One of the aspects of missionary life among the “unreached” that I didn’t think a whole lot about before arriving overseas is the education of my children.  I had certain assumptions and had to learn through experience and time what would work and what would not.

Thinking Through the Issues:

Of course we gave some though about schooling for our kids while oversees, but we just assumed that we would homeschool them just like millions of other American families have been doing successfully.

Many of the available curriculum are solid and varied and we know of other examples missionary families that are doing it well.  But there are alot of challenges we faced that forced us to look into other options including private schools, both Thai and International standard.

We had to work through this thing for ourselves.  I guess you will have to face these issues too if you are coming to serve cross culturally as a family or as one that will be a future family.

One of the first questions that may pop into your mind if you have never lived overseas among another people is

“why wouldn’t you just put your kids in the public schools there, just like any native would”?

That’s a good question, but the answer is a difficult one.

I wrote a little about the complexity in my post, “The Challenge of Living Between Two Worlds.”

But in short, the educational standards and focus are not the same as they are in the West.

Here are just a few ways schools can be different oversees:

Discipline and Correction:

Even modes of correction and discipline given by teachers is different.  For instance, in one Thai private school when a teacher was correcting our then six year old son she told him, “If you don’t behave you will have to go into the dark room alone…where the devils and ghosts are.”

You can imagine how traumatic this could be for any kid that age, much less a Christian worker’s kid!  When we asked our Thai friends about this scenario, they were a little embarrassed but admitted that this is type of “discipline” is common.

Recently in the news here in Thailand, a teacher was caught on video paddling students in front of the class.  This man is shown leaning into the student’s backside with a full swing that would make A-Rod proud!

Integrated Religion:

Another thing to consider, especially in Thailand is that Buddhism and Buddhist ceremony are integrated throughout all grades, every year.  This was not a problem for us per say.  We wanted to teach our son how to live among a people and yet still hold to his beliefs rather than keep him hidden away from other people’s beliefs.  Keeping him away from religious ceremony is an impossibility here in Thailand!

However, when your kid is the only one not bowing to the idol or giving offerings, it can tend to make them stand out to the other kids and puts alot of undue pressure on them.

One day, monks who were teaching came to my son’s school and after teaching their compulsory lesson on Buddhism began to travel around the school sprinkling “holy” water on the kids, laying hands on them, and chanting over them.

My son, who is not afraid of monks in public, sensed the spiritual connections on his own and ran to hide himself under the director’s desk until they had left the school.  We had to talk with him and help him work through his fears and then create some boundaries with the school.

Different Standards & Focus:

Even with our kids in local Thai schools, we would still have to supplement their education with other types of history, science, English, and math which are often lacking severely in the local schools here compared to Western standards.

But we wanted our kids to have Thai friends and grow socially here in Thailand so we were willing to do both.

Homeschooling among the unreached means many times that my wife and kids would be on their own all day with very little interaction with the outside world unless they made a conscious effort to bring school outside of the house often.

This is especially tough when you have left all of our social connections back home and are still in the process of language learning, cultural adjustment, and forming new connections in your new country.  It can be very lonely for the wife.

Homeschool Issues:

Some places like the city where we now live offer homeschool cooperatives.  But most places like Isaan (out in the country), have very few missionaries and resources available for things like this.

Some larger groups that come to serve together as a team in one place may be able to form their own group and some have.  But we came to the field as independents, sent not from a large organization but through a local church.  Our connections were very limited at first.

As for the other challenges of homeschooling, my wife needed more adult interaction and my kids needed friends.  With larger families, homeschooling seems to be a little easier because the kids can interact with their other brothers and sisters.

However I knew things were becoming a problem for us when my son began “daydreaming” all day and talking to himself for fun!  My youngest son was barely talking at all, and my wife seemed to be on the edge sometimes when I returned home at the end of the day.  I eventually hired her a helper during that season, something more comprehensive had to be done!

Boarding Schools?

It later dawned on me that there were not alot of “families” serving among the harder places of the world compared to singles and second career folks. I surmise that the issue of education of the children is one of the reasons.

As I talked with a couple of older pioneer veteran missionaries, I realized how much they had to sacrifice to persevere in working among the unreached.  Many I spoke with had to send their children off to boarding schools and only got to see them a few times a year!  This seemed to be common.

Wow, I don’t think we could do that!

Some homeschooled before there were tools available like the correspondence courses and the internet.  Others sent their kids to local schools and then worked with them at home as much as they could, but it seems like this was before the world became so global and communication became instant.

Staying on the Field:

For us, we eventually had to move out from one unreached area with little resources (where we started) to another unreached area with more available resources (where we are now).

Although I didn’t like this at first, I am thankful that we are still able to be where the need is great and at the same time help our family.  There are many more families here in our new city.  We all have access to better education options and support.

From this base of support, many travel out to other places and come back to our city.

Maybe where you are, there are similar options available.  As one friend told me, “The key is knowing what you are there to do.”  When we put family first, this hasn’t been an issue for us.  It also helps when we are taking long term views on our work.

Finding a Solution:

Our decision here has been to put our son in a bilingual private Thai school that does not have compulsory Buddhist ceremonies and education.  It is not a “Christian” school and has kids from many different backgrounds studying there.

However it is owned and run by a Thai national who happens to also be a Christian and who runs her business on those values. (Yes, it is rare, but God provides!)  It is not considered “the best” school in our city yet, but it is certainly one of the better ones and the price is much lower than most.

At this school, half of the day is spent studying in English and half of the day is spent studying in Thai.  My now seven year old son is able to integrate into both worlds and most of his friends are Thai.

My four year old attends the school as well, but also has access to special speech and occupational therapists from another local International school that offers these services to the families of those serving cross culturally in the ministry.

If we did not have these services available we, like many others, would have been forced to return home.

With the cost of sending a whole family to work among the unreached, not just in one time expense but also in the value of who God created them to be,-with less and less coming out-long term missionaries are “Too Valuable To Lose.”

Consider the Budget:

Lastly, education of the children has to be figured in the cross cultural worker’s monthly budget.

For the homeschooler, this is not as expensive as it is for the one who must send their kids to a private school.  Here in Thailand, private schools can be expensive even when compared to the West and the quality of what you will find is definitely hit or miss.

It’s like there are two main financial levels in Thailand:  what is perceived to simply exist (which is cheap-like street food) and what is not perceived as that (everything else that is perceived as Western standard).

Some things are less expensive here for living, but some things are more expensive than the West, such as vehicles and private education.

But with the reality of the family having to live and thrive between two worlds, I don’t see many other options but to simply chalk it up to the cost of this type of life.

Your thoughts?:

If you are serving cross culturally with kids, what are your thoughts on this?  What issues have you had to face?  How have you overcome?

If you are considering serving cross culturally, have you counted this cost?  What plans do you have for your field of service?

I would love to hear from you.

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