by Philip E. Armstrong
If adequate education is not available, the mission must see that it is.
"Dear teacher, I hope you enjoy Jimmy as much as we do."
Jimmy’s mother had pinned this note on his sweater for the first day of school. This might not be uncommon, except that the school in this case was 300 miles across tie African bush via mission airplane. It’s a tiny illustration of the unique stresses on the missionary family.
Inherent in the factors that relate to the behavior of the missionary child is the mission’s biblical attitude toward the family. The most recurrent qualification of Christian leadership in the Epistles is the minister’s care of his household. If God calls the husband to serve him, he calls the wife; if he calls the wife, he calls the children. The family is one. That divine order does not change with location.
This divine order implies parental responsibility for the education of children. If adequate education is not available, the mission must see that it is. Most areas of the world have such schools. Few missionary children today are sent out of the country of the residence of their parents. Good schools have provided continuous years of service for hundreds of missionaries. In some cases, like Morrison Academy in Taiwan, satellite schools are used so that elementary school children do not have to board away from home.
Most missions give family needs every consideration when they assign missionaries. It is not true that children are sent away because missions want both husbands and wives to work. It is the location of the family in remote areas, not the workload of the parents, that often necessitates sending children to boarding schools.
Missions try to compensate. Take furlough, for example. Travel today makes furlough flexibility more possible than ever before. By long-range planning, the mission can coordinate family furloughs in line with the educational needs of the children. When extra leave time is needed, many missions provide public ministry in the U. S. until the children’s immediate needs are met. One mission board recently inaugurated a plan for college-age children to have one trip "back home." They can visit the field for Christmas, summer vacation, or at whatever time the family chooses.
When missionary children leave home for school, their parents often are more fearful than the children are. To overcome worry, the schools could plan freshman orientation week ( or kindergarten roundup) for both parents and children before school begins. Other possibilities include:
Set the school calendar with boarding children in mind. Make it possible for parents and children to be together more frequently than between semesters or during summer vacations.
Broaden curriculum. For example, schools with strong athletic programs have the best student morale. To have such a program requires a sizeable student body. Perhaps we ought to have more inter-mission schools in centralized locations. Also, missionary children in most countries miss opportunities for different kinds of employment. Schools could consider programs similar to Junior Achievement to give students exposure to job choices other than those of their parents, or their teachers. Until recently, schools lacked courses for children not going on to college. Including industrial arts and home economics in the curriculum is a good step forward.
Off-campus, family-style housing ought to be given prime consideration. Many expanding schools have built such units on campus. If these facilities cannot be provided, the schools at least ought to make a distinction between houseparents and faculty.
Search out, screen, and train the best possible personnel. Both faculty and staff need to be career people, not those taken off some other job because there was a need. We need teachers and staff with the right attitudes toward the country and the work of the parents of the children, because their attitudes are probably the biggest factor in molding the children’s attitudes. Both teachers and students should be required to study the local language. Only the study of the art and culture of the host country will help children to avoid the American ghetto mentality overseas.
Pastor and Mrs. H. H. Savage’s three children all became missionaries. At his funeral one of his sons said, "I can never remember wanting to be anything other than what my father was. He adorned the doctrine of God" (Titus 2:10). Every missionary would welcome that witness from his children. Let’s help them!
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