Before coming to Thailand, several people asked us, what about our kids? How would they deal with such a drastic change? We, of course, had similar thoughts, but it seemed rather a moot point since we believed that God had called us to come here, so we trusted that He had all of our greatest good at heart.
Since coming to Thailand, we have frequently re-visited this question. Mostly we want to know if this will be a net-positive on their spiritual, emotional and intellectual well-being. When challenges arise, we often count the cost and wonder if it’s all worth it.
Many of the costs we have had to count relate to our kids. They have made new friends here whom they love, but they have left behind many great relationships, including friends, grandparents and other family members, and amazing baby-sitters, teachers and other influential adults in their lives.
They have visited beautiful outdoor places in Thailand, but their need for everyday outside play is limited by a lack of parks, intense heat and humidity, and the dreaded mosquito.
They have engaged in activities that are only possible here in Thailand, but they have left behind the smorgasbord of sports, classes and activities that would be available to them in the States.
One priority that we have tried to maintain is including them as much as possible in the work that Charis does. We strongly believe that this calling was not just for us, the very busy and important adults, but for our whole family. It would be a disservice to let them experience the drawbacks of our life here without including them in the joys.
This does not mean that we pressure them or guilt them or in any way coerce them into what we do. It means that we invite them in, whenever possible, to whatever we are doing, just as Jesus invited his disciples and invites us to partner with Him in His work, the work of the Father.
Sometimes this is a beautiful illustration of how there is no “Junior” Holy Spirit, as my friend once said, meaning that children who have chosen to follow Jesus have the power of the Holy Spirit inside them just as fully as grown-up followers of Jesus. Other times, they are tired, hot and grumpy and it requires more work to include them (which, honestly, could be said of their parents at times too!).
This inclusion has meant joining us as we hang out with children in our friend’s village, practicing English with them. Our oldest even took a turn or two reading books out loud to them. They enjoy this, but the real highlight for them is getting to feed the village cows.
It has also included accompanying daddy to the farm for various projects. They enjoyed sorting through the worm bins, especially our toddler. They are also pretty skilled now at bringing in the weekly harvest that will either be sold or put into the nutrition packs for pregnant and nursing moms.
Before the farm had a harvest last year, it also meant taking a turn shopping for the food for the nutrition packs. (Cool update is that Charis is now able to hire a local woman to do the purchasing for the nutrition packs, and the farm vegetables that are not sold supplement these packs.)
Another fun project was installing some old tires as swings at Charis’ community center, called Thit Yeik (Under the Shady Tree). We also planted some pretty flowers, but as we were not as familiar with what grows well here, they soon wilted in the heat and the director had to plant different flowers. At least they looked good for a graduation that Charis hosted that evening, and the swings were a great hit with the kids who came to the graduation. All of the kids enjoyed it, all at once!
Our daughter and youngest son have also gotten to come along on the nutrition deliveries. Their presence always brings a delighted smile to the faces of those we visit, as children seem to be greatly fawned over here in Thailand. For them, it can be a long and hot process as we go from village to village, but as long as we buy snacks along the way, they are happy to be out and about.
Our daughter also accompanied me when I drove some of our Burmese friends out to a class that Charis was holding at the community center. Our friend’s daughter, who is her age, was there as well, so they played together. However, this was an example of a tired, hot and grumpy day, so she spent much of the class sitting on my lap. On those days, we just have to stay patient, understanding and remembering that for them, just as it can be for us, there are good days and bad days. It’s also good to remember that these happen anywhere you live.
They also come with me to the Charis office to help sort donations to put into the shop and take into the community. Their sorting abilities could use some work, especially our youngest, but the time they spend there is time spent building relationships with the Charis staff as well as further exposure to both Thai and Burmese. They especially enjoy the antics of our youngest staff member, Bird, who is like a cross between silly-guy (he knows who he is) and Uncle E.
All of these experiences are building in them kingdom values and priorities. We also happen to be having fun while we are doing them. We are also balancing all this “work” with other fun activities, like trips to water-falls and the water-park, checking out wild animals at the mall (that’s right, the mall), and visiting friends, as well as with traditional school work.
Still, there is no guarantee that when they are grown and gone from our house, they will thank us for the life that we have given them. But, really, does any parent have that guarantee?
The net benefit of this life we have chosen is mostly about perspective. If I turn those statements from earlier around, I could say:
Many of the gains we have experienced relate to our kids. They have left behind many great relationships, including friends, grandparents and other family members, and amazing baby-sitters, teachers and other influential adults in their lives, but they have made new friends here whom they love and who have come from a variety of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds.
Their need for everyday outside play is limited by a lack of parks, intense heat and humidity, and the dreaded mosquito, but they have also visited amazingly beautiful waterfalls, beaches, rice fields, and jungle-covered mountains.
They have left behind the smorgasbord of sports, classes and activities that would be available to them in the States. But they have also gotten to be a part of the work of their parents in a way that is not as common in the States.
I am not saying that this is the best life for everyone. I am just saying that, for now, it’s a pretty good life for them. And, after all, isn’t that the hope of every parent, to provide a good life for their children? If we can do that for ours, while empowering other parents to do the same for theirs, seems like a win-win scenario to me.