by Raymond M. Chester
New priorities on family solidarity bring debate about educational options for MKs.
"We believe that God has called us to tribal work, but we will not send our children away to one of those missionary schools. It’s wrong to give our children to some stranger to rear." An increasing number of prospective missionaries and field missionaries are making statements like this. Is it really wrong or sin, as some have said, to send MKs away to be educated by strangers in a mission school?
The education of missionary children is a growing cause of friction between mission agencies, missionaries, and even sending churches. Should mission agencies regulate MK education, or should the decision of how and when be left up to the parents? The problem is further complicated by some popular family life teaching, which says that "the family is the most important thing." I have never been able to get a satisfactory definition of "thing." Some churches have even dropped their support of MK teachers. No wonder there is both confusion and fear over MK education.
I am not advocating a return to sacrificing the family at all cost for the ministry. Many of us have seen or experienced the destruction of a family when the ministry or anything was exalted out of its proper scriptural position. However, as a reaction to the pendulum swing in the direction of sacrificing the family for the ministry, it seems that the pendulum has now swung (in its natural human motion) to the other extreme, that is, to sacrificing the ministry for the family. The swinging motion of the pendulum will not stop. Church history indicates that the pendulum (what I call reactionary Christianity) will not cease its motion here, but will proceed to yet another extreme.
Before going on to discuss some pros and cons of MK education, we need to consider the impact of this teaching about the priority of the family, which seems to put the family at the center of God’s total program.
The family is not more important or less important than other relationships. It is just as important as the church, the job, and your other relationships… Some will no doubt plead for the priority of the family because it started way back in Genesis, long before the church and human government. Doesn’t that make the family more important? No. Chronology does not necessarily imply superiority. The world and work came before the family in Genesis. That doesn’t make them more important. Heaven comes last on God’s timetable. That doesn’t make it less important (Howard, 1983).
It is as if some believe that Ephesians 6:10 reads: "Finally, be strong in the family and the security of togetherness." However, after a rather long discourse on family and interpersonal relationships, Paul concludes by saying: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."
Missionary parents have been flooded with books, sermons, and lectures about how they must keep their families close together. They listen to it and consequently they produce SKs (smothered kids).
Missionary children, more than might be expected of them, know the demands made of a career missionary. Many desire to get out of the protective environment and lead a life like their missionary parents. Confusion results when missionary parents try every means to separate the children from everything and everyone that is native (Hsieh, 1976).
This pseudo-togetherness (or smothering) produces tremendous fear in the family.
Reserved commitment results in overprotection . . . extreme forms of overprotection, caused by certain reservations which parents have, seem to be interpreted by children as rejection or disapproval. Since Mother and Dad do everything for them, they come to believe that they are incapable of doing anything on their own. In adulthood these MKs may continue a life of overdependence, and may choose a life partner on the basis of how much that spouse is willing to do for them. They may look upon any relationship as a means of receiving rather than giving (Daniel-son, 1982).
The increasingly common motivation for family togetherness that I see today is fear. The logic is, "I spend time with you bcause if I don’t, something terrible will happen to you." Fear has displaced love and nurturing. Since fear always distorts reality (Matt. 14:26), the perception surrounding circumstances is distorted. Non-family becomes the enemy, even if "they" are fellow missionaries whose ministry is MK school teacher.
The greatest tragedy of all is that smothering seems also to block what God wants to do directly with the child. Remember, Ephesians 6:1-3 was written for children to respond to, not parents. Children are responsible directly to God and his Word.
Many young parents went forward in a church service to dedicate themselves to the Lord, with the promise to raise their children to the best of their ability, with his help. Why is it that when their children reach school age, they make a futile attempt to snatch them out of God’s hands? Our security does not come from family members, or family closeness, but from God himself:". . . for thou, Lord, alone makest me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8).
Missionaries are told that they can love their children only if they spend a lot of time talking with and touching them. If that is true-and current "family theology" seems to indicate that it is-then I am in a bind. Suppose our country is overthrown by a foreign power and all Christian families are divided up and put into separate prisons. (This has happened more than once in the past.) Since I can no longer talk to or touch my child, does that mean I no longer love him or her also? Or, is family unity based on something deeper than geographical location? I believe it is.
Our Lord said that he was "one" with his Father, even though at that time he was walking among men. His prayer was that we would have that same oneness, even in separation (Jn. 17:21). Obviously, we all want to have our children close by, but to "obey is better than sacrifice . . ." (I Sam. 15:22). If God truly wants us in a missionary situation where we must send our children away to school, then we can send and trust.
No one method is correct or incorrect for all children. It is critical to look at all your options and then choose the best way (method) available for each individual child. As a counselor to missionaries I am primarily concerned with the motivation behind how they educate their children and, secondly, what options really are available today to accomplish the how of MK education.
I know of no studies that would support the idea that sending a child away to school is, by that act alone, detrimental to a child. In fact, a study on MKs and self-esteem reported this year stated that:
… it is not necessarily the boarding school experience which is associated with lowered self-esteem. If any implication is present, it would be that the earlier the children are sent to boarding school the better, if that is the only option (Wickstrom and Fleck, 1983).
They stated earlier that:
. . . separation from parents is not necessarily associated with self-esteem. In fact, contrary to the hypothesized direction, there is evidence that among those who boarded, those who boarded the longest had the highest self-esteem . . ."
In another study, it was reported that:
MKs concurred that the element basic to early trust within their family included the security of knowing their father loved their mother. Their parents were able to display open affection for one another (Herrmann, 1979).
If the parents are not getting along, there is a direct affect on their children. In such a situation another study:
. . . indicates that attending a high quality school could protect a child from developing problems, particularly children from disruptive or discordant homes (Wickstrom and Fleck, 1983).
It would appear, therefore, that if missionary families are not healthy, it will not matter how the children are educated. If the parents are having troubles, to send away or not to send away is not the primary question.
With those factors in mind, let us look at the current state of the art in MK education. There are three basic options, with a number of variations of each. (1) They can send their children to an MK school. I would include here sending their children back to the States for education. The key word here is send. (2) They can teach at home using correspondence courses. (3) They can live and work near an MK or national school, where they hope their children will receive the desired education.
First, let us look at some considerations in the sending option. Mandatory sending of children at specific ages or grades is an unwise policy, although it is held by some organizations. Each individual child is unique. Even within a family, each child is different. They mature at differentages, adapt to change differently, and have different needs. Every child must be looked at individually as to when would be the best time to send, if at all. This decision is best left up to the individual family, if they have sufficient information.
Some children with specialized learning situations need the continual involvement of the parents. When they went to the field, the parents may not have known the problem existed. Rare though this situation is, it still happens. The two possible solutions are: (l) The parents move so as to be near their child, to provide the needed support, e.g., changing to an urban ministry; (2) Return home, or to a place where help can be obtained.
"Surveys of many missions indicate that a leading reason missionaries leave their field of ministry is to meet the educational needs of their children" (Lewis, 1983). In either situation, counseling may be needed to sort through the many issues. One further possibility would be to send a specialized teacher to work with the child.
One final thought on sending. Mission organizations could make one immediate change in their MK schools. I have interviewed many MKs concerning their experience away at school. I have found one consistent theme: "Do not put missionaries in as houseparents who are simply waiting for something better to do, or have nowhere else to go at present."
Finally, there are implications for houseparents in missionary boarding schools. Since houseparental acceptance is significantly associated with self-esteem, it would seem that the houseparents-child relationships needs to be a fairly good one in terms of warmth and acceptance and nurturance (Wickstrom and Fleck, 1983).
MKs want houseparents who are older (having raised their own children) and who are dedicated to the ministry of raising children. Mission organizations must be looking and screening for this type of couple.
One other new trend affecting MK education is what I call the "first-term teen-ager." This issue must be addressed by sending churches, missionary organizations, and the receiving missionary community. More and more families are going to the field with teen-agers. One problem faced by these teens is that they have not grown up with the existing MK community. Often they have left educational systems in their homeland that were vastly different.
Within a boarding school context they are often not seen as MKs by their peers. Great care must be taken by the mission and parents to help these new MKs adjust to their new culture. There are some boarding schools with large non-MK population where these "first-term teenagers" seem to blend in with fewer transitional problems (crises). However, if you are considering a boarding school for your "first-term teen," it would be wise to give your teen time to become acquainted with the new culture before considering a boarding school.
The second option available to missionary parents is teaching with correspondence school courses.
The disadvantages (with correspondence courses) include the lack of classroom interaction and competition. Correspondence courses seem especially weak in the areas of physical education, laboratory sciences, music and foreign languages . . . Perhaps the greatest drawback in correspondence courses is the study habits which they seem to produce. Students tend to spend the most time on subjects they like. Furthermore, since there are almost no deadlines, they may procrastinate. After all, if they don’t feel ready to take a test today, they can do so tomorrow. In the everyday world we are not always blessed with such options (Danielson, 1982).
There are additional problems with this method. First, as time progresses and the demands of the ministry increase, something must give. What usually gives is the time parents spend helping their children. The child is put on his own to complete the material. This usually happens when one or both of the parents are married to their work.
Second is the lack of peer socialization. We have the same problem in the United States at some Christian schools that do not allow for social interaction among students.
Coupled with this is the lack of listening skills. I have observed that children coming from self-taught correspondence programs, or any program where they are not required to listen to someone for extended lengths of time, are educationally handicapped. This is especially pronounced when the student reaches college and is flooded with lecture after lecture. There is only one way to develop listening skills and that is by listening to something and then being required to be accountable for that information (testing).
The matter of the missionary’s accountability to supporters for time spent teaching at home should also be mentioned. A growing help to parents who use the correspondence approach has been the tutor who will go to the missionary’s location and design a program for the parents and children.
Living near a school
More and more missionaries are taking the third option. As our world continues to centralize into urban settings, they have the opportunity to live near MK or national schools. However, along with the advantages comes the problem of increased financial pressure. It simply costs more to live in the city. It also costs more for the education. Therefore, higher support levels are needed. However, my main concern here is motivation, and this has already been discussed.
Are these the only options available? At present, they seem to be for most missionaries. However, what about the future? That’s where we must look. Therefore, on November 5-9, 1984, an International Conference on Missionary Kids will be held in Manila, Philippines, to discuss such topics as:
1. The causes and effects of changing attitudes toward boarding schools for missionaries’ children,
2. Recruitment and preparation of boarding home parents,
3. The Third Culture Syndrome and its impact on MKs,
4. The effective use of itinerant teachers on the mission field,
5. The implications of future mission strategies for MKs education.
It is therefore, time to examine what motivates us as missionary parents. Before we make a decision about MK education, we must ask God to search our hearts.
Remember, you are not in this alone. There are many resources and resource people available today to assist in these often difficult decisions. Though we have focused here on educational needs, this is only one facet of the MK. The ICMK will explore the MK of the ’80s and how best to meet their needs and the needs of the MK family.
Finally, instead of drawing up battle lines, let us draw together and examine where we are and what we must do in the future about the education of our MKs.
It’s time to pull together for MKs
by David C. Pollock
The family is not more or less important than other relationships" is a key quote in Ray Chester’s article. We have watched the effect of a less than biblical view and response to the family, in both the secular and the Christian communities. Some mission agencies are attempting to recover from the negative, insensitive attitudes and policies of the past, when some mission leaders seemed to view the family with less importance than it deserves.
Our present problems, however, include choosing up sides for a knockdown-dragout controversy and the swinging of pendulums to extreme positions; boarding school versus no boarding schools; home education versus institutional education; exclusive parental involvement with children versus the shared responsibility with the extended family. It is imperative that we think clearly about solutions to problems in the light of the clear directives of our Lord. He has made it clear that oneness is critical in the church. Differing opinions must be dealt with in the light of contributing to this oneness (John 13:34-35; John 17:20-23). He has also made it clear that we have a task to perform that will cost us comfort and convenience (John 20:21), as it cost Him. These directives demand that we view the care of the missionary family with an eye to vital unified action that will contribute to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, while meeting the God-given responsibilities to our children.
The issue of the missionary family and MK care is much larger than simply the education of the children. It embraces the support and development of the unit and each of its members (called edification in some circles). In the missions community this support is essential for three reasons. First, because the MK exists, and as a member of the body of believers, he is entitled to specific care. Second, because the missionary parents will be able to more effectively fulfill their ministry. Third, the MK population contains a wealth of unique potential for world leadership and impact that must be developed and released.
Obviously, the school finds itself in a central role in MK care, but even there the issues are more than academics. In order to meet the needs of the MK, there must be a comprehensive effort to touch the missionary family and the lives of individuals. There must be a flow of care, encompassing the missionary family’s life, performed by a variety of people at a number of points.
Prefield care must be given before the missionary leaves his home. The MKP (missionary kid parent) must be prepared through the candidate orientations and internships for the task of parenting with its challenges in a unique setting. Teachers and dorm parents should be very carefully selected, as Ray Chester indicated, and also given specific orientation and training for their task. The teenager or older preteen going overseas for the first time needs specific help in preparing for adjustment. Preparation for the cross-cultural experiences of a new country must also take into consideration the preparation for the unique culture of the MK school and missionary community.
On the field, continuing care for the missionary family must include in-service training and support through family life conferences and related counsel. The MKs need the personalized care of teachers and dorm parents in the setting of a genuinely caring community. Special outside resources should be provided for the ongoing growth and development of the MKs through youth specialists who are prepared to deal with Third Culture Kids. The MK school teachers and staff should have ongoing training and encouragement as "care-givers" in the school.
Upon returning to the home country, the MK’s adjustment can be facilitated by re-entry seminars and supervised re-entry experiences. There is value in re-entry-programs as they stand by themselves, but optimum value can be reached only as they become a part of the total flow of care.
The ongoing maintenance and development of the MK is in the hands of the church. Local churches must take a more active role in caring for the kids of missionaries they support. This includes providing a "place" for kids who do not have close relatives in the home country, and being actively sensitive to meeting their needs. Christian lawyers, doctors, counselors, and people with open hearts and open homes can provide services and warmth to the MK that will make adjustment and development much simpler and positive.
The Christian college has a special role in providing care for the MK, through special orientation programs, big brother and big sister care, education of faculty and staff to MK needs, and provision of a forum for MKs to meet with others of similar experience. Counseling services for both personal issues and educational and career guidance are critical to the MK.
Mission boards and overseas schools can enhance adjustment and development through cooperative efforts in maintaining contact with the MKs and providing sources that are kept in tune with the changing needs and demands of the MK. Reunions, trips back to the "home" country, and a communication link with other MKs with whom they have grown up are important contributions.
Many of the difficulties will be resolved when the church in general, and the missions community in particular, stops beating itself for past failures, attacking itself for present problems, and gets on with the task of creatively responding to the mandate of our Lord.
David Pollock is director of Interaction, Inc., West Brattleboro, Vt, where he leads family, youth, and missionary conferences. A graduate of Houghton College, he previously served with the Africa Inland Mission in Kenya. His recent work has taken him overseas to speak at international schools.
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