Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Sophia, Caleb, Ethan, Ruth, and Timothy Jenkins
All parents dream of their children doing better than themselves.   Can they run faster than me?   Get better grades than me?    Provide more leadership than me?   Make more friends than me?   Have more influence me?   Be more Christ like than me?

For missionary families these concerns are very prevalent.   Will taking our children overseas for years have lasting negative effects?   (However, much research shows just the opposite.)

Yet, another fear is what if my children suffer in a way I can only imagine?  And what if they suffer due to misunderstanding and prejudice?   Yet in their suffering can they find a way to preserve their dignity?

I have five different children with two basic skin colors - what the world calls black and white.

One of the most enraging moments for a parent is when I discover my children with black skin are unfairly judged.  A few times it has happened in such an ambiguous way that I can’t find a clear and reasonable way to address the offense so I just walk away.

A few times my children with black skin have been the subjects of prejudice when I was not near them.   They would keep the offense inside them for years, and only much later share the pain.   I would be enraged, but time and physical distance made addressing the offense impossible.

Yet there are even more subtle forms of prejudice that all my children face.    God in His infinite wisdom spoke against this more subtle but just as destructive form of prejudice.   This is the prejudice of group think against those who seem to have more economic resources (Exodus 23:2, 3; Leviticus 19:14.)

The marketing photos of poor African children by nonprofit organizations strip many of their dignity.    They strip the poor of their dignity because it subtly communicates perpetual victimhood.   They also strip the middle class of their dignity because these photos subtly label Africa’s middle class as exploiters of the poor.   Lastly, I’ve seen these marketing tools strip missionary kids of their dignity by subtly telling missionary kids they don’t matter.

I disagree with these prejudices.

Allow me to tell several stories.   My family are “faith missionaries” which means we have no guaranteed salary.   We live on the free will donations of churches, friends, and family.   We trust God for our daily bread.    We’ve seen God do the miraculous.   Yet, we’ve also seen why in the Old Testament law the Year of Jubilee was instituted (Leviticus 25.)   Sometimes God’s people don’t display the mercy and justice of God.   The community suffers until the out of the ordinary happens.  

We ministered for 19 years in nations that some would define as the economically poorest countries of the world.    While at times we’ve been struggling to pay our bills we’ve ran scholarship programs for vulnerable children.    

A multiple of times when my children were too young to understand what was happening I would be on furlough speaking in a local church.    Someone would ask about our kid’s education.   I’d explain the choices we were making and the costs of educating missionary children.   Another would ask a question about our sponsorship programs.   I would hope that donations would be given to both.   Instead, people would say, “We want our donation designated for the sponsorship program.   You will have to look somewhere else for your needs.”  Then they would write a designated check.   I would drive away from the meeting with checks, but not enough flexibility in the donations to pay for my travel expenses.    

Sophia and Doreen Rwigamba at Rugezi Wetland, Rwanda
Three years ago our family was in a situation much like the needs of Israel for a Jubilee.    We were in a hole due to medical expenses and a drop in funding.    We were doing a ROC reception to hopefully discover the financial resources to start afresh.     We were discussing Kigali International Community School (KICS).   In the discussion the conversation moved to the need for missionary children education.   My oldest daughter, Sophia was in the reception.

A wealthy donor began to ask critical questions.   We attempted to answer.   His tone moved from critical to a recycling of the issues God addressed in Exodus 23:2, 3; and Leviticus 19:14.   He used sophisticated language, but he was encouraging group think against Africa’s middle class and missionary kids.    His arguments focused on what percentage of the gifts went to the poorest of the poor, and that he did not want to see his gifts go to “administrative fees, nor expatriate life styles.”   My blood boiled.   I doubt his children ever suffered with malaria.   I doubt his children were ever bit by dogs or monkeys.   I doubt he ever carried his children on his shoulders and ran away from gunfire.    Sophia cried.   Then Sophia spoke.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus going in refuge in Egypt
She offered no defense of our family.   Instead, she did what second generation missionaries do best.   She told the story of Rwanda’s returning Diaspora and their children.    She told the stories of her people.

She said, “Yes, I go to school with missionary kids and Rwandan middle class kids.   The Rwandan kids sleep in homes with running water and electricity.   Their parents drive cars.   They look wealthy.   What you don’t know is their parents grew up in refugee camps.   Then they in their own words, “Got lucky.”   They received an education.   They developed professional skill.   Rwanda became peaceful.   They came home.    Their parents work very long hours.   An entire nation’s future rides on their shoulders.    They did not have to come home.   In fact, many complain about brain drain.   If you want to stop brain drain don’t argue with the middle class.   Their kids need a good school.   Should that school not be one where the class sizes are small?    Should that school not be one where God is honored?  Why do we want schools like this in America, but argue against them in Africa?”

She hit the nail on the head.   The donor was conditioned by photos of the poor to be prejudiced.   The prejudice was more subtle than simply race.   It was the prejudice against professional skill and an economic class.

Alexis and Grace Hixson, Ruth, Imfra Mwunvaneza, and Kassidy and Natalie Shreck
The donor realized his offense and thankfully apologized.  He realized missionary kids matter.     They deserve good schools.   They’ve missed out on many things.     Yet, God has done remarkable things in their lives.    In fact, their parents and their host nation know this well – Missionary kids will do far more good than their parents.   God is preparing them.

So this Christmas season as you prepare to make a year end gift I request that you look at the options, and simply say, “Missionary kids matter.”

1 comment:

  1. Your website touched our hearts (same thinking, but different continent - we are missionaries in Japan with 10 birth and 3 adopted children, from Bulgaria and Japan). I hope it's okay we had this site listed on a new Facebook site called "2nd GEMS", which addresses the unique needs 2nd generation missionaries face (also 1st and 3rd of course), and there is an open letter there challenging churches and Christians to not forget to support their missionaries! We lost our support a few years ago (after 40 something years, from our parents' generation until now) because of "cutbacks" back home, so we understand the struggles with feeling abandoned. Praying for you! In Christ, Cheryl Bostrom