at Christmas. Since my family left for Taiwan 35 years ago, my husband and I have spent only 9 Christmases in our native country, the US. Our youngest daughter left home in 2000, and since then we’ve spent 12 Christmases without being with any family at all except for each other. This is not unusual for most foreign missionaries.

It’s normal to miss your family and friends at Christmas time, but here are some tips that will make the separation easier:

Avoid going down roads that are going to lead to self-pity and resentment.  These things are sure to give you a miserable holiday:

  • Listening to sad songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas.”
  • Thinking about how beautiful snow is, what beautiful decorations they have in your home country, and how your host country doesn’t make you feel like Christmas.
  • Focusing on Christmas memories that depress you and make you feel sorry for yourself.
  • Resenting relatives who don’t call, write, send packages, or communicate in any way.
  • Wasting time thinking about how much you miss your family.

It might help if you remember these things:

  • Missionaries aren’t the only ones far from home at Christmas. Miles or kilometres divide many families for many reasons.
  • When your furlough time comes, you may have more extended time with some of your family than many families have with theirs.
  • Many families who live close to each other are divided by family squabbles or faith differences. If your children or other family members are Christians who are living for the Lord, count that as a precious gift.
  • Many missionaries from the past didn’t see their families for many years and had very limited connections with them. Today phone calls, Skype, Facebook, and email make it much easier to stay connected to family.
  • Some families put immense pressure on family members at holiday time that make the season more hectic than enjoyable. Being far from family, though sad, frees you from excessive family expectations that some people face.

Work with what you have to connect to your family:

  • International postage may be sky high, but you can order things online from your home country and have them shipped directly to your family at home.
  • Send a memory to your family. Write your parents and remind them of a lovely Christmas you had in years past. Cut a snowflake or draw a picture and send it to your grandkids. Take photos or videos and send them to family.
  • Instead of resenting your distant family for not communicating better, take the initiative in connecting. When they do connect, thank them for taking the effort. They have busy lives and many people to keep up with, just as you do.

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you will take time to reflect on Jesus and the salvation he brings. That is certainly the best Christmas gift ever. Besides that, God gives each of us wonderful gifts every day. May you find joy in God’s gracious gifts and in the ministry God has given you.

Merry Christmas!

[image courtesy of iofoto/Deposit Photos]

Adoniram Judson–Devoted to God

adoniram judsonOf all the missionary pioneers, I think I like Adoniram Judson the best. One thing about his life stands clear: his commitment to ministry in spite of results.

Judson’s story has a lot to like. He was the first real foreign missionary from America. He became a Baptist by conviction on the way to the mission field simply by reading his Bible. He translated the entire Bible into Burmese. Though fastidious and cultured in his upbringing, he endured imprisonment in filthy prisons, and continued to minister after he got out. His wives, especially his first two, worked closely with him and added to his effectiveness.

But Judson is especially characterized by his commitment to ministry. After four months of sailing, he and Ann arrived in India, the land in which they expected to serve. They were quickly turned away by the British East India Company. But instead of returning home, Judson searched diligently for a country which would allow him to minister. That brought them to Burma, a country with almost no missionaries and no Christians, which was governed by men who were extremely hostile to Christians.

On July 13, 1813 Adoniram and Ann arrived in Burma. Their first baby had been born dead on the way. They were not welcome in this new country. They didn’t know Burmese and there were no language teachers who knew both English and Burmese. They didn’t know if they’d be allowed to stay. With such a disappointing start to his missionary ministry, upon arrival, what did Judson pray? “God grant that we may live and die among the Burmans, though we never should do anything else than smooth the way for others.”

That’s commitment.

Above anything else in his life, Judson was known for one thing. It took him six years of faithful ministry before he saw his first convert. This convert, Moung Nau, considered it a privilege to be the first Christian convert among the Burmese people, even though he expected his decision would lead to persecution, perhaps even death.

The Burmese government said that any Burmese who said this “American religion” was right and Buddhism was wrong, would be punished severely. Finally Judson felt led to ask the king for permission to preach the gospel and translate the Bible into Burmese. The king didn’t give permission or deny it. Judson decided he should move away from Rangoon to somewhere the government would let him preach more freely. At the time he had two converts. They begged him to stay in their town until there were ten. Judson stayed.

Early in his ministry, Judson made two goals:

  1. He wanted to translate the entire Bible into Burmese.
  2. He wanted to live to see one hundred converts in Burma.

After sixteen years of Judson’s ministry, people who were formerly uninterested in the gospel began to flock to the little open-porched zayats to hear the gospel. Many people were saved. Everywhere Judson went people begged for the tracts he passed out.

He was the only man alive qualified to translate the Bible into Burmese, and after ten years of hard work, he finished the New Testament. Within a year, Judson was suddenly arrested and imprisoned for no fault of his own. His wife, Ann, buried the New Testament manuscript in the garden, but she knew it would soon get moldy. Finally she dug the manuscript up, hid it in a pillow, and smuggled it to Judson in prison. No one wanted to steal the uncomfortable pillow and no one thought to look for it in prison. It this way Judson’s New Testament translation was preserved.

After 23 years in Burma, Judson finished translating the entire Bible, thus achieving his first goal.

Nearly two hundred years later, today Judson’s Bible is still the best Burmese translation and the one most widely used in the country.

Did Judson live to see 100 converts in Burma? By the time he died there were between 60 to 100 Baptist churches among the Burmese with nearly 8000 baptized converts. Among the Karen tribes of Burma there were around 800 Baptist churches and 150,000 converts. Of course, Judson didn’t so all the work himself. Other missionaries and Burmese and Karen believers also spread the gospel, but Judson baptized the one hundredth convert.

Today Burma is called Myanmar. Religious freedom is still limited. Missionaries from other countries are not allowed into Myanmar. Christians sometimes get killed or have their homes destroyed. Still there are around 650,000 baptized Baptist Christians and about 600,000 unbaptized Christians. (Most protestants are Baptists.)

Adoniram Judson and his first two wives gave their entire adult lives to ministry in Burma. Judson returned to his home in America for his first furlough after 33 years. He had spent so much of his time using Burmese that he no longer felt comfortable speaking in English in public. He had also lost his voice and was unable to speak above a whisper. Yet he returned to Burma, continued his work, and spent ten years compiling an English-Burmese Dictionary, which only he could have written.

Adoniram Judson believed every missionary’s motto should be “devoted for life,” and he showed devotion to God for Burma until his dying day. But I think I am more inspired by this one thing more than any other: He was committed to give out the gospel regardless of results. He was prepared to give his entire adult life to this ministry in Burma, “though we never should do anything else than smooth the way for others.”w11618538_aWe live in a day when many missionaries, even churches in America, must continue to find ways to faithfully give out the gospel even when we see few visible results. Sometimes an unfruitful ministry becomes a fruitful one in time. We may be preparing the ground for others who will see growth.

Of course, faithfulness in ministry involves more than blindly filling the calendar with activity year after year. Part of remaining faithful may be looking for creative new ways to present the gospel in ways that will be better received by the unsaved around us. We may need to change methods that worked in the past and are less effective now. Prayer and building relationships are vital in evangelism. Always we need to be open to God leading us in a new direction.

But we can also learn from Adoniram Judson’s example that we need to be faithful to the task and leave the results up to him. We work to please God and follow his leading. He will work through our ministry to see that our work is not in vain.

It’s only natural to want to see results from our ministry. Results encourage us, validate us. We can put results in a prayer letter and get others excited about our ministry. Results are our goal. Would we give our lives to a ministry that we knew would produce no results?

Adoniram Judson would.

On one hand, God may be working in ways we will never see, accomplishing his work that won’t be visible this side of heaven. But aside from that, we need to ask ourselves some questions.

  • Should results be my goal?
  • Should I need results to validate my ministry?
  • Am I devoted to God or devoted to success?

When I’m devoted to success, I get depressed when I see no results. When I’m devoted to God, I can be content as long as I know I am following his leading and pleasing him.