By Tessella Hicks, NZCMS Mission Partner to the Solomon Islands.
Being born in Germany in the 1980’s to missionary parents working with Muslim groups, I was automatically included in the day-to-day workings of mission in a cross-cultural setting. Looking back at photos of myself being held by Turkish believers during Bible Studies and sitting side by side with Uyghur and Kazakh children, I can only feel like I was always meant to be with people from other cultures, sharing the love of Christ with them. So when it came time for Jon and I to take our own children overseas to the Solomon Islands in 2015, it felt like the most natural thing to do. Natural, but not easy.
Becoming a mother has made me realise all the details my parents had to plan, worry about and deal with so that my siblings and I could live our ideal childhoods overseas. And now it was our turn to apply for passports and visas, get medical exams, raise funds, pack and plan for our new life.
Flashback to my family landing in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1994 with 10 black suitcases containing all our worldly possessions. We waited around in the airport for what seemed like hours while my father used his Russian and Kazak language skills to secure us a taxi ride and get to our beds for the night. Dad must have been super-stressed, but I was just going along for the ride!
But even harder for Jon and I than all the physical preparation if moving to the Solomons, was the knowledge that we would be separating ourselves from our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and how this would impact our children. Going onto the mission field with a family is often the best thing to do and also the hardest. However when we discuss taking our children overseas, we've found just how many misconceptions people have about a family living on the mission field. Here are a couple of the ones I hear most often.
Misconception One: Your Children Will Miss Out on Opportunities
This is one we’ve heard many people voice over the years. Initially people were supportive when we told them that we would be raising our family in the South Pacific with statements like, “Wow, what an adventure!” or “Your kids will have so many great memories!” However, as a bit more time went by, many people have questioned whether living in such a remote location limits our children’s opportunities to engage in sports, music, access to technology and mainstream education.
While our children are confined to the limits of our tropical seminary campus – we can only make it into the port town once every few weeks to get an ice cream and check the post office for letters or parcels - I think it’s a very real misconception that their lives can’t be rich and full of opportunity.
They have at least two hours of outdoor fun with their friends each day and with the children of our faculty colleagues and seminary students. They play soccer, tag, hide and seek and all sorts of imagination games, including a reenactment of the life of Christ around Holy Week that they did this year!
We gather to sing as a family once a day, as well as with our church community at evening services and Sundays. They’ve learned to harmonise and memorise lyrics to dozens of songs in not only English, but also Pidgin English and several indigenous languages.
We’ve also found that being unplugged from technology has been a great blessing to us. We have lots more time to read, explore the outdoors and engage face to face with friends. Our homeschooling programme gives the children freedom to read about diverse cultures, religions, people groups and time periods. I can say with confidence that far from limiting their possibilities, living cross-culturally has given my children incredibly unique opportunities that have expanded their worldviews in amazing ways and given them an insight into how God works across the globe.
Misconception Two: It’s Too Dangerous to Go Without Proper Healthcare.
Some people were very concerned about how adequate - or, rather, inadequate - the healthcare would be here. Some questions were “What if your appendix ruptures? What happens if somebody breaks a bone or gets a severe case of …well, you name it!?” Access to decent healthcare is taken for granted by so many of us that stepping into a situation with lower than average healthcare seems naive at best and negligent at worst.
We live about a 45-minute drive from the provincial hospital on the island of Malaita. While the basic Kilu’ufi Hospital does have an operating room, scanning facilities, medicines in stock - however, not always the ones you need - and trained doctors and nurses, we’re thankful we’ve never needed to go in for emergency treatment. So while I agree that the healthcare is certainly lower than many places around the world, it doesn't need to be an obstacle to following God here. A misconception people may have about missions is that you can and should only go where you know you will be provided for. Just as we trust God in many areas of our lives, we need to commit ourselves, including our heath and our very lives, into God's loving care.
An amazing story of God’s provision for our health was when we arrived in the country three months pregnant with our fifth child. We waited to arrive to tell our families, knowing that they might have advised us to delay our trip until after baby was born. We considered flying back to the USA or to New Zealand, but, since we had just begun our ministry, we felt that we needed to trust God and stay within the Solomons.
In country, with the hospitals being quite austere
complete with metal delivery tables, stirrups and national midwives being outlawed - we decided to ask an American midwife to fly out to us and deliver the baby. She waited patiently for our baby to arrive and helped me through a smooth and fast water birth in the comfort of missionary housing in the capital city of Honiara. We heard after the birth that the week prior, the nurses at the national hospital went on strike and as a result two infants had died. I was awestruck at how God’s hand was in every detail and was reminded again that we were in the safest place by being in God's care.
We named our son Immanuel to remind ourselves that in the midst of the difficulty of life, God is with us.
Misconception Three: Your Children Shouldn’t Suffer With You
I think this is probably the number one misconception we have dealt with since bringing our children overseas with us. On visits back to New Zealand and the USA, we’ve heard comments from well-meaning people that while we have chosen to be missionaries and suffer for Christ’s sake, we shouldn’t be dragging our children into it with us.
Being here, our children have had to go through some tough things. One of us usually has some kind of infected skin sore that requires vigilant washing, dressing, medication and the occasional round of antibiotics. We had two bed bug infestations that made our house feel more like a battle-zone rather than a refuge from the outside world. We’ve seen death up close and personal, attending over five wakes - this is when the mourners gather around the body before burial and cry, pray, talk and sing together - and funerals of men, women and two infants. The children have willingly come with us to pray with the grieving families and see that, while we weep, we do not mourn like those who do not have hope.
Suffering comes hand in hand with following Jesus. We hold a deep conviction that if we try to protect our children from experiencing the fullness of being a disciple of Christ, we would be sinning. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He asks this of everyone who puts their trust in Him. And suffering knows no age, gender or nationality. We’ve chosen to bring our children into God’s presence, presenting them to him who is their loving Heavenly Father and letting God meet them in trials and difficulty.
There was a moment when we were cleaning out a particularly deep sore, when one of the children said, “I wish we had never come here.” We acknowledged the pain and the difficulty and then prayed to our Lord Jesus to meet us and carry our burdens for us. And the Lord has proven faithful again and again.
Just recently, one of the girls said, “Whenever we travel back to New Zealand and the USA, it feels like I'm just a visitor. The Solomon Islands feels like home now.” Whatever difficulties we've gone through, we have done so as a family with the Lord’s strength and are often reminded of these words from Saint Paul.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).