Perhaps we should have seen it coming.
For the first six weeks of our home assignment in the U.S., we had been attending worship at one of our supporting churches, and our four year old son Joshua had been participating in the preschoolers Sunday school class. But this particular week, I was preaching at another church. As we pulled into the parking lot, we explained to him that Daddy was preaching at THIS church today so we are not going to the other church.
And that’s when he flipped out. Still strapped into his car booster seat, Joshua arched his back and screamed, “But I want to go to MY Sunday school!”
Eventually, we got him to calm down but my wife and I learned a lesson that day. Children need stability and routine. Of course we knew that already in a general sense but we didn’t realize how disruptive it would be for Joshua to be at other churches sometimes. We also didn’t realize how attached he had become to his new Sunday school class. His standard “I-don’t-know-what-we-learned” response to our weekly inquiries about his class had not clued us in to how much he was enjoying his time there.
From our unpleasant experience in the church parking lot that morning, we decided that when I had preaching and/or Sunday school speaking engagements at various churches, as much as possible I would go by myself while my wife Sun and the children would continue going to that same supporting church that we had begun attending when we first arrived. As missionaries on home assignment (furlough) there is a certain amount of itinerant preaching and speaking that we will be doing, but our ideal is to worship and participate in the community life of only ONE church body. Jumping from church to church isn’t great for adults and it is even worse for children.
I love sharing about what God is doing in Thailand, and encouraging and challenging people in the area of world missions. As a missionary, that’s part of my raison d’etre while in the U.S.
However, lots of transitions and moving around make it tough on kids. After a quick departure from Thailand to the U.S., our family is in the New England area for three months, then on to California for about ten months before going back to Thailand. Sometimes, our son is not quite sure where home is. And he is not always sure what to expect.
“Mommy, are we still in America?”
“Look Daddy, it’s a guava!” (pointing to a picture of a green apple)
“Daddy, I want you to get guava for me” (sorry, they don’t have it here)
“Do they have sticky rice?” (sorry, they don’t have that either)
“Which home are we going to now?”
Many of the transitions that missionary families go through are unavoidable, but as much as possible my wife and I have realized that we need to create consistency for our kids. “Joshua,” we tell our son, “wherever Mommy, Daddy, Joshua, and baby Caitlin are, that’s home. We are all together and God is very good in giving us all to each other to be a family together.” Being all together as a family goes a long way in helping our son to adjust to all the changes that our family goes through. Going to the same church as much as possible helps too. But of course, toting a small green stuffed Puff the Magic Dragon toy around the globe doesn’t hurt either.