Saturday, March 18, 2017
My Children Are Not Missionaries
We recently bought plane tickets for six for our upcoming home assignment. (We leave in two weeks!) If we had wanted our kids' tickets to be tax deductible, we had to prove to the IRS that they would be participating in our "work" while in the States. Namely, that they would be a important part of our presentations. Which means that we would pretty much parade them around and have them sing or recite facts any time we talked about Tanzania.
We decided to just pay the tax on their tickets.
Because Gil and I are the missionaries. Our kids are not.
Our kids are already growing up with a pretty convoluted picture of America. They are Tanzanian by blood and by birth, but are growing up with American parents...while still in Tanzania. It's already pretty confusing, so if we bring them to America and parade them around like shiny ponies, that doesn't help anything.
Home assignment can be really hard on kids. It usually consists of lots of travel, lots of new people, lots of different beds, and lots of attention. It's definitely not "normal" life. And it will continue to get harder on my kids as they get older. It's not so difficult for a four-year-old to visit a new church and make friends instantly. It's a lot harder on a nine or eleven-year-old. And we'll be visiting at least five different churches and innumerable small groups.
Gil and I are called to be missionaries. We want our kids to just be kids. So when we're in the States, we're going to try hard not to put pressure on them to perform. They most likely won't participate in our presentations (maybe Grace will, since she loves that sort of thing). Sometimes they might choose to stay home with Grandma instead of attending a meeting with us, and that will be okay. We know everyone loves our kids and might be disappointed if they are not always with us, but that's just how it might have to be.
And honestly, we all will need your grace. Our kids are not perfect. One of them has significant struggles in controlling emotions. Another clams up and gets stubborn when in new or overwhelming situations. And considering that they all will be adapting to so many new places, with very little schedule and often inconsistent bedtimes, they are not always going to be at their best.
But if you know our family, you can help.
When you see our kids, yes, please greet them and welcome them and make them feel comfortable. But keep in mind that even though thousands of people in California know them, they only remember a handful. They probably don't remember you. And some of our kids might start getting really uneasy around the constant stream of strangers who want to hug them. It's hard for me to predict. They are different people than they were three years ago, so I'm not sure how they will respond this time.
So tell them your name. Tell them how you know us. And ask them some questions. But please, ask the same kinds of questions you would ask any other kid. You know, like, What's your favorite color? or Do you have a pet? or What's your favorite book or sport?
Try not to ask them questions that will force them make judgments about where they live. For example, avoid asking them if they like America or Tanzania better. Or what they like best about living in Tanzania. Or any questions that make them compare the two countries. First of all, they simply don't have the maturity or experience yet to even know how to answer those questions. And second, I try not to have them think about which place is best. They both are best; they are just different. And they are still figuring out what those differences are.
You can ask me those questions all day; I won't mind. But my kids just aren't ready to do that kind of processing. I mean, if I asked your children, What do you like about living in America? They would probably just look at me blankly and reply, Uhhh....I like my puppy.
Of course, if you are talking to my kids, or introducing them to a Sunday School Class, it's great to acknowledge that they are from Tanzania, because it's obviously a part of who they are. But don't expect them to tell you about our ministry. They are not the missionaries. What they need most is to be treated like any other visitor, instead of put on display as some sort of special attraction.
Gil and I understand that being put on display while we are in the States is part of our job. It comes with the territory. But my kids....I just want them to figure out what it's like to be a normal American kid. After all, one day, that's an identity they will need to understand.