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:
- The medical care in Tanzania is sub-standard, especially compared to the west. What if your children become sick?
- 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?
- Missionary kids are weird and a lot of them go off the rails. Why would you risk that?
- 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?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.