Sunday, January 25, 2009

How Could You Take Your Kids There?

I don’t hear this question. Probably because my kids are…uh, Tanzanian.

Ironic, isn’t it? Why should it matter?

But my parents heard this question when my family went overseas, and other missionary friends hear it about their kids. Before we had kids, people would tell me, “I could never do what you do…but then, I have kids.”

How can missionaries take their kids to the ends of the earth where there isn’t indoor plumbing, there’s bats and spiders and giant cockroaches and strange diseases, where they will be ‘deprived’ of American culture, and the cannibals are restless at night?

Hmmm. Well, if you put it that way, it does sound pretty scary.

In all honesty, it possibly is more dangerous here than the States. We have a much greater probability of being robbed, getting into a car accident, catching a scary disease, and not receiving the same standard of medical care as we would in the States. Tanzania is a stable country but it is true that African countries have a tendency to break out in war—my family was evacuated from two countries when I was a kid. Before we came out here, we could find only one…one!…agency that would give us life insurance. And that’s with two agents checking every agency they could think of. That was a little unnerving.

So. Here are my thoughts on this issue.

I agree that there are many Christians who have sacrificed their children on the altar of work or ministry. But I also do think that it is possible for Christians to elevate their children to idol status. Did Scripture ever say, “Make all your decisions to benefit your children?” Does it ever say, or even imply, to make your children your highest priority in life? Hmmm…. If you think so, I would appreciate discussion.

But Scripture does say this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26

Now of course, we know what Jesus is not saying here. He is obviously using hyperbole. But what he is saying is that nothing, nothing, not even your beloved family comes before obedience to Him.

Thus, may I venture to conclude that our children are not our highest priority as believers. Glorifying God through obedience is our highest priority, and therefore trusting Him with our children for whatever He asks us to do.

There is indeed a delicate balance here. Of course, I believe that children are a gift from God and that they need to know through our words, actions, and time that they are incredibly and indispensably valuable, and that there is very little that will ever be more important than them. And I can think of quite a few situations regarding our children that could cause us to return to the States (serious illness or emotional trauma, significant learning disabilities--to name a few). But I am not the ultimate protector of my children—God is. And if He desires us to live in Tanzania, then I entrust Him with the additional dangers.

That said, I also assure you that being an MK is one of the best things that can happen to a kid. Our kids are growing up with friends from all over the world and a deep appreciation for other cultures. They will have a first-hand understanding of poverty and therefore an appreciation for what they have. MK’s in general tend to be extremely creative, very adventurous, mature in conversation with adults, more knowledgeable about the world, and less shallow than many American kids. I love the fact that my kids are growing up in Africa—no matter what nationality they are!

And finally, “there is no safer place than the will of God.” Commonly said; very true.
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