MK Education Consultants: Keeping Families on the Field

by Melissa Shipman

Shipman gives an overview of why education consultants
are vital to missionary families around the world. She
includes key characteristics consultants must display.

In the mid-1990s God led me to answer the invitation of family
friends who were serving in Eastern Europe. I was to teach their teenage
children. They had lived there just two years and were struggling to
guide their children through home schooling materials while continuing
to learn the language, engage with a local church, complete daily
household tasks in a recently post-Communist country, and raise young
children. I was able to commit to six months. Unfortunately, the family
moved back to the United States within months of my return.  

While there, I observed that the education of the children was a
significant task and, sometimes, a burden to these parents. In the
months I was with them, not one person from our agency reached out to
support us in educating the MKs (missionary kids). If these missionaries
had access to educational support, would they have returned home so
soon after learning the language and investing in significant
relationships? Perhaps not.

Educational Services/Supports Needed
In conjunction with my doctoral studies, in 2008 I surveyed 162
missionary families regarding their need for educational support on the
field. For families who had been on the field three years or less,
respondents indicated that their highest educational need was for
information. Specifically, information about the “pros and cons of
various educational options” was indicated as the chief need (72.8%),
and information about “typical language development for children related
to learning a second language” was the second-highest need (37.7%).

This was followed closely by characteristics of third culture
kids (35.2%), methods related to home schooling or supplementing
national schools (32.7%), and the importance of developing a family
education plan (32.1%). For families who had been on the field more than
three years, specific services such as educational consulting and
testing were identified as top needs.  

To further identify what educational services and support are most
needed by missionary families, I turned to leaders among education
consultants. When asked to identify areas of support most needed by
families, several themes emerged. Nearly everyone mentioned educational
testing or a need for parents to know how their children are progressing
relative to their peers at home. There was also a prevalent belief that
families who had children with learning challenges needed special
support. Nearly everyone indicated that families had a need for some
sort of ongoing support from an education consultant in areas such as
home schooling and preparing for transitions.

I also examined the reasons missionary families allocate time and
resources to attend educational conferences. SHARE Education Services
offers an annual Family Education Conference in Hungary, and attendees
are surveyed regarding their reason(s) for attending. In 2009 and 2010,
the foremost reason was for their children to participate in the kids’
program (an educational program staffed by certified teachers). There
were three important additional reasons: to receive help in planning the
education of their children; to receive exposure to other families’
educational experiences; and so that their children could participate in
educational achievement testing.

Missionary families need access to sources of information, as well as
services. Information related to planning for the education of children
is important for missionaries to receive. This includes benefits and
challenges of the educational options. Families in certain situations,
such as those home schooling or planning for the education of a child
with special needs, require a higher level of support.
Educational Support and Education Consultants
In order to meet the needs of missionary families, mission agencies are
appointing education consultants in increasing numbers. The head of MK
education at a large mission agency stated that this is now the norm for
agencies. Among the experienced education consultants with whom I
spoke, there was a strong sense that providing education support falls
within the care agencies should provide when receiving families as staff
members. One consultant also stated that perhaps the younger generation
of missionary families has a higher expectation for member care and
support for the whole family than previous generations.

Agencies are also appointing more education consultants since increasing
numbers of families are assigned to remote locations and choose home
schooling. Education consultants can provide support to these families
as they prepare to move overseas. They can assist them with selecting
curriculum, working out a daily schedule that incorporates the needs of
each child, and later in assessing the progress of each child in order
to make further decisions related to home schooling. Families whose
children attend national schools also need encouragement as they
supplement that learning with English language skills and content.  
MK/TCK Education Consultants

The entire field of MK/TCK (Third Culture Kid) education is evolving and
growing, particularly as new technology increases educational options
for missionary families. Within this growing field, education
consultants typically perform a wide variety of tasks. However, the
consistent task is providing education counsel for missionary families.
Not knowing how to handle challenges concerning the education of
children is still considered a principal reason missionary families
prematurely return home from the field. Education consultants are
usually appointed to offer support, information, counsel, and resources
in order to help families remain on the field while successfully
educating their children.  

Education consulting is provided both electronically and in person.
Issues such as educational planning and the implications of educational
options (such as home schooling) are common foci of consultation
sessions. Often, these consultations are parent-initiated, and occur
when the family is at an educational crossroads or when there is a
crisis in a child’s schooling.  

The particular job descriptions of education consultants depend in large
part upon the overall member care ethos of the agency with which they
serve. Some consultants maintain regular contact and even accountability
with all families in their agency who have school-aged children. Other
consultants play a more reactive role, being available for education
counsel as needed.

Specific tasks of consultants often include providing educational
testing for families. Some parents have their children participate in
annual achievement testing (such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) in
order to meet home school requirements of their home country. Others
have their children tested periodically for their own information,
particularly when they are home schooling or when their child attends a
local national school. Generally, parents express great interest in
understanding how their child is progressing academically as compared
with same-age or same-grade peers in their home country.

Education consultants often conduct and/or speak at family education
conferences and may train other personnel who support families on the
field. A growing area of support need relates to home schooling since an
increasing number of families choose this option for educating their

Another task that often falls within the job description is to prepare
pre-field families. Some consultants are able to offer a brief seminar
during pre-field orientation; larger agencies have an entire MK/TCK care
department and allocate a significant amount of time to work with
families in developing education plans before their first field service.

Other agencies require or encourage families to attend pre-field
orientations sponsored by outside agencies such as Interaction
International and SHARE Education Services. Some education consultants
take their agency families through an online course, “Education Planning
for Families in Transition,” offered by PACE, the Professional
Association of Cross-Cultural Consultants in Education.1

Organizations Serving Families in Various Mission Agencies
Mission agencies are also partnering with organizations such as SHARE
Education Services and Asia Education Resource Consortium (AERC) to
provide educational support for their families. These organizations
serve families across a number of agencies, and have education
consultants on staff with specialized expertise.  

The first of these organizations was birthed in the early 1990s. As
Eastern Europe became more open to those who perform mission or
humanitarian work, the region experienced an influx of workers. With few
international schools and no MK schools established, leaders in several
mission organizations came together to find a solution for the
educational support needs of families who worked in Eastern Europe. Out
of these meetings came SHARE Education Services, an organization that
provides educational support to missionary families. SHARE was
established to serve families living in Europe, Russia, and Central

Less than ten years later, AERC began providing educational services to
missionary families living throughout East Asia. In 2007, MK education
leaders in Africa began plans for a similar organization, Anchor
Education, and in January 2008 began serving families living on that
continent. In the past few years, mission education leaders in South
America have formed an online resource, Soleduc, which provides
educational support for Spanish-speaking families living on that

SHARE, AERC, and Anchor Education are similar in the services they
provide to missionary families. Each is staffed by education consultants
who work out of a headquarters office or at various locations
throughout the organization’s field of service. Each offers conferences
for missionary families at least once a year. Generally, workshops
relevant to the educational options and decisions typical for parents in
the region are available for adults. Additionally, MKs participate in
educational programs throughout the conference. At most conferences,
educational testing is also available. SHARE and AERC also operate
resource centers for families, as well as provide academic achievement
testing and psycho-educational testing services in their offices
throughout the year.  
Important Characteristics/Backgrounds of Education Consultants
In 2006-2007, the founders of PACE worked with a small group of leaders
in MK/TCK education to develop professional standards for education
consultants. As these standards emerged, they clearly fell into four
categories: education/background, interpersonal skills, maintaining
expertise, and work philosophy. Consequently, the courses and website
offered by PACE consistently point back to these standards. For example,
in nearly every PACE course, consultants are directed back to the
standards for interpersonal skills and asked to consider how they should
be applied within the subject of the course.

1. Education/background. An effective TCK education consultant will
enter the field with the strong educational background needed to serve
families effectively. This background ideally includes:

• Education degree (BA/certification)
• Home schooling experience
• Cross-cultural/field experience
• Experience in working with children of a variety of ages and learning styles
• Technological literacy

2. Interpersonal skills. An effective TCK education consultant will
exhibit excellent interpersonal skills as he or she works with families
and colleagues. Strong interpersonal skills are shown by a consultant

• Actively listens to those he or she seeks to serve
• Encourages families with whom he or she consults
• Objectively helps families explore educational options
• Remains objective, regardless of the severity of situations he or she may encounter in consulting
• Is observant of all aspects of a situation in which he or she is serving
• Remains flexible in response to the needs of families and the demands of the job
• Communicates difficult ideas to families in a tactful manner
• Confidently completes tasks related to serving families with whom he or she works
• Resolves conflict when it arises
• Communicates effectively
• Maintains an appropriate sense of humor
• Observes and understands both verbal and non-verbal communication
• Maintains confidentiality of situations he or she encounters
• Discerns between the need for confidentiality and the need to make referrals to other professionals
• Has an attitude of acceptance toward those he or she serves and those with whom he or she works

3. Maintaining expertise. An effective TCK education consultant will
maintain his or her area(s) of educational expertise and experience in
the field of TCK education. This will be accomplished through:  

• Networking among professionals in his or her field of expertise and in the field of TCK education
• Developing and maintaining print and online research skills
• Attending training opportunities
• Maintaining membership in professional organizations
• Enrolling in advanced or graduate-level courses
• Maintaining a level of technological literacy needed to effectively research and respond to families

4. Work philosophy. An effective TCK education consultant is able to
work in a manner that allows for success in his or her role. A
consultant exhibits strong work habits in:

• Being able to travel as needed
• Managing his or her time efficiently and effectively
• Being a self-starter; taking the initiative in consulting and other tasks required of him or her
• Having the self-discipline needed to work independently and complete assigned tasks well
• Understanding how to work collaboratively with his or her colleagues
• Organizing him or herself in order to complete tasks in a timely and effective manner
• Showing awareness and sensitivity to security issues
• Advocating for families in an appropriate manner
• Understanding that the role of a consultant is often ambiguous and may not provide closure in every situation
• Submitting him or herself to accountable relationships with supervisors and/or others
• Being passionate about his or her work

Nearly forty percent of PACE members serve as education consultants
while also serving in some capacity in their local international school.
Some consultants are missionaries who successfully home schooled their
own children and have been asked by field leadership to serve as
consultants for families in the region who are also home schooling. A
few others are retired educators who have offered their expertise to
serve families in mission.

In addition to recruiting new staff members, as missions seek education
consultants to serve their families, we would encourage them to look for
qualified personnel who are already on the field and are willing to
serve as resources for their colleagues.

1. For more information, email


Melissa Shipman is executive director of Professional Association of
Cross-Cultural Consultants in Education (PACE). Prior to this, she was a
full-time GEM missionary and served as an education consultant, testing
coordinator, and area director with SHARE Education Services in

EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 72-78. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


Looking for an Education Consultant for Your Home School Experience?
•  PACE. For more information about how PACE can help support and train education consultants, email Online courses are offered several times a year and are available for graduate credit and continuing education credits. PACE also offers resources and opportunities for interaction to its members on its website,
•  AERC. For more information, email or visit
•  Anchor Education. For more information, email or visit
•  SHARE Education Services. For more information, email or visit

For resources in Spanish, go to


It Works! Reducing Preventable Missionary Attrition
Keeping missionaries on the field and functioning well is a top priority for mission leaders. The most common resolvable/preventable reason missionaries leave the field is that they cannot find solutions to their children’s K-12 education needs. My wife and I were nearly such casualties in 1995, having exhausted all the schooling options in and around Warsaw, Poland. 
We were offered help from a newly-formed educational consulting organization, SHARE Education Services. SHARE was created in 1994 as a result of interagency cooperation and the intentionality of regional ministry leaders to address this growing need throughout Europe and the former Eastern Europe and Soviet Union. The education consultants helped us explore “out-of-the-box” options. Because we were able to develop a concrete plan of how to address the educational needs of our two younger children, we remain on the field to this day.
One of the often unspoken fears of missionaries is: “What will be the effect on my children?” It can also be expressed: “Is my child at grade level or behind as a result of our educational choices while on the field?” Education consultants have been helpful in forming individual education plans, determining learning styles of children, and testing for grade-level achievement, as well as learning disabilities. All this without leaving the field!  
One added blessing is that the education consultants helped our children prepare for transition to university education in our home country. Consultation with the kids directly (personally and in group conferences) has been a major factor in our two oldest making the transition well. These consultants have helped many children embrace the best of being a missionary kid while anticipating the challenges of making the transition.     
For mission leaders, the costs in time, money, and supervision to prepare, send, and maintain missionaries working at peak levels is very important. Proactively addressing the educational needs of new missionaries (part of pre-field orientation) and providing current missionaries with education consultants is a prudent choice to reduce “preventable” missionary attrition.

Dennis Beck is the FamilyLife evangelistic strategy coordinator for Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) in Russia and Eastern Europe, where he has lived with his family since 1983.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 26-33. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.



Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…

Upcoming Events