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When missionaries’ children grow up: learning to let go

‘Mum, I’m in hospital’. When I heard these words from my son, my heart sank. All sorts of scenarios raced through my mind until he continued. ‘I ate a pork bun at the university café and started feeling sick. I got so sick and dehydrated I decided to go to the hospital’. I found out that he had walked the 15 minutes to the hospital and was being treated for salmonella poisoning. I was relieved he would eventually be fine, but questioned if we were doing the right thing. We had left our son to fend for himself in Australia and returned to Taiwan. When he was in need, he had to find a solution himself.

Learning to let go

The hardest thing about working overseas is letting go of our sons. We sent them ‘home’ to Australia one after the other for further study. This also meant they had to learn to shop, cook, clean and take themselves to hospital when they got sick!

About a year before our eldest son was to leave, we started praying for him to make a good transition. But close to the time of departure, many things were not ready yet. He did not have accommodation or a job for the six months before he would begin university.

With another son, I would often ask him ‘have you made any friends?’ ‘No,’ was his answer for the first three years of his time back ‘home’. He has a quieter personality so stepping into a university where many students already had friends, it was hard to get to know people. He visited the overseas student group but felt he did not fit in there either. On Saturday nights when others were going out together, he was often home studying. As a mother you would do anything for your child but you cannot make friends for them and can only look on helplessly and pray.

Learning to trust

We had to trust that they make suitable friends, that they come from the shelter of being missionary kids to developing their own faith, that they find a good church, that they learn to take care of themselves while trusting that God will provide for them. It was a continual journey in trust. When we were in the same country, we could believe we still had some degree of control in their lives, but this was taken away when they left.

Yet we have seen them survive and thrive. For our eldest son, God graciously provided some things that helped him to cope.

1) Several years earlier, he had to repeat part of fifth grade because of switching schooling systems. So when he graduated from high school he was older than most of his classmates. This meant he was more mature which helped him in working out how to live and travel independently, dealing with the red tape of university placements, and finding a job in a country he had barely lived in before.

2) Our sending church pastor, who was previously an OMF missionary, invited him to live with their family for a few months before uni started. Church people drove him to church each week, looked out for him, and invited him for meals, even for Christmas.

Our other sons could then use his experiences to get settled in. And today our ‘friendless’ son eventually found a group of people similar to himself at university and is now always out with friends!

We still miss our sons, wonder how they are feeling or coping with life, and they are still going through some transitions. But in the midst of this, we know that friends and mission partners are praying for them and watching out for them. And most of all our God has their lives in his hands.

Irene Nicholson

Will you pray for OMF workers and their families?  

  • Pray for missionaries as they try to ‘let go’ of their children and have to trust God to guide and provide for their children.
  • Pray for missionaries’ children as they navigate the practical challenges of moving away from home and, often, returning to their ‘home’ country, though they may not have spent much of their lives there.
  • Pray for Third Culture Kids spiritually, that they would come to know God personally, develop their faith and discover what he would have them do with their lives.

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