At The Urban Billion, we firmly believe that when God calls you into cross-cultural ministry, He calls not just you, but your whole family. We spoke to a mother about the joys and challenges of living among The Urban Billion with young children.
What are the joys and challenges of living in China with children?
There are many joys – it’s a real privilege to experience living in China as a family, and to introduce our children to cross-cultural life from a young age. They can have a wider experience of people, and see how God has given our family a purpose here. It’s not only us, but our children are also very much involved in our ministry here. There are also some quite obvious challenges that come to mind when we think of urban China. Pollution for one, means you need to be creative about what activities to do and when. Apart from the environment, there are also social challenges. Chinese children start having tuition and getting mountains of homework from a young age, so our children’s playmates have much fewer opportunities to play once they start school. However, it’s not just the children. With the one-child policy having only recently been lifted, most families are under immense stress, with both parents working under great pressure. It is a privilege for us to be here and seek to model how a family can glorify God in this environment.
What education options are there for children of cross-cultural workers in China?
Depending on which city you are in, there are local schools that sometimes accept foreign children, international schools, and home-schooling. Each option has its own joys and challenges. Local schools don’t always accept foreign children, and when they do, the workload for children begins from a young age, and there’s also the question of how to respond to the worldview impressed upon children. International schools are often extremely expensive and might not always offer the curriculum suitable for your home country. Home-schooling can be a burden on the parents, and also poses the question of peers for children.
What is the day-to-day experience of home-schooling like for you and your children?
Coming from a teaching background, I really enjoy it! However, it does require organization and time. You also need to know how to separate the role of mother and teacher – sometimes I feel like a teacher all the time! You also need to know how much to require of your children academically. Every child is different – my oldest doesn’t like school, my second child loves it, and the youngest just wants to be around mom! There can be challenges in terms of teaching resources and preparing different curricula for different grades. As my children get older, this will require even more time. However, one advantage is that we have a lot of flexibility and can arrange the school year to fit in with our schedules. This can also help give the children some stability in their cross-cultural life. In our city, there are several families who are home-schooling, and there is a co-op which is very helpful. The parents can share knowledge and resources, as well as exchange information about events happening in the city that can make good extra-curricular activities for our children.
How would you benefit from having help with home-schooling by someone who was in China longer term?
It would be great, because it would be someone from outside the family so the kids could have a teacher other than mom, and be able to build relationship with more people outside of the family. At the moment, all my kids’ playmates are local, so it would also be good to have regular interaction with someone from a similar background to us. A home-school helper could bring their own areas of interest to engage the children, such as in sports, or arts and crafts, for example. It would also be a great help for me to get a bit of rest sometimes, and also to prepare other things whether it be teaching materials or more investment in ministry to locals.
Would a home-school helper benefit only you?
Depending on how they managed their time, there is opportunity to help more than just one family. In the home-school co-op we attend, all the families are Christians, and some of these are Chinese families. An increasing number of Chinese believers are wanting to home-school their children, either because of the amount of pressure placed on young children, or because they disagree with values taught at local schools. However, home-schooling is a very new idea to them, and many are not too sure how to do it. A home-school helper would be a great help both to cross-cultural workers, but also to local families. They could bring ideas of how to interact healthily with children, helping them learn through games and interactive activities (Chinese schools teach through a lot of talking and repetition from a young age).
What opportunities are there for ministry to Chinese families if someone were to be a home-school helper?
If you came to China as a home-school helper, you would still be your own person and be able to get to know your neighbours, make friends, and build relationships. These are all potential doors to ministry. However, as I mentioned, there are increasing numbers of local families who are now considering home-schooling. There is opportunity to serve them not only in sharing teaching methods and ideas, but also in journeying with them to work out how to integrate faith and education – home-school and Sunday school are not two separate curricula – how can parents help their children to integrate faith into their daily life, and how can this be done in a way that is accessible and enjoyable for children?
Is there anything you would like to say to someone considering going to China as a home-school helper?
Always be flexible! Life in China is unpredictable, and sometimes we think we come to do something, and end up doing what might be quite different! But it really is such joy and privilege to be here – to see God’s work and have a taste of life in China and watch how His kingdom is growing here.