Raising Godly Kids Overseas

Posted by  | Tuesday, December 2, 2008  at 2:23 AM  
Like Stacey, I've only been overseas for a "drop in the bucket" compared with so many other moms. I wanted to learn from others more experienced than myself in this humbling task of raising godly children and doing it in another culture where there is typically no Christian influence whatsoever. The following comes from a mom who has been overseas 10 years and raised both of her children in the Arab world during the teenage years. . .

My name is Susan, and my family and I are completing our tenth year living in North Africa and the Middle East. Although we both come from wonderful Christian homes, neither Mark nor I come from ministry backgrounds. Our children, Amy and Adam, were 8 and 10 years old when God led us overseas. Now, Amy is a sophomore in university and Adam will celebrate his 18th birthday this week! What an adventure my 21 years of married life has been!

When I was asked to write about raising my kids overseas, many thoughts raced through my head, and I could not get any clear sense of direction. And, the “mother pride” in me wanted to share one of those shining moments of triumph in which I and the kids look great! There’s so much to say and so many experiences that God has used to deepen my walk with Him, to humble me, to encourage me, to guide me, and to show how His love is greater for my children than I could ever understand.

I began to pray and focus on what I would say to you if I never ever got the chance to visit with you again. God made it clear that I need to share one of my most painful moments, as a mother, while living overseas. I realize that if you’re just starting your family, or if you have small children, that you may not feel that a story about a 17 year old boy is relevant. But, I encourage looking at what I’m sharing about ME, his mother. There is NO doubt that God claimed His victory in a shockingly desperate time in my life because some choices in my life had been settled far before the circumstances arrived! Please, bear with me on the details. It’s only when we acknowledge how “deep the hole is” that we ever experience the deep, deep love of Jesus!!

The year 2007 was one of the most difficult times in our family life. In the spring of that year, we made the decision to move to another country for Mark’s ministry. A couple of months later, in June, 2007, our daughter, Amy, graduated from high school. (Until you see your first child walk across the stage, you cannot know that mixture of joy and sadness that overcomes you.) Then, we headed home for a brief 2 ½ month stay, after 3 hard years overseas. Upon our arrival, we learned that my Dad had been unexpectedly hospitalized while we were en route. Mark’s grandmother had had a heart attack and her death seemed imminent. This began a summer of road trips and of days spent by sick beds, while trying to prepare Amy for college, and prepare for a new country for us and another new school for Adam. In August, I put my “baby girl” in college, knowing that the Atlantic Ocean and the entire continent of Africa would soon separate me from her. A week later, I put my son and husband on a plane. Two weeks later, I said my goodbyes to my sweet Daddy and joined “the boys” overseas. And, three days after I arrived on the field, Dad went to be with the Lord. I returned to the States, alone, for the funeral. While I was there, Mark’s grandmother passed away, so I attended her funeral. I cannot describe the complete and utter emotional and physical fatigue I was feeling.

When I returned, yet again, to the field, my husband and son were expecting me, the wife and mother, to get everything back to normal. It had been a turbulent two months, with many difficulties that they expected me to ease, if not solve. So, I did my best to do just that. Since we’d had such a stressful time in the previous summer, Adam returned to the States to see his sister and to spend Christmas with his extended family for only the second time in 10 years!
The Christmas of 2007 was the first time that Mark and I had “an empty nest”. After months of physical and emotional exhaustion, the separation was almost more than we could bear. But, we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that Amy and Adam were spending Christmas together. At least it was wonderful for them! We could have never been prepared for what would happen upon Adam’s return.

Instead of welcoming a thankful, joyful Adam back into our home at the end of January, 2008, we received a withdrawn, sad, melancholy son. For days, he was uncommunicative, or angry and disrespectful when he chose to speak. Then, one afternoon (while his Dad was out-of-town), this 17 year old “man-boy” broke down in tears and begged for us to move back to the States. I held him in my arms as he pleaded with me to “talk to Dad” and just tell him that it was too much to start over again: that he missed his sister, that he had no friends (and no prospect for any Christian ones), that Dad could easily get a job in the States, that my Mother needed me, that Mark’s parents needed us, and the list goes on. Or, at worst, he could live with Mark’s parents and graduate from high school there. They had actually invited him to do just that! We had withstood times of sadness, in past years, when they were younger. But, it was different this time. Adult logic, along with reasonable arguments and plenty of extended family and friends who had encouraged us to take some time in the States, and our own incredible tiredness made this moment “different”. Was God using Adam to open our eyes? Were we blinded by our sense of purpose?

As his body shook next to mine, my tears flowed freely. I recounted in my mind every awful, painful experience that I’d had in recent months; I cried for my Dad; I cried for my Mother’s loneliness; I cried for my daughter’s absence; I cried out to God, feeling the isolation of starting over in a new place; I cried out for relief and I desperately wanted to comfort my son. I wanted to tell him that I would take away his pain.

Then, we just sat as the tears ebbed and flowed. And, calm came over me. There is no doubt that it was “the peace that passes all understanding”. And, with clarity of thought, I found myself saying something that could have only come from the Holy Spirit. I heard myself speaking gently, but firmly, voicing words that were not mine, with tears streaming down my face. And, now, as I write, I cannot believe that I said them with such certainty in that moment.
“Adam, I love you more than you can ever understand. But, I love the Lord more. I want you to be happy and contented. But, I want to please the Lord more. I know that you’ve heard family first so many times that we may have confused you. So, I want to make it clear. God placed us here. God is the Head of our family. I can promise you that Dad and I will pray about this and we expect you to pray, too. But, we trust Him with our future… Do you understand? Do you understand?” And, after what seemed like endless silence, our sweet son said, “Yes, I understand and I want to do God’s will, too. It’s just feels too hard sometimes.” These are probably some of the sweetest words a mother can ever hear.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It has been a difficult few months. And, let there be no misunderstanding. Our family would have gone back to the States if God had directed us to do so. And, we have definitely made some adjustments in our day-to-day living and some legitimate concessions for our son in order to help our family stabilize and begin to be productive in Kingdom work. But, our family passed a test that day, in that moment. As a mother, in no uncertain terms, I told my beloved son that I chose to obey Almighty God and trust Him with our future. And, he understood! By the way, the words most frequently used these days to describe my son, by his teachers and his youth group leaders, are “incredibly well-adjusted”, “a joy to be around”, and “more mature than others his age.”

If you are a mother of young children, you will need to very carefully demonstrate God’s love, comfort and security to your children, through tangible acts and clear consistent words. But, as they develop and mature in understanding, I pray that you will recognize those times when each of them must learn to rely on God rather than on you. Since much of our identity in life is tied to our children’s need for us, I pray for all of us that we’ll focus on daily obedience to the Lord, so that our children will recognize it in us, and, when hard times come, obedience will be their first response. I can assure you that there’s no reason to pray Hannah’s prayer with “fingers crossed behind our backs”. When we let go and let God have His way, He can be completely trusted with our children!


Brandy said...

Thanks, Susan for sharing the hard times. I love the authenticity of your post. It's good to hear the hard times and expect them.

Christina said...

I loved reading this too! Thanks so much for sharing this week!

erinboydodom said...

Thank you for being so real in this post. My family is in the process of packing up to move to Mexico to be missionaries. We just have a 5 1/2-month-old daughter, but I know the day will come when she may not want to be where we are going. I will tuck this wisdom away for the future!

roger and courtney said...

Thanks for sharing. We have been overseas for almost 2 years and our first son was born here. It is encouraging to read about your faithfulness during the hard times and how God has worked in your family.

Shannon said...

I kept grabbing at kleenex as I read this. Thankyou for letting the Lord guide what you would say to us.

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