The world of education is large and diverse. It includes a variety of formats, styles, and purposes. One might say it's a reflection of the world in which we live with its various nationalities, languages, and cultures. A rarely-considered corner of this world is the education of English-speaking children living overseas with their missionary families. Often overlooked, it is important to note that concerns over the education of their children is the main reason most missionary families return from their field of service.
Mike and Joan with their children Johnny and Jane are a typical missionary family. They were accepted as full-time candidates and raised their support fairly quickly. It was during their final round of information sessions that Mike and Joan came face to face with the issue of where Johnny and Jane would go to school. If they admitted it, Mike and Joan would have told you they had been assuming that the children would be sent to boarding school. Wasn't that what missionaries always did?
Once they began to realize the options beyond boarding school — day school, national school, or home school — Mike and Joan began to feel a bit overwhelmed. On top of the plethora of decisions and preparations they had made for their household over the past year or so, there was a whole new set of questions that needed to be answered. Would the national schools in their new country be safe, welcoming, or appropriate? What other day schools might be available and what would they be like? If nothing else worked, would home schooling be possible? Will we be able to provide an education with a Christian world-view?
For many missionary families, confronting the decisions about education can be daunting. The children, the family, and the mission are each part of the dynamic. The strengths, weaknesses, and educational goals for each child and of the family unit need to be discussed. Family finances, ministry goals, and time commitment also need to be considered. Making decisions about such a weighty topic can be almost overwhelming.
The educational choices Mike and Joan make will be undertaken while the family adjusts to a new language, money, food, social mores, and even new modes of transportation. Schooling will have to take place while the family learns where and how to shop, do the laundry, mail a letter, get a haircut, see a doctor or dentist, make friends, and so many other everyday tasks. Lessons will go on as they build a life in an environment of separation from anything familiar and/or isolation or deprivation. What's a family to do?
Encouragement is an invaluable source of support that can be offered to Mike and Joan by fellow heirs with Christ. They can remind them of God's promises to never leave us nor forsake us (Dt. 31:6) and to meet all of our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). Although God gives Christian parents serious responsibilities, He balances them with tremendous privileges. In general, experience seems to teach that the greater the assignment, the richer the blessings of the Christian walk.
Mike and Joan also need to be made aware of the tremendous advantages for children educated overseas these days. Johnny and Jane will be faced with challenges in their new setting, but they will avoid untold pressures and temptations found in today's U.S. culture. Their horizons will be broadened in immeasurable ways as they gain first-hand knowledge of the unity and diversity of God's creation. They will also grow in independence and a deeper reliance on their Heavenly Father as they face opportunities and difficulties with His help.
Specific information concerning the educational options will also encourage and empower Mike and Joan. The advantages and drawbacks to each type of schooling available in their new home need to be weighed. Testing can be done to determine Johnny's and Jane's level of achievement and discover if there are any learning style issues to manage. A consultation with an experienced educator involving these key topics will be of great assistance in Mike's and Joan's quest to provide the best possible educational environment for their children.
Once they make their decision and begin their course, many missionary families find another set of questions arise. Is Johnny learning math adequately in his second language? Does Jane really understand what she's reading in English any more? Will our children fit in with their peers if or when they return to the States? Will they be prepared for college?
Often missionary families choose to send their children to national schools in the primary grades. This allows them to acquire the new language more quickly as well as make friends and settle into the neighborhood. Parents then become part-time home schoolers as they pursue lessons with their children in the afternoons to maintain their fluency and facility in English. However, by the third or fourth grade, most of these schools move to a longer day of intense instruction and become very demanding.
The national school setting contains another reason for missionary parents to be especially alert. Although much is written about bi-lingual education in the U.S., little can be found about the English-speaking child being educated abroad and, most often, little is done to support children in this situation. A child may be struggling excessively with non-academic issues and, as a result, his achievement suffers. Or, a learning difference may exist that is not being diagnosed or addressed and his academic achievement suffers. In either situation, Johnny or Jane may not be reaching his full, God-ordained potential.
Any of these situations, and a host of others, can bring out the need to take another serious look at the educational options available. All along the journey, missionary parents need support for the education of their children. Mike and Joan are as deeply concerned about the achievement levels, emotional health, and spiritual development of each of their children as are their U.S.-based fellow believers.
The main way to bring support to Mike and Joan, Johnny and Jane, and hundreds of other missionary families like them is to send servants to be at their side. There are people qualified, able, and willing to provide this kind of field-side support. These "servants to the servants" can make individual family visits and arrange retreats, conferences, and workshops for gatherings of missionary families. Testing sessions and consultations can be scheduled in both settings. They can also maintain ongoing contact, encouragement, and practical support via the internet and international mail once they come back to the U.S.
Others, sympathetic to the needs of these families but unable to travel extensively, can provide support from their homes. They can give funds to support those who go to the field. They can send specific educational and enrichment resources needed by many of these families. They can share this opportunity for service with others by telling them about the educational issues faced by these missionary families.
Everyone can pray. In fact, God calls us strongly to support each other in prayer (Eph. 6:18). Ultimately everyone's lives are richer when we join together in prayer for our brothers and sisters. The next best thing to going to the field is the sense of participation we receive by enabling another servant to do so.
The hurdles of cross acculturation, limited resources, and lack of educational information are real, but they are not insurmountable. They could cause Mike and Joan with Johnny and Jane, or any other missionary family, to leave their field of service, but they don't need to. With the practical, emotional and spiritual help of their U.S. brothers and sisters they can continue to spread the gospel of Christ to the farthest corners of the earth. We U.S.-based co-laborers ought to mimic the efforts of the Thessalonians in their care for the Macedonians as we share out of our riches that the gospel might flourish all to the glory of God.
Lifework Forum is a ministry presenting patterns for living to both religious and secular audiences. This twelve-year-old ministry is dedicated to the application of Biblical truths to all areas of life. We place an emphasis on the practical outworkings of our discoveries. It is our desire to bring fresh insights to traditional thought as we confront age-old questions and current issues.
Project Prisca, a ministry project of Lifework Forum, offers educational assistance to Christian expatriate families in Europe and Central Asia. Named after a co-worker of the Apostle Paul with Aquila, this ministry seeks to provide educational information, emotional support and spiritual encouragement to families serving God in foreign lands.
In the past three years, Sandra Lovelace has been privileged to minister to families serving in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bosnia, Germany, Russia, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. She administers and scores achievement tests, then immediately consults with families to discuss the results and make recommendations. She is currently working on a new outreach to families serving in France.
Specific needs for Project Prisca include: magazine subscriptions (adult and children) books on tape wholesome family videos classic and/or Christian literature text books educational enrichment materials, such as flashcards, games
To learn more about Lifework Forum or Project Prisca, or to make a contribution in any of the above categories, please contact us at our website, www.lifeworkforum.org.
Financial donations are also needed to support the work. A gift of $50 will cover approximately 750 miles of air travel, or more of ground transportation, to get Sandra to the people she wants to serve. Lifework Forum is a 501(c)3 corporation so all financial donations are tax deductible. Please send your gifts to PO Box 377, Groton, MA 01450.