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Growing up on the Mission Field


In the Breaking Barriers story we heard from Mike and Ruth about what sort of barriers people can face when taking children onto the mission field. Below, we interviewed three of their now adult children and discussed how growing up cross-culturally on mission has impacted their lives.

Lydia spent the first eight years of her life alternating between living in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. While Hannah, and to a lesser extent, Abel do have vague memories of PNG, most of their cross cultural reflections come from when they moved to Cambodia with their parents for two years as teenagers.


ABEL

What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older? 

I would say the Christian community was very different to my community in New Zealand in terms of culture, society and privilege, with many struggling day-to-day and yet, desiring to serve God regardless. 

Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how?  

I think that my time in Cambodia certainly made me more aware of the world in general, in all its diversity and beauty but also its brokenness and sin. It helped me understand Christ is needed in all countries and cultures. That’s not to say I didn’t think this before, but it had just never really crossed my mind in my small, New Zealand bubble of Christianity. So I guess learning that at a young age was pretty influential to who I am and what I value today. 

What did you learn about what missions work is from living overseas with your parents?   

That it is presenting Christ by loving, serving, equipping, learning and doing life with those in your community and beyond and using the skills and resources God has given us.   

Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not? 

Absolutely yes. The perspective it can give a child is invaluable. But it must be something the parents and their children journey through together. Talk about why you’re there doing what you do, talk about culture and faith and involve them in your ministry where you can. Find a local community that you and your kids can be a part of and expect them to be involved and making friends. 



HANNAH

What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older?

Seeing the poverty and physical need in the individuals and communities we lived in overseas impacted me as a child and teenager hugely, mostly when seeing the pain and suffering that is in the world right in front of me and realising that God has the biggest heart and compassion for those situations. But also I learned that material things are not the be all and end all. It showed me how incredibly blessed and fortunate many of us in New Zealand and the West are. 

Lastly, I learned that all of these realisations require a response from me personally, and from the church as a whole. Looking back now, my experience as an “overseas missions kid” shaped the way I view God and His loving character.

Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how? 

I definitely think growing up overseas made me into the person I am today! In a positive and practical way, my understanding of other cultures and languages grew from just being thrown into them. My self-confidence and security in my own identity was most definitely challenged, being a kid and teenager who very much sounded, looked and, at times, thought differently to those around me. It was an awkward and uncomfortable experience at times, but ultimately it was a very positive (and accelerated!) way to learn these things. My wider worldview and love for others has definitely benefited from growing up overseas.

What did you learn about what missions work is in general from living overseas with your parents?  

In general, I learnt that ‘missions work’ is just living your life with people, in community, giving your life to ministry and ministering Jesus’ love and wisdom to those who need it. As ‘ministry’ was just a normal part of family life for me - and it was incorporated into every aspect of life - I took from it that we can do that wherever we are. Not just overseas, not just with those we work with but anywhere and everywhere. And for that life lesson, I am grateful to my mum and dad for modelling it.

Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not?

Yes I would encourage families to take their kids overseas. For me it was hugely positive and enlightening. I think it gives kids a kind of maturity that other experiences often don’t and provides them with a chance to see the big wide world that is so much bigger than just them and their needs. It also gives them the chance to learn languages and other ways of academic learning. It takes them out of their comfort zone and helps bring up questions and interests they might not know they had and also a way to articulate them. It puts a lot of things into perspective!



LYDIA

What were some of the things you experienced on the mission field that were the major influences in your formation as you grew older? 

There are so many, so here are just a couple. First, the difference between feeling like one of the crowd and feeling like an outsider. There were times over my childhood that I felt like I blended in perfectly, and at other times like I stood out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, I think I felt more at home among people in Papua New Guinea than I did among my so-called 'peers' in New Zealand while growing up. From teenage years onward I think I found my groove a little more. Into adulthood I’ve found a way to come to terms with being different while fitting in and being comfortable with my differences, so to speak.  

Secondly, I was very aware of haves and have-nots. I found it very frustrating in New Zealand when my friends would complain about not having enough. Even now, I often want to shake people and yell in their face, “You have everything you could possibly need!” I guess that comes with seeing people who do not have what they need.  

Do you think growing up in another country made you into the person you are today? If so, how?  

Yes it was definitely fundamental to many of the values that I hold onto strongly today. I think everyone is a product of their experiences, especially in their formative years, and I think that being exposed to different cultures, demographics, and many people who were, materially, much worse off than me, gave me a very strong sense of the world and my role in it. As a very privileged person I’ve learned how important it is to be an active member and bringer of change, justice and equality. I don’t want to be a passive observer in this life. But if all I had ever known was what was around me and similar to me in New Zealand, I may not feel the way I do now.  

What did you learn about missions work in general from living overseas with your parents?  

I learnt that, like many other jobs, there are very good days and very bad days. However, unlike other jobs, it’s often a very lonely life, where you need to rely heavily on those around you and especially on God. I learnt that your family are your very best friends. I learnt that you can be pushed beyond what you think your limits are, and survive to tell an incredible story of God’s faithfulness, in ways we do not get to experience in New Zealand very often. And practically, I learned that missions work is largely unseen, under-acknowledged, and definitely underpaid! Haha! 

Would you encourage other families to take their children overseas on missions? Why or why not?  

My first instinct is yes absolutely! However, after more consideration, my answer would be yes absolutely, if they are well-equipped, prepared, educated and determined to make it work with God’s help and commitment to family. It is not for the half-hearted, but also I believe anyone can do it. It is not just for a few special people who are called by God;  I think it is for anyone who is willing to sacrifice their comfort and way of life to give to others. The rewards are incredible, but not without cost. Family must be a priority in the process, not just tagging along for the ride, but fully committed as a family unit to the work that they’re doing. Otherwise I feel that children may resent the hardship if they have no investment. I personally would love to do mission work with my family, and I think it is invaluable for children to experience that environment.

3 thoughts on “Growing up on the Mission Field

  1. Great stuff. Lovely to hear these stories. What an encouragement to families considering overseas service…or even families wanting to serve in NZ & thinking about how they can be kingdom folk in the midst of a largely secular community.

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