At Radius, there are many topics that get more time than parenting; nevertheless, it IS a topic that is addressed regularly and very pointedly. The reason is pretty obvious…if parents don’t have their children under control and, just as importantly, if those children aren’t actually ‘on the team with mom and dad’ there is little chance those families will be able to serve long-term in the locations they need to live in.  We must teach towards this end.

We have no perfect parents on staff. No one has raised the perfect child; we are all keenly aware of our deficiencies.  Beth and I had our share of hard meetings with Dorm Parents and school officials (the Public HS VP that wanted us to withdraw our son still haunts me) regarding our kids.  At times we wondered if our kids would begrudge us for their years spent in a boarding school in PNG.  We wondered if they’d be bitter over opportunities they missed out on by growing up in the middle of the jungle.  We wondered if they would act out when they left PNG and returned to life in the USA and all the excitement and ‘opportunities’ that college life brings. We had sleepless nights in the jungle when our 3 older ones were away from us at the boarding school and we pondered from every angle possible “Are we missing something?  They seem to be doing ok, but ARE we being naïve, blind, or ‘driven by the work’?” We agonized… as parents do.

During our 20 years in PNG, Beth and I also served for one full year as Dorm Parents.  We saw a variety of parenting styles; some that worked well long-term, others that didn’t. I sat on the Board of that MK boarding school for 13 years (commuting from Iteri 3 times a year for that) and in those years dealt with many MK issues, our own kids and other people’s children.  Occasionally it seemed every boarding school child had a reason to go sideways. Due to long separations from parents, Dorm Parents who didn’t ‘get them’ (our 3 older children averaged 8 different Dorm Parents over their years, most were good, some exceptional, a couple ‘struck out’), mission agency policies that adversely affected them, or ‘rough’ home assignment years where they were mainstreamed into unfamiliar school circles, raising our kids on the mission field had some challenges. There were some missionaries who served at the MK school bases that just flat out shouldn’t have been around kids.  Any child who spends much time at an MK boarding school seems to have a valid, ready-made list of wrongs and hurts.  Believe me, I’ve only listed a few. And that’s just boarding schools. For kids who stay home and do home-schooling or local schools there are other issues.

All in all, boarding schools are a tough option; they should not be a first option for anyone. But, at times, they may be the best option out of a few tough ones.  So, as we saw MKs who ‘made it’ and those who struggled from homeschool, local school or boarding school backgrounds what were some running threads?  First I’ll define what I mean by ‘they made it’. For the sake of this article I mean that they came out of their years overseas with their faith very alive, had social skills that enabled them to interact well with their peers, and an outlook towards their future that kept them from going into a holding pattern.  I know of a lot of those MKs…and I know, too, of some who haven’t done well. 

So here are a few key points that are critical for parents who hope to ‘successfully’ raise their children overseas…

  1. Parents are, by in large, responsible for the spiritual state of their children. This is in contrast to ‘My child’s struggles are the fault of the mission agency, the Dorm Parents, the Boarding School, or other factors.’ Parents must OWN their responsibility.  This can’t be stressed enough. Woe to the parent who looks to the school or agency for what he should be doing.  Beyond the standard line of ‘parents are responsible’ what we have seen in successful families echoes what William Farley wrote, “Throughout Scripture, fathers are theparents, and their wives are their assistants. The wife is a crucial assistant. In a two-parent family, dad is the chief parent, the one accountable to God for his family. Mom is there to assist him. Western culture used to assume this arrangement. Before 1930 virtually every manual on parenting was addressed to fathers.”[1]  Space doesn’t permit me to say more on this but families that are wobbly in this area of ‘”Who is leading us? Is it mom or dad? Especially in the area of communication of values, godliness, and discipline?” Don’t misread this, moms are critical to the parenting process, but dads must lead and lead well.
  2. The child who learns obedience from dad and mom and is at ease with order in the home (and beyond) at an early age just does better overseas. Parents who delay corporal punishment because they ‘want to deal with the heart’ find themselves waiting too long. Children who learn first time obedience, as opposed to ‘I’m counting to 10”, are truly blessed. They are more able to function in a home, family, school, and world where expectations of obedience, work, and limits are normative. They are in a better spot to accept the many bumps, grinds, letdowns and worse that await them on the mission field. From taking out the trash, weeding the garden, digging out the ditches (a favorite of ours seeing as we had ditches that needed re-digging regularly) they learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They are part of something larger than themselves AND THEY ARE AT EASE WITH THIS. Parents who quietly endure children who are out of control are forgetting a host of strong admonitions from scripture.[2]  Obedience needs to be taught, expected, and reinforced from an early age.  Of course, the dad who does ONLY this and doesn’t wrestle, have mud fights, and teach his son how to change the oil lessens how much he is heard.
  3. Parents who feel ‘guilty’ over bringing their kids to the mission field rarely do well by them. A subtle ‘I’m making up for his deficient growing up experience’ seems to permeate how they interact with their kids, even if never spoken about. To know that this ministry is absolutely what God has for our children, as well as us, is a critical component to our children doing well. ‘Victimhood’ is rampant in our culture today and the parents of MKs who buy into the idea that their children are somehow ‘victims’ will commonly live to see their child adopt that view, too. 
  4. Parents who have a confidence that God is never surprised at what comes our way are able to pass that to their children. They set those children up for resting in the Lord, especially during hard times, even as mom and dad do.
  5. Parents who see being gospel messengers as a high calling and pass on to their children the privilege and honor that it is to be used by God in making Him known give to their children a noble idea of what they were doing.At times, the apologetic parent actually ‘puts God in a bad light’ implying that God doesn’t care about the kids, they are baggage, God wants to abuse mom and dad for His base purposes.‘God is a user’ comes through loud and clear to those kids, not the idea that the Father is ALLOWING that family the privilege of making Him known.  Parents are in charge of that message. 

This surely isn’t a comprehensive list of the parenting issues we teach about.  But as we prepare individuals (who frequently get married and bring children into this endeavor) and families for the long-term life spent making Him known, we MUST address this area clearly.  There aren’t many folks who have walked the life that is in front of these students, yet on our Radius staff team we have 8 families who have done this, and a few who are currently doing this in Mexico.  All of our staff families are ‘wide open to inspection’ by students and the students do ask questions all the time.  As students they are concerned about their kids growing up overseas and they should be. It’s a tender topic, but one that is addressable.

Like I previously wrote, we have other classes on Language Learning, Cross-Cultural Teaching and Discipleship, Church Planting, and Biblical and Spiritual Foundations that get much more time.  But we realize that unless this area of parenting is strong and equipping the children for the long haul is accomplished many of the more technical areas will be mute points.

[1]‘Gospel Powered Parenting’, William Farley, pg. 127

[2]Ex. 20:12, Prov. 22:15, 23:13,14 29:15,17 Eph. 6:1,2  Col. 3:20

Brad Buser

Brad Buser

Founder of Radius International

Brad and his wife Beth planted a church among the Iterri people in Papua New Guinea. Now he is a sought-after speaker for Perspectives classes around the nation, and the instructor of Church Planting at Radius.