Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Preparing your kids to go international

by David Armstrong

Communication, information and a loved mother are the keys to preparing your kids to go international.

Communication is about adventuring together rather than alone. It is the sharing of what one is thinking, how one is feeling and the decisions one is wrestling with. Start when God begins to call you to missions. As you ask other adults to pray with you, ask your kids to pray with you. As you learn about the country and the people you are being drawn to, involve them in that learning. Communication between family members is crucial, especially for those six years and older.

Not everyone is an out loud processor, but everyone will benefit from the interaction and sharing. It does take longer to keep several people in the loop, but the unity as a family and the positive attitudes will be so much better.

Information is crucial to preparing you all, and the more the better! Research the people you plan to serve and the places you plan to go. Go through the discovery process together as a family. You will find that each person in your family will be interested in different parts of the culture and each will ask questions you never thought to ask. Take the time and energy to make it fun.

Try books from the library and visit Barnes and Noble. Look for DVDs and videos. Search the internet and make a notebook of what you find. Look for common recipes from that country and try them out. Locate students, businessmen or neighbors who have lived in that country and have them over for dinner and a visit. Search out any blogs talking about that country, and pay attention to news items relating to that part of the world.

Ask questions. What is the country like? What do people do for jobs? What do they produce? What kinds of clothes and what colors of clothes do they prefer? What smells and sounds would one find? What kind of cars do they drive? What are their favorite foods? What will your kid’s schools be like?

Finally, learn some of the language. Nouns tend to be the easiest words to learn because they don’t usually change endings like verbs; pick 100 every day items. The words for “what, where, why, how, when and who” are critical guiding words to conversations. Prepositions relate things, colors and shapes describe things, and adjectives like big/small, heavy/light, wide/narrow and hard/easy compare things. Your goal is to get started, to get your kids acquainted with the idea of communicating in a different language.

While gathering all kinds of information, there are two more things to add: Prepare them for cultural differences and prepare them for serving. Prepare them for cultural differences by experiencing different cultures and then talking about the experiences. Go to a store with foreign foods and buy something. Go to an Indian or Thai restaurant run by people of that nationality. If you go at a time when they are not as busy, you will be able visit with them as they serve you. Learn about aspects of the culture that appeal to each of your kids such as sports, clothing, activities, shopping centers and music.

Prepare them for serving and for ministry by doing a service project together in your community, such as serving meals at Thanksgiving. Read missionary biographies written for younger ages. Have missionaries in your home so your kids can see for themselves that they are real people.

And pray together for the people where you are going, the decisions you are facing, the raising of support and that God will provide friends and a good school situation for each.

They will do as well as their mother! You have probably heard the expression “If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” The truth underlying the expression is that kids will feel what mom is feeling. If their mother is feeling secure and confident in where you are going, they will also. If she isn’t, they won’t either. Hence, guys, “show your affection for their mother,” and see that you are walking this path together in oneness.

The kids will pick up on what she feels: Confidence or fear, expectancy or dread, trust or doubt, taking steps forward or passively resisting. As a husband you need to give priority to helping her, and them, take this adventure together as a family. It will take longer. It will try your patience at times. But the results of adventuring together are well worth the effort on your part.

In all of your interactions, your kids need to have a voice, and it needs to be heard. That doesn’t mean giving them decision power, but it does mean they are heard. By interacting as you walk together through the process of preparing to go, their questions will be answered.

Further reading:
Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, especially the section on “transition”.
Raising Resilient MKs by Joyce Bowers.

A very special thanks to Diane Morris of OC International for sharing from her years of experience at helping families prepare to serve overseas!

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