Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ugly Missionary #2: Over Protection

I’m sorry for posting about ugliness here at the Koffi House. I do it for a purpose, however. I write these stories so that we will see what we should not be; how we should not think; and what we should not do. There aren’t any “old scores” I’m trying to settle. (Some of these stories will include my own actions.) Rather, I want us to evaluate and adjust, consider and repent, so that we will be effective missionaries wherever we are.

Bill and Betty want to do things right. In particular, they want to raise their children in a Christian family.

Betty didn’t grow up in a Christian family and didn’t become a Christian until after she was an adult. So many hurts and scars in her life trace back to the harsh treatment she received from her parents. She grew up with this ever present feeling of “I don’t measure up” and struggled to find love. When she became a Christian she received so much love and healing from her Christian community. It was unlike anything she ever experienced. So Betty completely devoted herself to God.

It wasn’t long before Betty noticed two things. One, many people who called themselves “Christians” were NOT living up to the standards she was learning about from reading her Bible. Two, of those Christians who were actually totally committed to Christ, they had families that were so much different than the one she was raised in. She saw how these people taught and disciplined their children. She saw how their lives were in order and how the children respected the parents. When she talked with these committed families about raising children she learned about “Growing Kids God’s Way.” So she determined in her heart that when she was married and had children she would raise them the right way—God’s way!

Betty married Bill who was a scientist and a very logical and rational man. He was also a Christian who seemed committed to God—not just someone who attends church on Sundays. In fact, Bill wanted to be a missionary and Betty admired this clear demonstration of all-out commitment to Christ. It was the best thing someone could do if they really loved Jesus.

After having two kids at home Bill and Betty moved to The Location where they had two more children. Before they came they met another American family in The Location with children. “Thank God!” Bill said, “Now our children will have someone to play with.” They didn’t know much about the culture there but they determined to continue to do their family “God’s way” in spite of their new address. Because there were no Christian schools to which they could send their children, Betty decided to home school. All day long their children would stay at home to study their curriculum and Bible lessons.

Bill and Betty became fast friends with another American family who seemed to value doing things “God’s way” and not allowing the non-Christian culture of The Location to affect their children. When they got together they would often talk about a third American family who didn’t seem to be very committed to Christ. “They just let their children go play with the local kids and don’t even supervise them!”

Bill and Betty’s friends told them about when they first arrived in The Location. “My youngest boy was playing in front of our house, and a local kid came up to him… said something to him in his language… and then pushed him! The next day when my son was out there the local kids threw rocks at him!”

This was all Bill and Betty needed to hear; they would not allow their kids to go out and play with the children of the nationals. “Yes, we have heard stories like this, too. When you leave your kids alone for long periods of time with the house helper—they might molest them. I’m not going to take the chance of exposing my children to that!”

After five years of living in The Location, none of Bill and Betty’s children speaks the language. (Neither do Bill and Betty.) None of them have any local friends. Their only friends are the children of the other American family. The only nationals the parents know well are their landlords and the ones they’ve hired to work in their house and with their project. After years of doing their family “God’s Way” and protecting their children in such a non-Christian environment, Bill and Betty started to feel like they weren’t accomplishing much on “the mission field.” They decided to return home.

To me this is very sad. Bill and Betty are not bad people. But they just couldn’t seem to come to trust the nationals or to open up their family to the wider society and really engage the people of The Location. Learning the language was always a task they kept putting off. But for children—they don’t need language classes to pick it up—all they need is exposure. Exposure they never got for fear of harm.

When we create our “little America” within the walls surrounding the house we rent on the mission field and never leave, we become pretty ineffective. The only nationals we meet are the ones we invite to come into our “sub-culture.” The only time we go out is to make “forays” into the wider culture surrounding us. This is a recipe for depression and ineffectiveness. But it was done in the name of “doing what’s best for our children.”

Bill and Betty are not just one family. There are about a dozen or so families similar to this here, and probably many, many more around the world. When such families visit home supporters will often hear them spout off a few words and phrases and think this represents fluency. But just imagine how far a Chinese person would get in building relationships in America if the only things he could say were, “Hello, how are you?” “My name is…” “How much to buy…?” “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” “I am believe Buddha.” “Come to my house for food very delicious tonight!”

That’s right—not very far. Especially if he spent the rest of his time in his apartment stir-frying strange foods with heaps of MSG.

You know… Cooking food God’s way!


  1. Too bad. Done right, the children could be a beautiful opening to Bob and Betty reaching the parents, as well as letting their children participate in their missionary work among the children.

  2. You know, Koffijah, I was tempted to leave this comment anonymously, but that's just not something I do. I have to stand behind what I say regardless of whether or not someone agrees with me.

    First off, I totally identify with Betty. When my oldest was still a baby, most of our friends were raving about "Growing Kids God's Way". Even though I will not be critical of that parenting style, once I started reading the book, I realized that it wasn't something I would be willing to do. There is a fine line between strict discipline and breaking a child's spirit, and I just didn't trust myself enough not to cross the line with that program. I also have many friends who home school. I admire them greatly for doing so. Having said that, my husband and I firmly believe that we are to be witnesses for Christ -- our kids included. Are they being exposed to teaching that we disagree with? Most definitely. Are they being influenced by worldly kids that they wouldn't be exposed to at a private Christian school or a homeschooling program? That's debatable. I do know that for the next few years, my husband and I will have a great deal of influence on our kids, and that modeling the type of behavior we expect from them is the greatest teacher. This includes being honest with them when we mess up, and showing them God's grace extends to kids and parents, teachers and administrators, friends and bullies, and brothers and sisters. (That last one's a pretty hard sell, but you'll figure that one out soon enough.)

  3. Thank you for commenting Helen and Katdish. Katdish, I don't know why you would have wanted to post anonymously. I liked your thoughts.

    The families that I know of who do "Growing Kids God's Way" are very admirable families. So, I don't want to criticize that, either. I would only critize being dogmatic about it. Well, also the title. I know they changed it recently, but to call it "God's Way" is a bit over the top. Many things are pretty American in it, and I think there are many different ways to do things that are still good. Sometimes we have blind spots when we're so confident that our way is the right way. Anyway, I have some VERY close friends that homeschool and their families are wonderful! I'm not criticizing that, either.

    The only point I'm trying to make is that sometimes we can use good things as reasons for bad things--such as not ever getting to know The People when, presumably, that is why we're here in the first place.

    I put off writing these posts for a long time because I know it can sound pretty jugdemental of me to write these things. I want to be honest about both the strengths and weaknesses of missionaries on the field--not just set up straw men to knock down. So, I ask that all my readers bear with me to see that things can be pretty complex and that all of us make these kinds of mistakes at times. Even if we do, we can grow and change. I know I have changed a lot since I first moved to The Location. And I have a long way to go.