Monday, December 14, 2015

Tempted to Tell All

“Mama, when we were at the library the other day, I was tempted to tell someone about Jesus and how He was born to save us. Is that wrong?”

I couldn’t help but smile.

Funny question for a missionary kid to be asking…

After all, isn’t that what missionaries do? Isn’t that what we teach kids that missionaries do?

Missionaries go, into ALL the world for this reason: telling ALL who have never heard or who have never believed or who just need to be reminded – ALL about Jesus.

The message is first one of confrontation – the horribly bad news that ALL, are sinners and that as sinners, we are unable – in and of ourselves – to DO ANYTHING to remedy our sin problem. Which brings us to the second part of the bad news: the required punishment for any and every sin is death.

Grasping that part of the message is necessary; thankfully it doesn’t stop there or we would ALL be without hope.

The second half of the missionary message tells of reconciliation and restoration. It’s the hopeful part… the better part.

ALL men need someone to save them. So God sent ONE, His Son.


It is what we celebrate during this holy season.

Jesus came – born as a baby, but also born to die… for ALL men.

He willingly and sacrificially took the punishment for ALL sin so that ALL men could be reconciled to God. The Good News gets even better. Jesus didn’t stay dead. God brought Him out of the tomb, alive and conquering death. Because He lives, ALL men who believe this merciful message of grace and then trust Him have the hope of ALL eternity together with Him.

So I smiled when my little one asked her question. And I told her, “Of course it’s not wrong!”

She grinned and said that next time, she’d be kind by listening to God when He was tempting her to tell…and we went on with our day… and week…

God, however, wasn’t finished with me yet. He had an additional thought with which I need to wrestle so He kept bringing my mind back around to her question.

Particularly the phrase tempted to tell.

The word tempted usually has a negative connotation. The dictionary definition, “to lure; to entice; to attempt to persuade (someone) to do or acquire something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or not beneficial,” clearly puts a negative spin on the word.

Why would anyone feeling that push or pull to share this message of hope describe it as temptation? In the case of my little one, I’m guessing it was the misapplication of a new word recently added to her vocabulary.

I don’t have that same excuse, and I’ve been convicted.

Far too often those words “tempted to tell” accurately describe my approach to sharing the Gospel message. Telling is so “in your face.” Telling implies that somehow I know best and that the way I’m describing is right. Telling doesn't skip the first part, the confrontational part, of the message. I'm naturally more comfortable with that subtle, less confrontational approach. Oft’quoted words usually attributed to Francis d’Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words,” hold great appeal. “Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks louder than your talk talks” is another catchy phrase I’ve commonly heard.

I’m tempted to tell – but can I be telling ALL if I won’t use words?

No! The idea that we can communicate why Christ came without ever speaking a word is a forcefully magnetic ILLUSION.

Its attractiveness compels in a world that often assumes words are, at best, cheap… At worst, words are perceived as worthless and devoid of meaning. But without words, any actions and ALL good deeds I do… they point at me. And the reality is that my righteous life by itself is woefully insufficient. 

No matter how good, no matter how tempting the illusion might be, my life alone cannot ever adequately tell of the baby born to die for ALL.

nativitycollageA godly life cannot be the good news.

A godly life, when combined with words, can herald and proclaim the good news, just as angels did in a night sky more than 2000 years ago, just as shepherds and wise men did after worshiping Emmanuel.

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.
…And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.
(from John 1) 

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How are you (in your place of ministry or country of residence)
“tempted to tell all,” particularly at this time of the year?

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The mothers who write for Missionary Mom's Companion will be taking a break for the next few weeks. We are busy telling the Good News and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Savior, with friends and family all around the world.

We look forward to returning sometime in mid-January.

Wishing our readers and members of this blog community a

Merry Christmas
and a
Blessed New Year! 

Living Nativity Photos: Dick Stewart

(This post has been slightly adapted from its original posting here.)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Peace Offering



You may be done with Thanksgiving and moved on to Christmas already, but we're just sitting down to our big meal today.  Each year we invite our friends over to a very traditional Thanksgiving meal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We eat turkey and stuffing and even have The Parade on mute for everyone to watch.  That's always fun to explain to everyone.

 It's been fun to see how our Tico friends have embraced this meal and look forward to it now as much we do. Last year they even started to make traditional dishes to bring, like pumpkin pie!

Over the last couple of years, I've done some studying on peace.  One of the things that caught attention was a sacrifice in the Old Testament called the Peace Offering.  Unlike what you might be thinking, it wasn't to pacify God or to buy Him off. 


Nope, in fact it was an offering of thanksgiving.  It was one of the only offerings that was allowed to be sacrificed any time someone felt like it.  One might offer the sacrifice for the completion of a vow, or out of thankfulness for some gift the Lord gave them.  One might also offer it as a thank offering for the Peace that they had with God.  After the animal was sacrificed, the one offering it ate the meat in community with their friends and family.



This Peace Offering is how I've come to view our Thanksgiving meal.  We very consciously offered all the preparing, planing, time and money as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Let's be honest, that turkey isn't cheap here in the tropics! 

It's a peace offering for the community He has give us.  This community wasn't something that came quickly or easily.  Every year as I look around at the friends who come to eat our weird gringo food and watch this weird parade thing with us, I am so thankful! 

It's also a Peace Offering for the Peace that we have with God. "For He Himself is our Peace."



"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, 
but you are fellow citizens with the saints, 
and are of God’s household" -Ephesians 2:19


Thankful. Very, very thankful.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Zhatva

With a loose theme of Thanksgiving here on the blog this month, some have written about what the Thanksgiving holiday is like in their family or country of residence. I'll continue that theme, especially since I missed it this year, and I usually love it so much.

As a regular holiday, Ukraine and Russia don't really celebrate Thanksgiving. However, the churches have a special harvest Sunday called Zhatva. The sermons and special music and all focus on God's gifts to us and thanking Him for them. There's not a set date for Zhatva. In fact, often regional pastors work together to stagger the dates in the different churches, so that we can visit each other and celebrate together. Usually, Zhatva Sundays are in September, although sometimes they flow over into late August and October.

Some years our family has gone to three or maybe even more Zhatva celebrations, when we've been very involved in church ministry. I especially love when we get to go out to a village to thank God for the harvest He has given there. Those village services are usually followed by a real feast, often outdoors in the lovely fall weather.

This year, I was travelling for other reasons, so I missed Zhatva at the church that we attend, and we didn't visit any others. But, my husband made sure to take photos for me, and I'll share some of those with you. There are always lovely displays of the fruits and vegetables that God has given:



Oh, and here's just one old post (one of many) about a village Zhatva on our family blog. (Can you see how our family has grown since then?!) This really is one of my favorite parts of church life here.

Who else out there has been to a Slavic church's Zhatva celebration? Or do churches in your part of the world do something similar?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thanksgiving Trees as a Simple Outreach

I am sure that nearly all of you have heard of the "Thanksgiving Tree" tradition. For those who might not know of it, it's where you make a tree out of paper to hang on your wall, or out of bare branches in a vase or jar, and adorn it over time with paper leaves with hand-written blessings on them. Some people like to do this for the entire month of November, others just for Thanksgiving week or day as a way to focus our hearts on thankfulness to the Lord. You can invite those who enter your home to participate with you and to count their own blessings by hanging a leaf or two on your tree. The end result is a beautiful display of the Lord's goodness.

Our Thanksgiving Tree last year, not long after we started

We have done this tradition in our home for a number of years, and last year got to thinking about how this is such a great way to engage non-believers in spiritual conversation. When we think of the things that we are thankful for, a natural second question is to whom we are grateful for these gifts.

Our daughter goes to Russian pre-school, so we decided to see if we might be able to share this tradition with her class. I explained about the tree and how the teacher could gather the kids around each day for a week or so to ask them two question; first being what they are thankful for, and second being to whom they are thankful. Our beloved teacher surprised us with her great enthusiasm and explained how she loved this idea after noticing how kids these days are growing to feel more and more entitled to things and less and less grateful. Our teacher is not a believer but has a huge heart for developing the character of her kids.

We brought in the tree and a bunch of cut out leaves with string loops attached, and the teacher and class fell in love with this tradition. They did it not only for a week, but an entire month! One day not long after they started, our daughter's teacher, who knows that we are Christians, said, "Guess what? Today a little boy said that he was thankful for the sun. And guess who he was thankful to? God!"

The preschool Thanksgiving tree, also not long after they started

The teacher felt that this practice of giving thanks was so valuable that she went around to all of the other classes in our preschool and even to a gathering of preschool teachers in the city and shared the idea, encouraging them to adopt it for their own classes.

I wanted to share this with you as a very simple and non-confrontational way to spur hearts towards spiritual things and to begin conversations with groups, perhaps at schools or other places, where you might not be welcomed to share as openly about the gospel as you would like. God has greatly used this tradition to open doors for us and I pray that it might do the same for some of you!

Is the Thanksgiving Tree a part of your family tradition? What are some ways that you've been able to reach out to people in your community through the Thanksgiving holiday?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Story of Three Very Different Thanksgivings


 Thoughts of Thanksgivings way past... 

  • traveling to grandparents' house
  • aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends 
  • tearing around a small, rural southern Illinois town on bikes in jeans and sweatshirts, fingers and noses freezing, but a last hurrah before it became too wintery
  • the smell of cigars
  • Thanksgiving Day parades on TV - with all of those amazing floats 
  • American football in the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • cousin slumber parties in the refinished basement
  • tables and tables and tables full of food including Stove Top Stuffing spiked with chunks of cheese
  • unlimited orange and grape pop in the basement fridge...

Magical memories...

They easily assume an almost mystical, mythological place in our minds, which then makes it all the more difficult to appreciate a present moment. As an adult, I've discovered that those delightful recollections of childhood Thanksgivings had unexpected repercussions. I'd try to recreate aspects of those bygone days, only to fail miserably because it never felt the same, at least not to me.


I was on an express path to lose my love for what had always been my most treasured holiday.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with remembering. But there's so much wrong with trying to recreate what has passed... Instead, we have to draw from the past to build something new.

Our first "traditional" Thanksgiving in W. Africa was a memorable one. My father-in-law had flown out to visit and to see our new home. He brought a frozen turkey in his carry-on! I learned to make mock pumpkin pie from squash, mock pecan pie using oatmeal and mock apple pie from zucchini. I made giblet gravy for the first time and stuffing from scratch - we splurged on cheese to stuff down into the chunks of bread. We borrowed VHS tapes with old football games on them, pulled out our piddly artificial Christmas tree to decorate and began playing Christmas music. We worked on puzzles and played board games and watched Swiss Family Robinson. We'd invited a few single friends to spend the day with us. We discovered that some of the best watermelon EVER came into season during November in Niger and started a new Thanksgiving tradition that involved watermelon instead of cranberries. We prayed and thanked the Lord for our new home. It was a beautiful, wonderful Saturday (since the actual US Thanksgiving day was work as usual for the rest of the world) that set the scene for many more W. African Thanksgivings to come...


After we'd been living in Niger for a few years, we realized that our brothers and sisters in the church also celebrated a time of thanksgiving. Sometime in October, after the beginning of the school year (October 1), many churches observed a "Fête de Moisson," or Harvest Celebration. Invitations were sent to sister churches. Neighborhood children were invited. The church was meticulously cleaned, sometimes even repainted and decorations were strung from the metal trusses supporting the roof. A goat or sheep was slaughtered and slow cooked in a sauce we'd smell throughout the entire service. Everyone brought some food - or at the very least, a bag of hard candies or several bagged yogurts to share. Sometimes, there was even a case of cold, glass bottled Coke - for the men. A basket was placed in the front of the church and after the time of singing and a short sermon, everyone had several opportunities to sing and dance their way down the aisle, to the front and place gifts in that basket - first the elders, then all the men, then all the women, then the choir, then the children, then families - one by one... and on and on. Often, the women would buy yards of the same material from the market several weeks ahead of time and would show up to church in mostly matching outfits. There were games during the children's Sunday School time - sometimes prizes were handed out to children who recited their verses. At the conclusion of the service, we'd eat a meal together - men served first, often in groups of 5 or 6 sitting around a large plate piled high with the rice and sauce that had been awfully distracting during the sermon. Then children would be served... and finally the women would eat together. Usually everyone ate with their hands. Sometimes - trying to be nice, they gave us - the missionary family - spoons to use. We always smiled and said thank you - and never said that it was actually more fun to eat with our hands. I can't say that I loved it... this Thanksgiving celebration... NOT the first time. But it grew on me. The past few years, I've missed watching my children dance and laugh and clap their way to the front of the church - and the offering basket - while our African family danced and laughed and clapped with them.




This year, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada.  Canadian Thanksgiving's beginnings are more closely identified to European traditions than to New World unity. Many decades before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place throughout Europe during the month of October. It is generally agreed that the first Thanksgiving celebration in North America actually took place in Canada, when English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in Newfoundland. He was thankful for safety as he traveled across the Atlantic. He arrived 43 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts... 1572. I've only ever celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in Quebec; according to what most have told me - it isn't nearly as big of a deal in Quebec as it is in Ontario and western Canada (nobody really said anything about further east). At most, it is a three day weekend to spend time with family. More typically, it is a bit of a party weekend, with Monday as the official holiday. After our traditional Thanksgiving meal (with from-scratch cranberry sauce, for the first time ever), our daughter and her friend went out door to door in our neighborhood. They were collecting pop and other cans for recycling (it's a common way students here raise funds for school activities). Her friend said it would be a great weekend - lots of beer bottles to collect - and she was right. We filled our SUV with garbage bags full of bottles and cans. Even the passenger side front seat was packed, and the girls had to walk to the return center while I drove to meet them. Our church did have a meal after the service on Sunday, which was a fun time to fellowship, eat delicious food and visit. But we couldn't hang out all day as we rent a room and had a deadline by which we needed to be cleaned up and cleared out. The Christian school our children attend gifted families with a four-day weekend - and the last Thursday afternoon was spent watching students (dressed in "Fall" themed/colored costumes) participate in an annual competition: the Autumn Leaves Race. Many parents were at the school to cheer their kids on, and it seemed like fun was had by all - even the highschoolers who had to reluctantly run 2+ kilometers. 

We're still figuring out Thanksgiving here. We live near a First Nations/Native American reservation. I'd love to find out if they have any type of harvest celebration! Next year, maybe!

Were those Thanksgivings past better than more recent ones? No. And even though not EVERY year makes memories with the same sort of reminiscing power, Thanksgiving remains my favorite time of year...

Maybe because it isn't all about me. It is all about remembering why I'm thankful... and to quote some lyrics of a well-known song: 


The sun comes up
It's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

You're rich in love
And You're slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
Forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name"
(Matt Redman - 10,000 Reasons)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Generating Gratitude

Thanksgiving is this month… unless you live in Canada (like I do now). If you do, Thanksgiving was last month.

Traditionally, Fall- or harvest-time in western cultures - includes a specified time of celebration, family and giving thanks. But that doesn't mean western cultures have the corner on this sort of celebration.

Have you already guessed? Our monthly theme for November is thankfulness... and we hope to spark a conversation about how Thanksgiving (or Action de Grâce as we say in French) is celebrated around the world. 

To start things off, I'd like to revisit something I wrote a few years back... while I was still living in West Africa... all about gratitude!

...I feel a bit stupid starting out like this – 

I REALLY can’t stand listening to a generator.

I know. You’re wondering, “What’s the big deal?”

First, I’ve listened to them an awful lot lately.



Additionally, generators are noisy, they stink, there’s usually a big puff of black smoke as they start up, I’m quite sure they can’t be good for the environment and they consume a whole lot of diesel fuel. That gets expensive. 

And while that list of five might actually be considered valid reasons for my churlishness, they aren’t the real ones behind my stronger than ambivalent dislike.

My antipathy towards those monstrosities which authorize electricity for some while everyone else has plunged into darkness is nothing short of sinful.

I detest them because I don’t have one… everyone else around me does… which repeatedly jogs my memory of something I’d rather ignore.

When the power goes out
  • I’m stuck sitting in the dark trying to mark papers until I get frustrated and my head aches (candlelight is hard on these getting-older eyes of mine).
  • I’m finishing looking up the Zarma words with unfamiliar symbols for Saturday’s Bible study.
  • I’m washing dishes hoping they’ll look as clean in the daylight as they do under that dreamy, flickery glow. 
  • I’m praying that the little ones don’t wake up because the difficulty of rejoining Mr. Sandman increases exponentially when the air seems deader than the inside of a tomb. 
  • Last, but not least, I sweat literal buckets at 11:00 at night when working near even the tiniest flame.
I used to begrudge those who experienced nothing more than a blip when the current sagged or disappeared altogether. I think I’ve gotten past that. I don’t wish they didn’t have one because I don’t, and I certainly understand why they use their generators. If I had one, I’d be using it, too.

EACH time, however, I hear a generator roar into life I’m vehemently reminded of something I’d rather ignore….

I balk at the instruction to give thanks in all circumstances. 

I'm reminded of that reality in slow motion replay each time I hear those machines jolt into life and I begin to growl and complain. 

My father-in-law served for some years in Haiti and tells of visiting a local electric company. Night had fallen, the plant was elevated, located on a small mountain outside of town, and from the plant, he could see the entire lighted city. An employee began pointing out different neighborhoods and then with a sly grin told my father-in-law to watch.

Click!­

He switched a button, an entire neighborhood went dark... and the employee laughed. Out loud. 


It is easy to joke that something similar takes place each time our power goes out. But reality is that I can live and still function adequately, even with this particular frustration that is so common to the expat experience of life in an impoverished, still-developing locality.

I can also willingly choose to refuse to give thanks.

We’ve had a smattering of power outages in recent days and weeks. More than normal. Each time I hear the neighboring generators roar into life, a still small voice whispers: “I don’t want to thank the Lord that the local powers that be have once again denied me any power.” That voice doesn’t stop there, however. It continues, whispering: 
“It isn’t the electric company denying you power. You’ve done it to yourself, by not choosing gratitude.”
Not only am I stumbling and sweating it out without electricity, I’m also self-rendered powerless, spiritually, choosing to be a victim of circumstances when God offers me practice at building a practice of joy and contentment, regardless.

Just like that dude at the electric plant in Haiti, by refusing gratitude, I’m flipping a switch, laughing… and plunging myself (and sometimes those around me) into darkness.

Choosing gratitude, however?

Choosing gratitude siphons out any clout out of darkness. It leaves opportunity for vibrating voltage, exhilarating energy, and contagious current.

An electrical stream of thankfulness pulsating powerfully can provide perspective and light for me and maybe for those nearby as well.

William Faulkner noted:
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
Faulkner was absolutely right…

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What, in your life, reminds you of those times you reject a thankful spirit?

How can you celebrate Thanksgiving throughout the year - intentionally producing, discharging and using up gratitude?


This article, original form, first posted here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Foreign Mom

"No one else has ever done that before.  That's not what we do here." 

Those were the words (in Spanish) we were hearing as we tried to explain to the school director that we would not be sending our preschool-aged daughter to school every morning.  We didn't feel like it was necessary or healthy for our little girl to be away from us every morning; they thought that was really strange.  We ended up being the weird foreign parents that year... all year.

"Children aren't supposed to be here.  This was supposed to be a surprise for them." 

I heard giggles from other moms as I blushed after hearing the teacher's words.  I quickly steered my kids back out of the classroom and to our car.  I'm not sure how I misunderstood the note sent home from school.  I thought we were supposed to bring our kids to school in the afternoon to do a special craft with them, and I'd gotten my kids all excited about it.  What I was actually supposed to do is come to school alone to do a craft that would be a surprise gift for them.  Why do I still make mistakes like this in Spanish? 

"Please re-do this.  The syllables need to be organized differently."

I had already cut out hundreds of little squares with letters on them and organized them alphabetically.  Here, at the beginning of the year, we were given sheets full of each possible syllable in Spanish.  It was the parents' job to cut them out and organize them.  The problem?  I had no idea how to organize these many flashcards.  It took several attempts, but finally my little project received the teachers' approval.  For the non-foreign moms?  This was just a rite of passage; every parent of a first grader knows how to do this because it's what their parents did for them.  It's how children learn to read and write here. 

"Your son has gotten behind in Spanish.  Please work with him at home to help him catch up."

I read this note sent home from school, and then look over the 30-something pages of worksheets that we would need to do at home.  I don't even understand this!  What's the future going to be like if I can't even understand first grade homework here!?

All of these interactions take place in Spanish, of course.  I have so many other stories like this.  Being the foreign mom is rough!  And, I'm really still just at the beginning of this adventure of educating kids in a foreign country!  I have so much more to learn, but here are some tips I've learned so far:

1)  It's ok, and understandable, that this is hard.  None of the quotes above were said to me in a mean way.  But, I still have felt guilty and like a bad mom and a bad missionary because of things like this.  But, then I realize, of course this is hard!!!  This is something new and different and unlike anything I can reference from my childhood.  It's ok that it's hard.

2) You need help.  Acknowledge this.  Ask for help.  That day that I misunderstood the note about the craft time at school?  That was a bit of a turning point for me.  The next day, I was at ballet class with my daughter.  Three other moms from her school were there with their daughters as well.  All year, I've been building friendships with these ladies.  I shared with them what had happened the day before, and how being the foreign mom can be hard.  They were sweet, and promised to help me in the future.  After class, one of them took me to a craft shop and showed me what supplies I'd need for the craft, and told me to bring them along on the playdate we had previously arranged for the next day.  While our kids played the next day, she walked me through the craft I was supposed to have made at school.  It was a huge blessing and encouragement to me.  And, it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't opened up to those friends.  Now, they frequently check to make sure I understand announcements sent home from school!

two of the ballet class moms that have helped me through this school year!
3) Consider occasionally recruiting a native speaker to help with homework.  Since finally realizing and accepting that I couldn't do this alone, I've asked one of my friends from our church to help me help my son with his homework.  Sometimes this looks like texting a photo of the worksheet to her so she can help me understand it.  Other times, it looks like actually having a friend sit down with my son at our table to help him one on one.  This has been such a help and relief to me!

4)  Pray.  I have many days where I feel like this is too hard.  I'm sure all of you, no matter what decisions you've made regarding your kids' education, often feel the same way.  I know God uses these times to draw him closer to Him as we realize our dependency on Him.  I know I need to be better at praying specifically for God's help and strength as we educate our kids in Costa Rica.  Just as I can't do it without these native friends, I absolutely can't do it without Him. 

How do you feel as the "foreign mom" where you are?  What tips have you learned through your experiences so far educating your kids overseas? 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Educational foundations

As we continue our theme of education, I've had a hard time thinking of what to write next. I already wrote some about what school is like in our family so far. While we incorporate parts of public and private school, what I know best is homeschooling. Homeschooling moms seem to be able to discuss curriculum and schedules for hours on end, so I guess I could write some of that... but I don't want to go there.

Instead I decided to go back to the very basics. The foundation. Why are we doing what we're doing in educating, and what do we want for our children at that very important level? Whatever different paths we are on as our children learn and grow, this is the most important part. I think my u verses for education are Proverbs 24:3-4:
Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
By knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
Wisdom... understanding... knowledge. Yes!

Also, there's a verse that might not usually be considered in an educational context, but my desire for my children is that they will be able to say "Thou hast set my feet in a large room," because of the education that they end up with.

Do you have favourite verses for education? What is your inspiration as you navigate all this with your family?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mommy's Lesson on the First Day

When we moved to Costa Rica, our firstborn was only three months old.  I was not thinking very specifically yet about what we would do for education (although that was a question our families asked us a lot!).  Then, we moved to our small town, where there are really only four schooling options: the public school, a private Spanish-only school, a private bilingual school, and homeschooling (which has some very strict legal limitations here).  When thinking about the various options back in that baby/toddler stage, I was pretty convinced that the one option we would not choose would be the private bilingual school.  And, where do our kids go now?  Yep, the private bilingual school!  The decision was made basically by a process of elimination; none of the other options were a good fit for us here and at this timeMy dream situation here would be a Christian school where parents can be really involved, much like the one that I attended... however, that option does not exist where we are.

When that 3-month old firstborn became an almost 6 year old ready for kindergarten, we were in the States on a home assignment.  I homeschooled him for that first part of kindergarten, which was a great fit for us as we traveled.  I loved it!  But, when we returned to Costa Rica, we made the decision to enroll our son in kindergarten and our daughter in pre-kinder at the bilingual school.  On the first day of school, I was so worried about how the kids would react to going to school after being homeschooled and with us constantly during our time in the States.  But, it turned out that Mommy was the only one who cried that day.

It also turned out that I had the biggest lesson to learn that day.

walking into school on the first day, when I started to tear up
 
I have to admit -- I did more than just a little crying after dropping the kids off.  I did a.lot.of.crying.  Like go home and completely lose it and sob and sob and sob while pouring out my confused little heart to my most likely very overwhelmed husband.  Looking back, I'm bit surprised by my strong reaction, but I also understand that the emotions had as much to do with all of the emotions of returning to life in Costa Rica as it did with the kids going to school.  Sending them to school was just a reminder of how our decision to live and minister in Costa Rica changes so many of our life's decisions.  I really loved homeschooling, and I think it's likely we would homeschool if we lived in the States.  Here, though, we feel strongly that our kids need to gain fluency in Spanish to be able to be fully part of our community and that the best way to do that, for now and for our family, is for them to attend a local school.    Homeschooling or a Christian school may still be in our future, but, for now, (which is really all I need to know right now!), they are attending this school to learn Spanish.  We are grateful to have such a great school to send them to here.  But, still, it was hard for me as I wrestled with how our decision to live here affects our decision on how to educate our kids.  And, it was hard to feel like while the bilingual school was a good option, it was several items down on my list of ideal options.

As I calmed down on that first day of school, I was reminded of something I've had to learn over and over again as a missionary wife and mom... I cannot compare my life here to what I think my life would be if we lived in the States.  That's not our life.  This - living and working in Costa Rica - is our life, for now and for as long as God wants us here.  So, we make the decisions that work best for our family and for the life and ministry God has placed us in.  Comparing and contrasting with what life in States looks like (or, really, what I think it might look like!) does nothing but make me lose the joy that I can have in this amazing life God has given us in Costa Rica.  And, I love this life!  How cool is it that our kids get to grow up learning a second language and being part of this beautiful culture?  Now, more than a year from that first day of school, I daily see the benefits the kids have gained as I hear them speaking Spanish more confidently, and, as our local friends tell us, with a perfect Costa Rican accent!  I also have been blessed with many friendships with moms at the school, providing opportunities to share my life and testimony with a group of women I never would have known if our kids were not at that school.

The kids may have learned some new Spanish words and some new letters on the first day of school, but it was Mommy who learned the most important lesson of the day.

We're thankful how this school has allowed our whole family to learn more about Costa Rican culture.

Do you struggle with imagining what your life could look like if you were still in your passport country?  Has a lack of education options in the place you serve led you to choose something less than your ideal for your kids' schooling?  We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Enigma of Educating our TCKs

  

As a relatively large family (eight children spanning 13 years) that’s been on the mission field essentially since the turn of the century (15 years - long enough to be considered career), we’ve tried several different education options: homeschool, local language schools, private school, public school, online school… We’ve not yet used the boarding option at a boarding school (unless you count our university aged kiddos living in a dorm, but that’s still a whole different ballgame). And, in fact, when we first left for the field, I would have told anyone who asked that home school was the plan, but also that boarding school was the only option NOT on the table. 

Now?

I would tell you that any possible option that presents itself makes its way to the table as a topic of discussion…

People have asked us before about our education plan/philosophy, and I used to think I had it pretty well figured out – actually, mapped out – before our first reached third grade. A special educator with several years of experience in the classroom… a professional trained to look at the individual skills, abilities and needs of an individual student – and one who was fairly good at what I did… I figured those skills would naturally transfer to figuring out an exceptional and best educational plan for each one of my own children. Since I was the professional educator, my husband – although always an active contributor to the many conversations – essentially followed my lead regarding what was best, educationally, for our children, although there have been compromises. 

I’ve discovered that it HAS NOT come naturally – because my own desires and dreams for my children often interferes with… even disguises… what might actually be best for them… educationally, emotionally, physically, socially… spiritually. Those best choices that I could see easily for someone else’s child weren’t nearly so obvious when it came to my own.  Sometimes, best choices actually got in the way of good decisions. Sometimes, we make what appear to be best decisions – only to discover down the road aways that we didn’t have all of the facts or experience necessary to know, actually know, what we were deciding…


We’ve I’ve made so many mistakes. 

I’m thankful for God’s grace and merciful children. 

Key questions we’ve started asking when it comes to making those educational decisions:
  1. What is available?
  2. What is affordable?
  3. What is advantageous? (Or… What is the absolute best for this one child?)
  4. What is acceptable? (Or… What is a practical and adequate reality for our entire family?)
  5. What is the actual child’s input?

The first two questions are obvious. If there is no English language day school option in country and your children are too young to go to an out-of-country boarding school, then homeschool (parent teaching or engaging a teacher) or online are probably the two primary possibilities - if English language schooling is a priority. And, of course, whatever option must paid for - often putting the private, international schools out of reach for many missionary families.The third question is an ideal – If not limited by anything, what would I choose for my child. The fourth question is more one of workability: Which choices are both doable and good - not just the individual child, but for our family as a whole. This last one is always a hard one for me, because my perfectionist side has a hard time settling for the good if there is a best alternative. Doing so is, in my mind, equivalent to failure. The final question has much to do with what the child wants – or thinks s/he needs.


These questions are not listed in a hard and fast order of priority – because priorities can change based on present realities. They also change based on the individual needs of each specific child.

Sometimes, it feels like we’re trapped in a high stakes poker game where we’re dealt a hand of cards, we try to read the nuances of the situation all around us and then make decisions that are educationally sound and profitable for our children. Sometimes we make the very best decision we can – only to watch as our child struggles, hurts, or worse… learning as more information comes to light that perhaps we didn’t actually make a very good choice – or that we need to make a change. 

There are so many “stories” I could tell – but there are two I think are particularly relevant.

While in W. Africa, we choose to enroll our children in a local, French language primary school. It felt like we got to have our cake and eat it too… to use a cliché! We met so many people outside the missionary community (the school was run by Baha’i missionaries). Our children were learning French and making local friends - outside of  church. The teachers and staff at the school worked very hard to meet the educational needs of our children and our children learned that the standard “American” perspective wasn’t necessarily the only way. It certainly was not the way the rest of the world saw things. 

They children grew from experiencing life as a visible minority where they didn’t have all of the prerequisite skills that typically give majority culture students an advantage. They learned independence, hard work, how to memorize, obedience without question and how to make friends with people who were drastically different from them. We were all home for lunch together every day – and for a rest time during the afternoon heat - before the children returned to school. Academically, we found that even though the educational system and priorities were different, our children were well taught and well prepared to eventually transition to an international, English language school as bilingual students. The only disadvantage was that our children were spread across three different school campuses in town.


Life was cruising along; we were following this educational plan for our family. Then our mission unexpectedly became insolvent. Resulting financial difficulties as well security challenges due to increasing terrorist activity in our region led us to make a radical change - several weeks after the beginning of a new school year. We moved our children into an English language, international mission school. 

I had to let go of my dream of genuinely bilingual children and being a part of that school community we had enjoyed for several years. I also had to accept that this was a decision that had nothing to do with an educational best choice, but a real life, real time choice of what was best for our family. Additionally, I was surprised to discover just how difficult this change was for our children who had to make the switch – suddenly, unexpectedly and mid-year. They immediately had to learn 1) a new school, 2) new classroom/teacher systems, 3) a new academic language, 4) to live day in and day out with those who had, before, only been weekend friends, 5) to walk through perceived injustices/prejudices as a result of the previous educational choices we’d made for our family, and 6) to be just like all of the other TCKs who filled their classes. Others of our children who'd already transitioned to the international school had made that transition. But, we’d taken a year of homeschooling to help each adjust to the radical differences.

What's the moral of the story? When you realize that a current educational situation is really not working, either because of a change, new information, or whatever – make the necessary changes. I shed many tears, crying for my lost vision of the future, but also with my kids as they dealt with their own losses and frustrations. I had to create time to be available and drop other obligations and commitments in my already full ministry schedule to emotionally and academically support them through the change. It was hard.


My second story is one that is taking place, literally, right now. We’ve transitioned to a new place of ministry. Those among our children who are not attending college back in the States are presently enrolled in a French language, private, evangelical school. It’s a great school. But it is already clear that it is not the best educational decision for at least one of our children, one for whom learning does not come easily, one who is an extreme extrovert - not being able to talk with friends is driving said child crazy. This child was already identified as having an articulation disorder, has an individualized education plan and was receiving speech and language services in English. For this one, languages do not come easily. Yet, because of immigration/visa requirements – our children must be actively engaged in French language education. 

Are there other avenues we could choose? Probably, but we aren’t familiar enough yet to know what those options might be. So we spend hours on homework every night. We memorize verb conjugations even though the children may not have any idea what said verb means and will not likely be using the conditional form of the verb any time in the near future. We reread and translate much of the work that was done during the day. It's like a second school day once home when what they really want is a break because they are exhausted. I easily perceive that exhaustion as “laziness.” A good friend recently reminded me of something I should know very well - as a language learner myself and as a teacher of English as a second language… Language learning is draining; learning content material in the new language is beyond grueling. Sometimes what looks like lazy is simple self-preservation from information overload. Once again, for this season – different ministry ideas I might have need to take a back seat to supporting my children as we walk through this season together and learn to thank God for His Presence when life (school) is unrelentingly hard.

The moral of this second story? Sometimes the cards we are dealt just don’t leave a particular child with any good hand, educationally. That isn’t necessarily a failure. It is a reality of life in a fallen, broken world. What may not turn out to be an academically profitable year might actually reap more real life skills and an opportunity to lean on the Lord in ways we just don’t when we don’t desperately need Him. But as parents, we can't leave our kids to just fend for themselves in the challenging seasons our life choices, our callings, have thrust upon them.


Do I believe God called me to this place, at this time, with this family? I absolutely do. He also gave me this family and called me to a responsibility to serve them. More important than making perfect educational decisions for each child each school year is a lifestyle lived, walking humbly with our God through those decisions (and others). It is climbing educational mountaintops together and holding close through the academic valleys, all the while ultimately recognizing His Sovereignty and His amazing grace in all circumstances. TCKs don't need to be coddled and protected from life's realities and hardships because their parents are following a lifestyle that denies them of much of what is valued and expected of parents in today's western/developed world. Life isn't all about our kids. But they are also not to be ignored or expected to fend for themselves. They need to be discipled in looking to God for strength and hope in the midst of our decisions.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Education Question

Oh the education question!



It's a tricky one isn't it?  So many options or none at all depending on where in the world you live. For us, living in close proximity to the capital city of our country, we have a lot of choices.  Not all good choices, but choices none the less.  US schedule expat school, US schedule bilingual school, US schedule Costa Rican school, Costa Rican schedule bilingual school, Costa Rican Spanish only school, Costa Rican public school, Homeschool.  Yikes!

I think when were were trying to decide what to do three years ago, we looked at 6 or 8 different options.  And frankly none were "just right". They all had issues.  From cost, to location, to philosophy.  I ended up talking with another missionary mom who is a little further down the education road with her kids than we were and she gave me some good advice. She said "no option here is perfect and what works one year for one kid, might not work the next year or for any of the other kids." Ok then.

In the end we landed at a bilingual school that runs on the US schedule.  We are one of just a handful of North American families there.  Most of the kids are Costa Rican, but there is a big group of kids from Asia too.

 We picked it for a couple of reasons.  We felt like for our family, it was important to be on the same school calendar so that when we are on Home Assignment, our kids can attend the local public schools (which indeed worked out well this last time!).  This particular school also has a Spanish as a Second Language program, which was a big thing for us!  Both our big boys have been in that program and it's given the boost they need to be up to speed with the Spanish.

It is a private school and so there is the cost.  Sigh.  That gets to me.  But I fall back on the fact that God led us to this school and He will provide.  And He has.  Three years in, while it doesn't look like it should work out on paper, it does, every month.

There are still hard moments.  I often remind myself that since God called our whole family here, that includes our boys.  Part of His plan for their lives is to be bi-cultural.  He is preparing them for what's ahead in their lives and that's exciting!!


What's been the hardest part of the Education Question for your family?  What helped you make your decision?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

So thankful

Lately I've just been thinking about how thankful I am for the education opportunities our family has. We have chosen to homeschool for general education. In a country where homeschooling is unheard of, I get to talk to people about it a lot. And every time I come back to the fact that I'm so thankful that we can do this! It's hard--many days homeschooling takes all that I have to give--but it's such a privilege.

Then, beyond that, our children have opportunities that they would probably never have if they lived in the USA. I know that we wouldn't be able to afford the kind of music education that they are getting at the local public music school. Our oldest is in his sixth year of playing piano, studying serious music theory, music history and literature, and singing in choir. Our second is learning to play balalaika, along with some piano, and all the theory and history and literature that her older brother gets.

And there's still more! There's a private art school that rents space at our church. Three of our children take lessons there. They love every minute of it, and, again, they're getting a very serious art education. It's more than I could give them at home, even if I had the time and skills needed, not to mention all the supplies and materials. Plus, the people who work there and the other kids provide a great community for us to be a part of.

Even for me, there are huge education blessings. This summer I got to go speak at and attend a homeschool event in America. That was beyond anything I would have dreamed of before. Also, this very week, I'm attending a ministry school on the other side of the country from where we live. (I wrote and scheduled this post in advance.) My own education continues every day, too.

Of course, there are difficulties in providing and choosing education. I'm not making light of that. But today I'm celebrating the wonders of what my own family gets to experience.

What are you most thankful for in your family's education?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our Schooling Journey in Russia


My husband and had I decided exactly how we wanted to school our children while still in cross-cultural training even before we left for the field. We listened to talks about all of the various options, listened to personal testimonies from families using each of these options, talked together about our priorities for our family and ministry, and by the end of this segment on schooling options, we were really excited about going the route of national school.



We moved to Russia, and when our first child was old enough, we started her in Russian pre-school so that she could get a strong language foundation. Right away we discovered an amazing pre-school that all of our children have loved and truly flourished in. It was a perfect start to our educational plan. 

After a few years of pre-school, it was time to start Russian first grade. Everything started off fine, but we soon realized that even with the years of Russian pre-school, our daughter still didn’t have the language to really grasp all that she was learning. It was first grade though, so we just figured that things would get easier over time.


 Things did get better, but after a month or two we ran against other unexpected problems. It turned out our neighborhood school was among the worst in the city and had a constant rotation of teachers coming and going.  We also learned that all of the troubled children were sent to our school. We ended up having to remove our daughter from her class for a period of time due to the physical danger presented by violent classmates who were fighting, throwing tables and chairs, kicking kids in the stomach, and other things. It was awful. We switched schools.

The second school was much better, but when we first asked the teacher, who was nervous about teaching our daughter, how teachers usually work with children who didn’t speak fluent Russian, her response was, “Well usually the children DO speak fluent Russian.” She had no idea what to do with us. There is no Russian as a Second Language program here. The teacher was very kind and wanted to help, but she simply had no idea how. Her solution was to give extra homework to help my daughter catch up. We ended up drowning in homework that my daughter absolutely could not do on her own. I had to sit with her for hours each day after school, which left my other 3 kids with inadequate attention from me, and left me mentally and emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed.  


At the end of 2nd grade, my husband and I had some good long talks about school and our hopes for our kids. We realized that we were fighting so hard to make Russian school work when in reality it wasn’t even fulfilling the purposes for which we originally chose this route. Our hopes had been that our kids would really feel like they fit in with the kids where we lived and that they would feel connected, and we had hoped that being a part of the local school would make us as parents more connected to our community. In reality, though, our daughter was beginning to hate Russian and many aspects of Russian culture and wanting to escape it, and I was so busy with homework that I had no time or energy for people outside of our family. These two years were the most stressful and isolating years of all of my 9 years in Russia. 

We ended up deciding to go a new route that we had never thought we would. We put our children into an English-speaking Christian international school. Despite our previous ideas about why this would not be the best route for our family, we quickly saw that in fact it was God’s perfect provision for us! As a result of our school, I now have a community of believing women to have fellowship regularly, and we all have so much more emotional and physical strength to be able to pour into our relationships with Russian friends in our community. What I thought would have separated us from the culture has actually given us the reserve energy to be able to delve in more deeply. Praise the Lord for His perfect plan and leading!

So of course I don’t write this to discourage anyone from going with national schools. I have heard so many wonderful success stories with that route, obviously. We heard enough for us to have desired this for our own family! I do write this though as an encouragement to have a clear definition of your priorities for your children’s schooling option, and to periodically re-evaluate whether or not your schooling option is now or could in the future meet your goals. If not, that may be a good time to either re-evaluate your goals or your schooling option. 

What are some of your family’s top priorities in choosing a schooling option? Have you ever switched schooling options, and if so, why?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Back to School

We're going to be trying something new here on Missionary Mom's Companion!  The contributors are going to be working together to write about a common theme that applies to our unique roles as moms serving cross-culturally.  We'll be focusing on our first theme through the end of October, and then our plan will be to have monthly themes starting in November.

So, our first theme is...

(...drumroll...)

... EDUCATION!!!

Oh my, isn't this a huge topic??  I didn't realize how big of an issue it would be for us as a family until recently, when our kids reached school age.  As with many things living overseas, our plans for education have not worked out how I envisioned, and, ironically enough, we currently have our kids doing the only option that I had said (when we first arrived in Costa Rica) that I would definitely not do! 

I think that the biggest lesson I've learned so far on this topic is that the choices we make about our kids' education are going to look different depending on each family and even each child within a family.  Our decisions will be based on so many different factors -- what schooling options are available, the needs, values, and parenting styles of our family, the individual needs of each child, our ministry, the culture in which we're serving, etc.  So, as we approach this topic here on Missionary Mom's Companion, it is definitely not our goal to come to a conclusion about the best way to educate a child overseas... because I firmly believe that there isn't one best way!  Rather, we hope to share our hearts and varied experiences in a way that provides mutual encouragement in this area that can be so challenging for us as missionary moms.

I am still at the beginning of our kids' journey in education, so I know that I'm going to be learning so much more in the years ahead.  I'm excited about sharing some of what I've learned so far, as well as hearing from other missionary moms around the world about this topic!  In sharing on this topic, it is my hope that we'll hear not just from those contributing posts, but also from so many more moms in the comments.  I'm really looking forward to hearing from you all! 

As we approach this huge topic, what would you like to know about other missionary moms' experiences with education here on Missionary Mom's Companion?