When I mention to people that I was a missionary for six years in Eastern Europe, one of the first questions I am often asked is, "Did you have your family with you?" For some the idea of bringing up children in a foreign culture is hard to imagine. As Americans we expend all sorts of effort and expense at making our children's lives as rich and as secure as possible. At least sometimes this question has another behind it. "Doesn't raising your children overseas impoverish your children, or put them at risk?" In my case, I would say, "Just the opposite."
There are certainly issues with raising kids overseas. How will they be educated and by whom? Who will be their playmates, and what influence will those children and their families have? How will they adjust back to North America, assuming that is their long-term destination? In fact, issues with children and their needs are one of the top reasons missionaries cite for leaving the field and returning to their homelands. Serious and chronic medical issues are much harder to deal with in many places where missionaries serve. Educational and social needs change over time.
However, there is also a lot that missionary kids (MKs) gain from living overseas. As Christians, we shouldn't be captured by North American culture. We are supposed to be critiquing and transforming it for Christ. MKs have a special advantage in this having been deeply exposed to another culture. We live in a globalized world where cultural intelligence, the ability to relate to people of other cultures, is a key skill that can be exercised in international business and in your local grocery store. MKs get to know people who love the LORD enough to sacrifice for His cause, both national leaders and their parents' colleagues.
Of course, to realize these advantages and avoid the potential problems both wise decisions and God's favor are needed. The practice of sending early elementary children to boarding school was associated with a number of problems and is very rarely done now. Most elementary children are being homeschooled or going to day schools, not boarding schools. Beginning mission service with teenagers can also be a big challenge. Some agencies have seen enough issues with this that they simply don't allow people to begin mission service with children between the ages of 10 and 18, because it is much harder for older children to adapt. Of course, their response depends on many factors like the home and school environment they will be in and their own openness to the experience. The transition back to North America must be done deliberately. There are a number of programs to help with re-entry.
All of this must be approached with a lot of prayer, by the missionary family, their extended family and support network. You may be thinking now of a missionary family with children who needs your prayers.
I'll be interested to see responses on this topic from missionaries, current and former MKs and mission advocates. What do you think about this?