Our family have been living abroad in Madagascar for almost twelve years. When we arrived our two daughters were 6½ and 3 years old respectively. Some of our family and friends told us that it was not reasonable, and even irresponsible, for us to go to such a place with very young children and to expose them to such drastic changes.
Of course, things didn’t always go smoothly, there were trials and hardships along the way. And yes, there are dangers associated with living overseas. On several occasions the political situation has been unstable exposing our family, and particularly our children, to chaos, riots and all kinds of violence and crime. Safety can really be an issue. Outside the school perimeter, church facilities and the housing compound, expat children, especially young girls, are hassled all the time, even sexually. Parents have to be vigilant. Our girls are, at times, slow to trust people because they have been poked, prodded, stared at, gossiped about and hassled by people whenever they left the gates of their secluded environment. Our kids have also been exposed to extreme poverty, death, disease and brokenness far more than they ever would have been at this age in the Western world. They accompanied me on several occasions to the garbage dump to help the poorest of the poor with medical care, providing food and sharing the good news. They have learned to share and be grateful for everything they have.
Kids living overseas don’t have access to the facilities and the cultural life we enjoy in the Western world. There are no castles, adventure parks, woods to walk in, leisure and entertainment centers, sports centers, skiing facilities, cinemas, etc. They are also away from their relatives: They go months or years without seeing their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. At times, they have lived with stressed parents who don’t always know their own cultural identity. Roads are dangerous; sickness and disease are both more common and can be more serious due to lack of good, reliable and accessible medical facilities and doctors. We pray each day for safety for our kids. But the blessings that come from being in God’s will far exceed the “inconveniences” listed above. Our girls have learned to really live in relationship with other people from various cultures and backgrounds. They have also avoided the worst of Western cultural values based on consumerism. They understand how blessed they are to have what they have. The best place for our kids to grow up is where God has called us as parents. Our daughters have witnessed the work we do here. They have come with us on trips to the bush by helicopter whenever it was possible so that they could see how life is in the bush. What a privilege! By being able to make our daughters feel included in our work, they have developed a healthy sense of being valued partners in our family’s life purpose.
Our girls have visited countries most people only dream about. They have met and become friends with people of many cultures. They have become fluent in three languages. Their world view has definitely been broadened. The overabundance of life in the Western world hasn’t blinded them to the realities of life in other places.
Another benefit of kids brought up overseas is first-hand exposure to the example of adults living in faith and dependence on God, imperfect as we are. Observing parents and their colleagues who bring their needs as well as of others before God in trusting prayer, and then seeing God’s faithfulness in meeting those needs, helps build a foundation of faith for them.
So yes, life overseas has its challenges, but truly, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Our older daughter now lives in France and is attending medical school. She told us that she was very grateful to have been brought up with such good values, and to have experienced so many adventures around the world with us.