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“It’s not right to raise your kids in Tanzania”

When we started planning to go to overseas with CMS and when that plan became more specifically about Tanzania, a ‘Third World country’ (not my term), one question we had to ask was of the ethics of taking (then-not-yet-existing) children there. A number of people have outlined to us why they think this is an irresponsible decision.

Here are the objections:

  1. The medical care in Tanzania is sub-standard, especially compared to the west. What if your children become sick?
  2. The education standard in Tanzania is lower than in Australia. Don’t you want your kids to have a good education? What about when they come back to Australia?
  3. Missionary kids are weird and a lot of them go off the rails. Why would you risk that?
  4. There are so many things your kids will miss out on – educational experiences; time with grandparents and extended family; going to the beach; visiting museums; going to the movies, piano lessons, etc.

Can you think of other objections?

I could say all sorts of things to put these concerns to rest. I could tell you that CMS will fly us out of Tanzania in a second if there is a medical emergency. I could tell you about (cheap) schools set up so our kids can basically have an Australian equivalent education. I could suggest that a simpler life encourages imagination and creativity. I could argue that many of these issues are ones that our kids could face in Australia as well – kids get bullied in Australia too! And ministry kids go off the rails in Australia too! So do regular kids! Or I could point to the hordes of well adjusted missionary kids.

But in many ways, these are my own concerns too. Another one that I have been thinking about is that our kids probably won’t identify as Australian. Their formative experiences of learning to walk, speak, make friends, etc will all happen in Tanzanian culture. Kids like this are called ‘Third Culture Kids’: where Arthur and I think of as ‘home’ won’t be ‘home’ for them; but Tanzania might not be either, because even just in appearance, they’ll be different from Tanzanians. There are identity issues there.

So why go? Here are three principles that help me.

First, wherever we raise our kids, there are issues. Imagine raising your child in a world of rampant consumerism; where sexually explicit material is not only easily accessible, but displayed as advertising; where food allergies, asthma and child obesity are increasing astronomically. It takes a brave person to raise a child in the west as well! Whether in Tanzania or in Australia, our decisions about where to live affect our children.

Second, we know our kids will miss out. But they might gain something as well. Studies show that Third Culture Kids tend to have a broader understanding of global issues – poverty, injustice, etc; be less judgemental of others’ cultures; have friends from all over the world. We pray that ours will learn to trust God’s provision as well and have a rich understanding of their Christian family and home in the new creation.

Third, we have no intention of becoming the sort of missionaries who put ministry before our kids. If we have to move/come home/change things for their sake, we will! But neither is a comfortable life for our kids our great ambition. Our prayer for them is that they will know and follow the Lord Jesus. And work out that life is about living for him, not themselves. That frees us from pursuing education, music lessons, the best health care, etc as first priority, just as I hope it would if we chose to live in Australia.

Are you a ‘Third Culture Kid’? Are you a missionary parent? Do you have an opinion about raising kids overseas?

What are your top tips for us as we think about the next ten years?

Categories: Ministry & mission Tanzania Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

10 replies

  1. What wise words you have said Tamie. I absolutely agree that our prayer for our children should be that they know love and obey Jesus. That is what I am praying for your little boy, just like I prayed for all you girls. Family is what is important to children not possessions. But you would agree that is a hard lesson for a child to learn especially in the west. Maybe your little boy is the lucky one being raised in a much simpler world!

  2. Hehe, I was like ‘tyncs’, who is that? Sounds like a Harry Potter character!

    Then I worked it out – Hi Mum! Thanks for your encouraging words. xo

  3. I’m not a missionary kid but I’d consider myself a third culture kid (French, English, Australian). I know I’ve survived moving between countries 5 times across 9 times during my childhood!
    I do have great difficulty linking myself to a particular country… But I’m fine with that. I often think of how my true home is not here on earth (though I’m comfortable and content to be here in passing) but in the new heavens and the new earth. Being a citizen of God is always safer and more reliable than any earthly one.

  4. My response to that is if Tanzania is not good enough for our children, why is it good enough for all the Tanzanian children?

    There will be minor disadvantages (relative to local kids) like having white skin in a tropical latitude and I suppose less inherited resistance to disease. And yes, they won’t have their grandparents.

  5. Yes, you’re right Eric, there’s an inherent racism to the idea that this isn’t good enough for our kids but OK for other people’s.

    Though, on the other hand, there’s also a sense in which many Tz parents don’t choose for their kids to live there or have the opportunity to move them somewhere ‘better’ while we’re making a deliberate decision to move from the west to Tz.

  6. I love these reflections Tamie and I think you are spot on. I’m just shocked that other people actually came out and said that moving to Tanzania (and all the corresponding implications for your family) could be ‘irresponsible.’ That’s pretty harsh! If someone had said that to me, I don’t think I could have replied with quite as much grace as you…

    I have many of the same thoughts and questions about how our kids will identify too, especially as they won’t look either Australian or Tanzanian..it’s going to be one interesting ride – that’s for sure!

  7. I’m not a missionary kid, or missionary parent, and i don’t really have experience in raising kids in a different country (unless NZ counts ;) ) but i personally think its fantastic that you are planning to go to Tanzania AND are taking a child and possibly future children there. Both parenting and being a missionary are clearly where God is leading you right now.

    I like what you said about your kids learning to trust Gods provision… because really… thats what it comes down to. trust in God. Yeah sure- God gives us choice and responsibility and you could debate endlessly the pro’s and cons of having kids in all sorts of different places. But you live to serve God, follow where he leads, and trust Him to provide what is best. best that is- not just good. What happens in your families life as you strive to serve him- will be exactly what God wants for you and your child and what is best for all of you.

    We’ll be praying :)

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with your opinions…especially about the bravery needed to raise a kid in the west! I’d almost prefer the challenges of raising a child in Tanzania to here in Aust :p as far as education goes, people forget that, particularly at a primary school level, It’s not just down to the school to teach their kids, it is also the responsibility of the parents to teach their children. So yes, your kids may not get smartboards and their own lap top, but last time I checked I didn’t have that as a kid either. They will however have two parents who care about their education and will ensure their education does not suffer. An ‘education’ is not just about academic intelligence but also ‘social’ intelligence and helping your child to gain an acute awareness of how to interact with those around them in a positive way.

  9. Regarding objection #3: missionary kids in my limited experience are “good” weird. Maybe this is because their parents tend to be vigorous Christians. If you define “off the rails” as not following Jesus, I’d wager far fewer MKs go “off the rails” than almost any other demographic you could think of.

  10. I am a very regular Tanzanian woman, saved Christian, living in Tanzania, Dar es salaam and working. I am happy to be born in Tanzania, I went to school like other kids of my time (44 yrs back), we had a small radio at home, there were no TV when I was growing up. But I tell you, we were HAPPY with dad and mom around. We were completely fit to Gods order like those in your countries. As a young girl, I felt safe and happy and did all that children do anywhere in the world. Its only you people, who group Gods creation and think you are superior, or better than others. I tell you, search deep in your heart with Gods eyes, you will see how God sees us under the sun. Equal. Whether you are black, white, pink or brown, wherever you are, God sees you very same like how He sees other human beings He created and thats why, He sent His only son to die for ALL OF US regardless of where we are.

    Having this and that where you are, the luxury things (as you think) is just your way of living. If the children are younger, they will adopt to Tanzanian life like Tanzanian kids do. They will always feel safe to have you around like we all do when we have our parents around leading us, just like how you feel safe and blessed in your God and Masters hands. They will learn things to their surroundings just like all kids on earth! So, if you feel the call to serve God in Tanzania, just place everything in His hands, He will trully take care of everything for you and bless you more. Your children will grow up good human beings under His care, and will be educated, healthy and blessed more than if you stay in Australia, thinking that is the best place. We tend to see things with our flesh eyes, God open our eyes, so we see things in Spirit.

    I have been to China, Hong Kong and Maccau 3 years ago for medical treatment and that was the first time I was out of my country Tanzania and my continent Africa, yes, I admit other places in this planet are more advanced on SOME things than we are here. But I did what all other people in those countries do, I walked like them, went to shops and bought things like them, washed clothes like them, used transport just like them, slept at night like them and everything like them. And, the first time I went there, after only a week, I missed home! I wanted to come back to my Tanzania and live my life. I am happy here and pray to live here and stay here.

    I am engaged now to the African American Preacher/Pastor, I pray that he likes it here so we can together serve God here, rather than in America. And that will happen, if he will open his spiritual eyes and see like God sees, and not see with his flesh eyes, where he wont see the hiden beauty and blessings God has placed to every nation on earth. If he says he feels his calling is in America, then I will have no choice but to happilly obey God and him, when the right time comes. Its so loving here, I am happy, its peaceful place, I fear no one, If I follow the rules and country regulations (remember even the Bible tells us to obey the law), I am a good citizen and so, I am alright and happy and fine with my life.

    I encourage you, God has really directed you to a very peaceful and good country where I myself doesnt want to leave, unless God gives me an assignment that will require me to leave. Then, I know, I will miss home, my sweet home country, Tanzania. Peace to all of you who commented and the author.

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