I was born in a liberal yet religious Hindu family. I am a ritualistic person and I believe in idol- worship, going to temples and in holy chants. Thankfully, I have always been open to embrace the goodness of other religions and since my elder sister studied in a convent, Jesus Christ made an early entry into my life.
Christians were probably the most forward people in our society when I was growing up. Ladies wore skirts, went to church during menstruation, something which is not allowed both in Hinduism as well as Islam. I chose to read Bible, only because of this reason as I could read it all 30 days of the month, without the fear and the guilt of being unholy during some days. I was impressed by New Testament but wondered why do Protestants not worship Mother Mary? The mother has to be divine to produce a divine offspring and thus with times got attracted more towards Catholicism. I was impressed by their idea of service, saw the great work missionaries were doing and marveled that why were other religions not doing so much?
Much later in my life, I was exposed to the conversions of tribal and poor in remote parts of my country. I saw the speeches of great orators who performed miracles and the crowd that gathered. This time I was not impressed as I could see through the façade. I read more literature and realized that sex is considered to be a sin and that is the main reason humans are considered to be sinners. Gosh, the religion was turning out to be regressive. I read stories on how women were burnt alive as they were considered to be having sex with the devil, an allegation they could not counter
Today if someone asks me about my faith in Christ, I would accept, more than that I believe in Mother Mary coz being a Hindu I believe in the divine power of mother and I realize that Christ has nothing to do with the services and conversions that take place in his name. He would listen to my prayer and answer even if I am a Hindu, I need not convert to attract him more.
I have a firm faith and belief that God exists whether he is Christ or Allah or Lord Ganesha, I don’t know but who so ever he is, he is above all these petty differences.
Warning: a good deal of my thoughts and feelings on all this are quite raw. If I come across that way, I’m not meaning to demean or offend. I do my best to be polite. I can’t help but feel I am taking an awful risk. It’s with a great deal of trepidation that I get into this more than on a surface level. The images of children stumbling and millstones have a permanent imprint on my mind. But, I think everyone here can handle it. Besides that, I’m not encouraging anyone to follow my ways or path–you are responsible for yourself, your faith, your life with or without god. But I do–and you should–proceed with caution.
I am a product, not of IFB/Evangelical fundamentalism, but of Campbellite/Church of Christ fundamentalism. I left that for liberal Evangelicalism, only to find the grass wasn’t greener. I am currently in the long, drawn-out process of leaving the Faith altogether. But, I will admit “faith” is something I’m not so sure I am leaving. I don’t know, anymore.
I admit right off the bat that I am not an atheist. I am agnostic, but lean toward some kind of Jesus pursuit. I no longer believe in any inerrant bible or literal “word of God”, but I still think the Bible is a valuable document to carefully read and consider, in the same way the Tao Te Ching or Das Kapital are valuable to read and consider. I doubt I would be considered “Christian” in most senses, anymore.
I was born in Amarillo, Texas, the firstborn to parents who were at least third-generation Campbellites. As such I grew up in the non-institutional, non-instrumental churches of Christ. If you know the history of that “movement”, you will know that says enough about the theological baggage I carry around.
Campbellite baptism is how I was taught to approach “getting saved”, which was always separated from believing. I had always believed, always knew Jesus, even from childhood; until now I never knew a time of “unbelief.” That did not mean I was saved, however. “Faith and works” were always held in tension, and neither were sufficient to get me into Heaven. My baptism sprang from a fear of Hell, but it also developed from teenage angst about growing up in the church. I relented under the typical church pressures, but my conversion was sincere even if less than fully “educated.” An argument can be made that no discernible change in life resulted. Looking back, that is a significant note to keep in my back pocket.
I met my wife in high school. She was a profoundly unhappy girl and I vowed to be the one person in town who would not add to her sadness, if not be the one to make her happy. There was just one problem: she was a Catholic. Again, if you know anything about the Churches of Christ, me even dating her was a mighty scandal.
That is what marrying my wife made us. After we both graduated from college, we moved to the Detroit area, far away from our Colorado home. Incidentally, we lost two children, and I nearly lost my wife. What I also lost was my armored perspective on good and evil, right and wrong. We moved back home soon after and had our first [living] child. We then, almost immediately, lost my mother-in-law. Our firstborn was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes at age 5, as was I one year later–as an adult. Gain and loss have became prominent themes in our life together. These events solidified our existence as misfits, and life soon became an exercise in dealing with the unmet expectations of others; not least of which were the expectations of other Christians.
What I was learning was that my family were–and are–the greatest gifts I have been given. I discovered they are more valuable than even my “salvation.” My family, and not the church, taught me about love. Everyone else taught me about expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them.
I am an engineer. For a time, I worked construction, which was not the industry for which I was educated. Once again I was a misfit, a fish out of water. Years of this lead to a restlessness and anxiety, feelings of being trapped with no other options. The funny thing was that my time in that job was a sort of parable of my wider life. At the time I mistakenly thought it was a “faith-lesson” strengthening my Christianity. Big mistake. I did learn what faith truly was, and it was not what the church told me it was.
The Hebrew Bible talks of the refiner’s fire. My branch of engineering deals with steel-making, so blacksmithing has deep root in my consciousness. There are no miracles in the blacksmith’s world, only long, arduous work. The blacksmith doesn’t “believe” or “pray” for a result, he takes his hammer, anvil, and a very hot fire and beats on a piece of steel until it is a useful tool. It takes hours, days, or weeks to create something of use. Only after hard work does his effort bear any fruit.
Similarly, Jesus talked of moving mountains with only a little faith. Christianity has left us with the mistaken notion that the right faith would allow us to instantly throw that trillion-ton pile of rocks and trees into the ocean with a wave of our hands. Or, that the right faith would bring us untold riches and health. Life has taught me otherwise. Moving mountains takes faith, alright, but the kind of faith that picks up the shovel and scoops the dirt day after day, week after week, year after year. A mountain is moved one rock at a time. I know this because I watched it happen on a job site: one shovel, one bucket, one dump truck, one day at a time. It was boring and monotonous. And it surely was not instant.
Finally, Jesus talked about building on rock and not sand. This was the easy one to learn. Any house or other structure worth its money is built on a solid foundation. What is the foundation of fundamentalism? What is it but the sand of inerrancy, or the shakiness of one literal, modern interpretation of a collection of ancient texts. Even the “eyewitness” accounts of Jesus of Nazareth are rife with corrupted and uncorroborated evidence. Christianity, as it stands now, is built on a surprisingly shifty foundation. Not a good start to building a life.
Learning these lessons has shown me, in the here and now, that I generally live life in tension; I am holding contradictory positions. It is not a good situation for an engineer to hold to an existence of cognitive dissonance. So, now I’m wavering.
Where I’m At
In a manner of speaking, I have no issue with the people of the church, although I haven’t been to meetings in many months. I am happy with most of the people, however the church is, and all churches are, bound by a system and spends too much energy and treasure to feed itself. Having so much stock invested leads to rules and expectations on people that aren’t really justified. From what I read and understand in the Bible, the church was meant to be about a community in relationship. But, so much of the activity and program of church makes authentic relationships nearly impossible.
But none of that is the driving issue with me. I might be able to live and cope with those idiosyncrasies. Coming face to face with some of the things happening in my life–random, causeless things–has caused doubts to take center stage, doubts I’ve always harbored and tried to work out on the back burner. As it is now, I’m skeptical of nearly everything–church, theology, family priority, god itself. I feel like I’m watching the deconstruction of everything I’ve ever believed, hoping to be left with enough to rebuild, or to be convinced rebuilding is worth the energy, or even necessary.
[Warning: severe understatement ahead.] Generally speaking, the church doesn’t deal with doubt very well. Just try to question a pastor’s decision, debate the elders’ authority, resist any authority, doubt the Bible, or doubt an agenda or program. Try questioning the small group ministry and see where it gets you. Simply asking the question, any question, gets you branded. This doesn’t even consider questions about the arguably more important topics of doctrines and practice. Individual friends, even while uncomfortable, will help you entertain doubts, to a point. But when the corporate body is involved, doubt is quashed, because it can’t be managed or controlled.
I doubt. I question. I doubt well-established, deeply held, fundamental things. From the time I was a boy, as far back as I can remember, I have never really doubted god. For the years that I’ve known and learned about god, I had never doubted who he was or that he somehow loved me. That is, not until now.
I suppose the spiritual growth process requires doubt at some time. It seems that in doubt, faith and perseverance must grow to overcome it. Still, when these doubts came, it brought a tremor deep within that I did not expect. It has brought fits of very intense emotion. It has been difficult to keep my composure when confronted with my doubts.
Over the past few years, I have been exposed to new–at least new to me–theological hypotheses. What they are is not the point, and I don’t wish to argue their merits or faults here. Their effects on me, however, I need to work out. Having believed a certain thing about god for so long, I have agonized over having that foundation cracked, even if just a little or just in perception. After half a lifetime of being quite sure of what I believed, that assurance has been shattered, and worse, may yet be proven to be based on something completely false. To someone like me, who is comfortable with facts laid out in an orderly, black and white fashion, this is the height of uncomfortable.
While I don’t like to call it “panic”, a sort of core panic has set in. Admittedly, my first reaction was one of anger. I felt lied to and duped. To some extent, I still do. I re-read scripture passages, along with a few new sources of information and I begin to see all sides as having some merit in their positions. A deeper depression sets in, and then harder questions rise up. “Which is it?”, I ask myself. “Both?” “Neither?” “Does it matter?” In my black and white mind, there must be an answer. What is truth?
I think of Job… what an awful thing to happen to one person. Not only did he lose almost everything, his wife and three friends were of no comfort. Nevertheless, god steps in to end the argument. God, interestingly enough, lectures Job on speaking where he has no knowledge. Funny—the whole time Job is crying out to god as his final arbiter, calling for vindication—he receives a stern reprimand. All the while, Job gets no answers to who was right in the final theological analysis. None. Job and his friends are left wondering. And so am I. It seems everything was set aright, for the most part, for Job after all. But what was the point of having to suffer so overwhelmingly? Was it just so god could prove a debate point?
If the experiences of Job teach me anything (assuming that god is indeed benevolent), it is that god doesn’t call us to nail down our theology to be acceptable to it. He calls us to trust it. All of our understandings are feeble. This isn’t to say truth is not important. It is to say that god holds truth, not us, and not me. Therefore, we need to trust him and not scholars, theologians, preachers, or ourselves.
Such is wholly unacceptable to some people. I get that. And, it is all predicated on a god who is there to trust in the first place. What if it isn’t? Can “God” be reasonably presupposed, even with the claims of the Cloud of Witnesses?
I can’t really nail down a single event which has brought all of this to the forefront. I could name several candidates, but how exactly they fit in would take volumes to describe and tie together. The nearer ones would be easier than those far off, but only relatively. Whether it was a grandfather’s declaration that I wouldn’t amount to much, or a pastor’s desertion of the flock in his charge—or any of a thousand more incidents and accidents—all had their part to play in my derailed faith.
Even so, if I had to venture a guess at a common thread it would be this: cognitive dissonance. That is, that which I believed or wanted to believe was not what I saw or thought I saw. The truths I held were not what in reality was or is. Mutually exclusive ideas cannot be true at the same time.
Over the past few years I have been dealing, in my mind, with the dichotomy of how life should be versus how life is. I am unable to confirm the quote, but Mel Blanc is purported to have said, when comparing his characters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “Bugs is the ideal we all try measure up to, but Daffy is who we see in the mirror every morning.” That seems to fit it into the nutshell I’m talking about. Similarly, the “Christian life” is such a lofty ideal, but when compared to reality, it looks like a sham.
Is there any hope? Society surrounding me leads me to believe not. Depending on which preacher you sit in front of on Sunday mornings, no matter the platitudes and “gracious” language (if you’re fortunate enough to get even that), the answer is still no. For every fellow addict who understands and knows the struggle, there are 99 “good” citizens who deny any issues of their own and stand in judgment of your law-breaking.
So, I’m left with a choice. I can be honest with myself and everyone, taking the barbs and arrows from a society and a religion who don’t understand and don’t really care to understand, or I don the mantra of the Wizard, hoping to distract all Oz from the reality of who I am. It feels like the only way is the wrong way.
I really don’t know what to do with this. I haven’t been taught to deal with it. It has always been that I don’t measure up, and I have to measure up before god will love me, but it’s impossible for me to measure up. To a certain extent, I have been convinced there is no hope. Go to any church, and likely you will find there are rules and expectations before you are accepted as “one of us.” Churches are not the only culprit, society at large has the same expectation—do what we say or else.
But, if you boil down the story of the Bible, that is not what god seems to be saying, at least that isn’t how I read it. No matter what I think of god and his interaction (or lack thereof) in this screwed up world, the book says that through Jesus somehow things are different. The man behind the curtain can be exposed for who and what he is, and god accepts him… accepts me. He will deal with me kindly and fairly.
I don’t know about you, but I never hear that in the churches I’ve been associated with to this point. Spend a single day in the secular world and you will find this, too, is an anathema. I’m only now getting the whole thing through my own thick, judgmental skull. The thing is, I still don’t know what to do with it.
There is no point in running down the list of things I still believe or things I don’t believe anymore. The details of the jots and tittles have caused enough madness. The best I can give you at this point is that I am agnostic about the whole thing. I simply don’t know. Further, I’m skeptical of anyone who claims they do know. I’m skeptical that some things are even knowable.
If you want to know what I believe, watch me. See what I do and how I act. That will tell you all you need to know. Maybe the reason there was no change in my life at my conversion was that I didn’t really believe it in the first place.
I was and continue to be skeptical of any Sunday School teacher or pastor from my past. I know they don’t know. And here I am: a walking contradiction. For all my years, this is what I have heard: Sure, god loves me and sent Jesus to save me, but… BUT… if I don’t ________, then [insert any one of the typical religious threats here]. For all my years, I have tried to conform and do as I was told. It has gotten me nowhere. I’m still the same person, with the same personality issues, the same social ills, the same faults, and the same sins.
I can’t continue down the same path. I’m not sure I even want to, anymore. I can’t keep the inevitable at bay.
My conclusion is that I’m done. I can’t do it. I have never been able to do it. All I hear is, “You need to do more… do better… don’t do that… do this… change… pull your weight… contribute… make a difference… obey…”
So, I’m not going to try, anymore.
A well-written deconvert to atheism explained his experience in this way:
“These are the three things that changed my thinking: a major crisis, plus new information that caused me to see things differently, minus a sense of a loving, caring Christian community.” –From John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, Prometheus, 2008.
I mention this quote not to say that all of this must turn out, in the end, as me turning to atheism. It is more of a warning to myself that I am three-thirds of the way down that path Loftus describes.
To this point I have found only one fact I can rely on: love. While that fact carries a lot of weight in and of itself, it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions I’m haunted by. It is a hopeful start, even so. I consider love to be the chief end of life; love of others, primarily. Life is too difficult to go through without a friend to help along the way. Jesus supposedly spoke of love, but his followers show an appalling lack of it. This is the chief reason I have left the church and Christian religion: so few of Jesus’ so-called “disciples” actually love anyone. I don’t blame Jesus, I blame those who do what they do in his name. I still believe in love, even if I don’t know if I believe in god.
That, of course, could all change. In all of this, I’ve learned something about myself. I’ve told you the story, for the most part. From as early as I can remember I have felt like a misfit, not meeting family, friends’, and others’ expectations. Well, my response to it all has always been, “I’ll show them.” I was driven to prove myself to any- and everyone. High school valedictorian, smallest defensive end in the league, if not the State (All-Conference). Graduate from the best engineering school in the country in 4 years. Aced the class the prof said I had no business taking. Save the company I work for millions per year. Professional Engineer Certification in a 3rd discipline I was not educated in. Prove my boss wrong. Defy church leadership because–damn it–they’re wrong. Etcetera, and etcetera, blah, blah and blah. Then all of it came crashing down.
No matter how good, right, or correct any of that stuff is, I only did it to justify myself. My complaints toward anyone who opposed me, criticized me or didn’t “like” me was not one of rightness, but of not validating me, my ego. Like many before, I didn’t like myself, so I sought to force everyone else to do so as compensation. “I’m the smartest guy in the room; I’m right and you can’t deny it.”
I am who I am. That is enough. Jesus told his followers, “Love your enemies.” Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
I figure, now, I just need to let it all go. I don’t need to show anything to anyone. I just need to love and forgive, and not grasp at those I find around me. Then I can let the rest of it fall where it does. That doesn’t answer any questions, but maybe in the end that is the beginning.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
(Please note that this post will provide some hand-holding for those with little to no understanding of Christianity)
Part 5: The Missionary Calling
Stories usually require introductions and this one begins with two things; the first is attraction. Two teenagers going to the same youth-group decide get together for the reasons most teenagers do; they liked each other. Being good Christian types they had vowed to stay “pure” which, in their church, meant no sex; hand-holding, hugging and kissing were all acceptable activities just as long as they didn’t take it too far. After they both finished high-school they got engaged and a wedding soon followed.
So far this is a pretty stock-standard stuff however there was one thing about these two that made them a bit, well, different. They both felt called by God to be missionaries. Separately they had decided that any person they would marry had to also feel the same “calling” so, after going out for a few months, they were both delighted to discover that they shared the same viewpoint. At the time this served to validate the idea that they were meant for each other; as if God himself had ordained their union. Whether God really did bring them together or not I am grateful for one of its by-products – my own birth.
Yes my parents each had “want to be a missionary” as criteria for a spouse. It may not be the weirdest thing someone looks for in a partner but it isn’t normal either. They also both felt called to be missionaries and that is the part I want to examine here. I am cognizant that some readers know what is meant my “missions” – especially if you have read earlier posts. For those familiar with the concept please proceed onto the next section
I will now take the time to give a short bible lesson from Matthew 28:18-20. Known as the Great Commission, this passage is said to record one of the few teachings of Jesus after he has been resurrected from death:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
If it isn’t already obvious this is a key teaching, not just for evangelicals, but Christianity in general. Not only is it (allegedly) one of the final things Jesus directly imparted to his first followers but it is also one the clearest and least ambiguous commands Jesus gives in the gospels. If anyone has ever wondered why Christians are so big on proselytizing– well it’s because Jesus told them to. And Jesus is kind of a big deal for them.
My parents took this verse very seriously indeed. So once they completed high-school they started university. Marriage followed during which time I was born. Understand that this was 1970s New Zealand so education was free and students received a weekly allowance from the government. Juggling study and having a family, while certainly not easy, wasn’t the big struggle it might have been in other countries. Throughout all of this their ultimate desire to become missionaries remained.
In 1983, with the financial backing of their Open Brethren Assembly, they decided to transplant their family from the socialist-democracy of New Zealand and into the right-wing dictatorship of the Philippines to become missionaries. They had no problem moving two young boys, I was now almost three years old and my brother almost one, from a relatively safe and clean environment into one where hygiene standards and disease control was not as high on the government’s agenda. Placing their family in a dangerous environment and moving them away from doting grandparents, who had no other grandchildren at the time, was a secondary consideration to the glory of the gospel.
If this sounds a bit dismissive of their choices be assured my intention is not to denigrate them but to explain what they did from my current perspective. When I grew up as a child of missionaries their decisions seemed normal and, because it was for God’s glory, righteous. It is only all these years later that I see how crazy their life-choices can seem to others – particularly those who don’t think in a religious frame-work. To my parents, however, there was no real choice being made – Jesus gave the command and the Holy Spirit convicted them, specifically, to help carry it out. Their only decision was whether to follow the calling or ignore it.
Anyone who is or has been a devout member of any faith will realize that is no real choice at all. To do anything less than comply would be disobedience. The flip-side is that, because these feelings of conviction are strong desires, this conviction is actually what the faithful follower really wants to do. At a mundane level it is simply people pursuing their goals only with the added belief that these goals are given to them by God. In other words my parent’s got to do what they wanted while also being able to feel like they were sacrificing for the greater good; the epitome of having your cake and eating it too.
So that relates to my parents specifically and it might leave you wondering: What about all the other missionaries? Do they have similar stories and reasons for doing what they do?
Well that is a good point and I don’t have a definitive answer as I haven’t found data on the main reasons missionaries go and do what they do. However I have heard many a missionary give a testimony and preach a sermon where they do reveal their reasons. Add the fact that I knew many missionaries and listened in on their conversations with my parents – I have a pretty good idea why they tend to do what they do.
In most cases it is the same reason I outlined above. They feel the conviction and off they go. Now the reasons they go where they go and do their specific missionary work can differ quite a bit. But the belief that this is what God wants them to do is pretty consistent throughout the missionaries I knew. Obviously, as with my parents, I can’t say if they really felt God convicting them. Perhaps they were zealous and idealistic young people who thought being a missionary sounded important or fun or, even, exciting. I will never know.
Of course there were a few missionaries that were there for the “easy ride”. This may sound strange when you consider that the Philippines was not a safe place to live compared to most first world countries – but there were some big advantages living there. Exchange rates mean that the money sent to support missionaries can often go a long way; especially if the church or mission agency sends a lot over. Coupled with the fact that, at least in those days, there was little oversight (Often sending a newsletter home every quarter was sufficient) and it ended up being a sweet deal for some.
These were the people who I, and others, always wondered what they actually did. They ate at nice places, bought the latest gadgets and were often taking vacations to interesting places around the country. I remember when I finally worked out why they continued to “work” over in the Philippines when I read a newsletter from one of them. It made it sound like they were single-handedly converting the entire country. I was amazed at how well they could spin a story. While nothing in this newsletter was an outright lie it was certainly embellished.
Most Missionaries are workaholics, if anything, so don’t get the impression they are all freeloaders. Nor am I saying that missionaries with excellent communication skills are all liars. I also am curious as to how easy it is for today’s missionaries to get away with this. The internet has made communication very easy and also increased the expectation of regular contact and reporting. The slackers might be easier to spot – but only if people are actually motivated to check on them.
The final point I want to make about the missionary calling is that there is another step beyond feeling led by God. In the Brethren churches all missionaries must gain commendation from the church elders (the leaders of Brethren assemblies). If this is given they then need to raise the required levels of support. This is important if the local assembly can’t provide 100% of the money needed. In the case of my parents they were supported primarily by their church but also had another, smaller, Brethren group make up the rest. This covered our living expenses. On top of that certain one-off expenses (like our school fees) were provided by generous donors.
While other missionaries follow similar models there are a lot who don’t. Some of the larger organizations have application processes and training that are provided for all prospective missionaries. Support is given, not through individual fund-raising, but by pooled donations that are distributed evenly among their missionaries and programs. They may own property and equipment for their missionaries to use (houses, vehicles, furniture). Still others use a mixed model where accommodation might be supplied by the agency but everything else is self-funded (just as one possible option).
One thing about all these models is that the more a missionary has to self-fund the more autonomy they tend to have. However they tend to have less training and cultural orientation. So there are always trade-offs. Some people will opt to go with a mission agency for other reasons: such as the types of ministry opportunities they want to be involved in. If someone wants to work on bible translation with isolated tribal groups, for example, it would pay to join New Tribes Mission who specialize in these activities.
Feeling called to the mission field (as it is commonly known) is no guarantee someone will be a missionary. Whether sent by their church or joining a mission organization there is still a lot of work ahead of them. Of course I am not convinced the “calling” is anything more than a reflection of their own desires and I believe that some missionaries feel the same way deep down.
The one thing you can never say, regardless of how you end up being sent, is that it’s your own idea. If you think mission works sounds like something you would like to try (and who doesn’t like to travel?) you must convince people that the whole idea was God’s and that you must follow the path he set for you. You don’t have to believe it but it would be a lot easier to convince others if you do.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
Manna Baptist Academy was a ministry of Manna Baptist Church, one of the IFB churches we associated with. The Pastor and Principal was Mr. Watson, whom I had originally met at Wildwood Christian Academy. Pastor and Mrs. Watson had three children who attended the school during the time I was there. The oldest one, during my first year, was in her senior year and she acted as a Monitor They also used their other two children as monitors during my second year. There was a lot of favoritism shown to their children. Any time their children had problems with other children, their parents jumped right in and took care of the problem. There was no teasing them or pulling pranks, unless you wanted to be talked to by the Principal. This would be followed by a call to your parents. Not a good system.
My first day there, I instantly knew things would be different and better for me. The Supervisors and Monitors were more relaxed. The whole atmosphere was more relaxed. Most of the kids who attended the school went to church either at Manna or the one I attended. It felt a lot more like a large family than a school. The Watsons would give longer breaks and allowed a little more freedom than in the other schools I attended. For example, sometimes they would make an announcement that everyone would be free to score their work as needed until the next break. In my second year, myself and two other boys were allowed to take the dividers out of our offices. Supposedly it was to help the boy who transferred in during the middle of the year. We helped the new kid and had a good time whispering and goofing off, we just never got too loud. This never happened in my other ACE schools
Since I had matured a bit, I took my schooling more serious and actually tried to succeed. I didn’t have homework very often; and, when I did, it was usually just a page or two. In my second year, I kept E level privileges most of the time. I actually found that I enjoyed school and used the system to my advantage. Because I was doing so well, the Supervisors left me alone. I was also the second oldest person in the school, so I was an older kid, which gave me a little bit of status, too.
It was here that I saw one of the huge shortfalls in the ACE system. One of the kids who was my age was taking college prep studies in 9th grade. He was doing Algebra 1 and 2, as well as taking French. No one at the school was able to help him with the Algebra PACEs. What they did was give him the score keys and let him figure out he answers, almost like reverse engineering. Fortunately, he was an honest kid who really wants to study for college, so he stuck with it and learned Algebra. For French, he listened to cassette tapes and copied phrases into his PACE. There was no way of truly checking to see if he was actually learning the language or just memorizing phrases. This is a bad way to learn a language.
When I was in 9th grade, I showed a lot of initiative, so I was given some responsibility every now and again. I was allowed to be a monitor several times and I got to help the kids in the Lower Learning Center. Because I kept the E level privileges, I was free to do what I wanted most of the time. There were a couple of other kids who did the same, so we would do our school work together or play basketball when it was nice outside.
My parents didn’t want me to graduate early, so I was only allow allowed to complete one year’s worth of work each school year. This kept me from getting E level a couple of times. In the two years there, I got a total of three detentions. No scoring violations or incomplete goals this time, though. I was older and smarter. I knew how to do things and not get caught. I didn’t do too much cheating, though. Mostly it was in Math. Any ACE student can relate to the dread of completing pages and pages of division and multiplication. Some days you would want to cry. Five pages of it can seem like an eternity. (As an adult, I discovered I have dyslexia, which didn’t help with my math. We had one of our children diagnosed, and I had almost all the same symptoms. Large groups of numbers are my kryptonite, just like my child.)
Two of the detentions were for talking at the scoring station and goofing around. The last detention I got was because I didn’t get a homework slip at the end of the day. I completed my last page of work just as school ended, but I didn’t score the work. The next day, when goals were checked, Mrs. Watson gave me a detention for incomplete goals. She said it was because I should have gotten a homework slip, even though all that needed to be done was to score. What a crock of crap. I was scared to death to bring that detention slip home; I had visions of the spankings I got while I was at Grace Baptist Academy. Fortunately, my parents realized what a B.S. move that was, so I wasn’t in any trouble.
Sometime during the second year, my parents started butting heads with the Watsons. I’m not quite sure what started it, but the friction was very obvious. The above mentioned detention was one manifestation of the feud. Mr. Watson began to, not so subtly, try to undermine my parents beliefs. Part of the problem was that my dad had begun to truly follow Jesus. This meant forsaking the world and all of its trappings. No TV, no secular magazines, no sports, no frivolities, and things like that. Maybe my parents brought up things that angered the Watsons, I don’t know. All I know is that I started to be picked at, ever so slightly. They even began using their son to spy on me.
As a boy, I had an interest in regular boy things. One thing I liked was secular music. Some of the other kid’s parents had no problem with the kinds of music they listened to, so I would talk about popular music with them. One day, we were in the weight room and we talked about music for over an hour, all of us older boys, including the Watson’s son. Just three days later, my mom and I got called into the office for a meeting. The subject was how I spent an hour talking about rock and roll music. This was a big no-no, both at school and at home. They told us that Mrs. Watson overheard us talking from the other side of the wall, I know that their boy told on me. He pretty much admitted it. Interestingly enough, none of the other boys’ parents were brought in for this. This was only one example of the stuff that began to go on.
For some reason, their daughter (who was the same age as me) had access to the test scores. She helped score the final tests of even her peers. Many times she would come to us the next day and talk about how easy the tests were and how she would have gotten a better grade. One time, she told me that her parents couldn’t believe what a dummy I was for flunking a certain test. Nepotism was alive and well in that school.
It was here that I remember learning about the great defenders of the Christian faith. Men like Dr. Lee Robertson, Dr. John R. Rice and Lester Roloff. We were taught about the great things these men had done and how Lester Roloff was being persecuted for Jesus. There were actually sections in the PACEs about these, and other, great men of the faith.
It was also during my time here that I realized that the IFB movement and ACE were linked together. Since I was a little older, I started paying attention to the things being said. I also saw that many of the authors we were required to read for literature were the leaders of the IFB movement, and/or their children. It is almost like an inbred family. No new ideas or thoughts could come in because all that we needed to know had already been written by The IFB leadership. Even the dictionaries we used were purchased from ACE, so they were heavily expurgated and edited.
In my first year, we had two girls that had attended the Rebekah Home for Girls, the “school” Lester Roloff started. They were sent back to their parents when the school was closed down. I became good friends with both and was labeled a rebel because of it. When one of these girls ran away from home towards the end of the year, I was grilled about it three different times. I told them I didn’t know anything, but they didn’t believe me.
By the end of my second year, my parents decided that they were going to homeschool my brother and I. My brother has dyslexia and did best with one on one teaching. Additionally, my parents were trying to keep even more separate from the world, as they began to develop different beliefs, especially when my dad began to have Calvinistic beliefs. The IFB churches with their outer holiness and inner worldliness, their pastor worship, and other shenanigans finally began to burn my dad out. He started trying to find a better place.
So, this was my third ACE school experience. It was my best experience. A lot of it had to do with my attitude. I also believe much of it had to do with the way the school was run. The atmosphere was more pleasant and not as rigid. In fact, the regional ACE inspector came with his son one day to observe the school. Myself and another boy were done with our goals for the day, so we went outside to play basketball, at 11:30. We invited the inspector’s son to play, but his dad wouldn’t let him. I heard that he wasn’t too impressed with how the children were allowed to work at their own speed and do what they wanted. I think the Watsons had the right idea about teaching and had some non traditional ideas towards learning, they could only do so much in that system.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 4: The second part of my education
Something I should have made clear in the last part was that this is not just an overview of my education but also of my time as an MK. It is a good way to give the “big picture” of my life before I delve into more specific issues and thoughts.
In my own mind I tend to compartmentalize my MK experience as being in two distinct parts. It is easy to formulate this distinction purely because of the time spent back in New Zealand (2 ½ years) before my family returned again – at which point I was older and have clearer memories.
It goes further than the time elapsed between living there though. The first part of my MK life was spent living in small towns (where my parents were involved in church planting) and being home-schooled. The second part was a very different experience. Nothing was going to be same; not my location, my education or my parent’s ministry.
Before I dive into those differences, however, this part of my story will begin with a setup.
After my parents both fell ill and needed to return to New Zealand, I found myself in a place I rather liked. My family was living in a semi-rural village on the outskirts of Auckland (the biggest city in NZ) while still being no more than a half hour drive to the CBD (unless there was traffic). My father was a full-time school teacher and my mother a home-maker. I had a lot of friends both locally through my school and further afield (but not by much) through the church we belonged to. I also had both sets of grandparents and a few aunts, uncles and cousins all living in close proximity.
Cue the nostalgia-infected idealized version of childhood.
Life may not have been 100% perfect, but for me, at that time, they seemed to be going great. I saw no reason why this life of mine wouldn’t continue on a predictable trajectory. I saw myself living at the family home until I was an adult and got a job, went to university, or got married (those were the only three reasons I couldn’t imagine leaving home for at the time). I want to make it clear that I was very content and did not expect or want things to change.
So when my parents called a family meeting I was not happy with what was to come. They had been giving it some thought and my father wanted to be involved in Christian ministry again. And they had two options they were considering: 1) Return to the Philippines or 2) Take a Pastoral position in Auckland.
To me it seemed obvious – do the Pastor thing. Then they hit me with the bombshell; the position was on the exact opposite side of the city about a 1 hour drive on a good day. I would have to move house, change school and make a completely new set of friends. While my younger siblings seemed to accept these changes meekly, I was stuck between two terrible options. At 10 years old I felt like my whole world was getting taken away from me and there was nothing I could do.
I pleaded with them to consider option 3: stay where we are and not move anymore. Or option 4: they move away but I move in with my grandparents. I am not sure how my parents felt about their oldest child wanting to emancipate himself from them but, in the end, the decision was made and back to the Philippines it was.
My parents were not going to be doing the exact same thing as they did before. My father, along with some Filipino church leaders and missionaries, had come up with a different concept for church planting. They would train a team of Filipinos to be church planters. First they would study (theology, evangelism techniques and the like) and then they would be sent on a mission to plant a church. My father would co-ordinate their education and monitor the team’s progress. Support for these church planters would be raised from overseas (NZ, Australia, Canada and the USA) so that they could devote several years to the endeavor.
As a result my father would need to be based in a central location and the capital city of Manila was selected. This meant I and my two siblings (my sister was born six years prior) would not be home-schooled. We were to go to a Christian International School called Faith Academy.
Founded in 1956 by missionaries from several different organizations and denominations, Faith Academy (to be known as “FA” for the duration of this post) is a K-12 school offering a US-based curriculum as well as GCSEs for British and other commonwealth students. According to Wikipedia, its current enrollment is around 600 students at the Manila campus with a further 150 studying at a smaller mission school in Davao which is in the south of the Philippines. I am too lazy to confirm if these numbers are consistent with my own time there but they seem close enough.
I would be a student at FA for six years in total, which comprised grade six through to my graduation as a senior. Some of you may have noticed that there was a year unaccounted for – I spent grade 10 back in NZ before returning for my final two years. I graduated in 1998 and returned to New Zealand marking the official end of my life as an MK.
If the above section seemed brief – don’t worry, I do have a lot to say about FA and its own unique culture in the future. This post is just to give an over-view of life and, hopefully, provide context for future thoughts. I will just deal with a couple of differences between FA and NZ schooling.
New Zealand, being in the southern hemisphere, has its summer break over Christmas. As a result, the new school year begins around the start of February so it actually follows a complete year. When I left NZ I was half-way through the equivalent of sixth grade but started FA at the start of the new school year. Down the line it meant all my age-peers in NZ would finish high school six months earlier than me.
This idea didn’t bother me at all until I returned to NZ for a year and rekindled some of my old friendships. Suddenly the thought that they would be working or starting university six months earlier than me really bothered me. This now seems like such a trivial difference to dwell on but, as a high-school kid, these things really mattered.
Ironically the difference that had a much bigger impact on my life’s trajectory was the one I didn’t think much of at the time. Teachers at FA openly discussed god and their beliefs/theological views in the class-room – regardless of the subject. For someone who had come from a very secular country this felt very refreshing at first. Bible was now a subject we took along with Math, English, History and Science. Our weekly school assemblies were now a chapel time (complete with worship) and I felt my teachers were people I could trust in a way I hadn’t felt before – because they had “God’s truth” in them just like me.
After a while this became mundane and I started taking it for granted. Like others who attended missionary schools (or Christian schools in general) this just became another part of my education. I only realized just how much bible education I had received when the family returned to NZ for a year. Apart from the shock that public high-school brought me (kids and teachers would swear – oh no), I realized that I was far more bible literate at 15 than most of the youth group I attended and even many of the adults in the church.
This year back also brought a change in me personally. I still don’t fully know why, but when I returned to FA for my final years of High School I felt more certain of God and Christianity. Maybe it was a reaction to the secular school system that convinced me that “God’s way” was better. Perhaps it was how welcome I felt by the people in our home-church and the knowledge that I would see them again in a couple of years. It might even have stemmed from an arrogance that had been building inside me – the view that my knowledge and my experiences made me unique and would lead me to do mighty things for God (yes, it’s embarrassing to look back on now).
Whatever it was, when I graduated I was certain of God, His word and my faith. I had strong convictions that I was certain were right. I knew that whatever I did and wherever I went I would do so by God’s grace and following his lead. If 18-year-old-me knew that I would end up with a radically different perspective he would have been upset and, very likely, scared for his future.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended Grace Baptist Academy from 1980-1983, 3rd through most of 5th grade. This was a school that was about 40 minutes away, but my aunt was going there, so I was able to ride with her. Grace Baptist Academy was a ministry of Grace Baptist Church. My first year was their third year of school. It had started out with only six or seven children and had upwards of 60 by the time I started. The church was pastored by Pastor Colas and the principal was Mr. Wainscott. Mr. Wainscott was a tall, thin man who drank coffee all day long. I still remember the smell of his breath when he would come to my office and answer questions.
Being a veteran of one ACE school, I remember thinking I was going to have an easy time at this school. After orientation the first day, imagine my horror when I found out several fundamental things were different. First, the letters for achieving extra privileges were GBA rather than ACE. Ok, I was able to deal with that. Next, I found out the order for PACEs was different- Math, Social Studies, English, Science, Word Building. Believe it or not, I struggled with that the entire time I attended that school. It seemed wrong because of the way I was originally taught.
This was the year that erasable ink pens became popular. Before the school caught on to them being used on goal cards, the older students were using them and changing their goals to suit their needs. I did this myself a few times.
I began doing something that all ACE student do. Due to the way the PACEs are set up in the lower grades, answering questions was just a matter of reading the question, finding the exact same sentence in the text and copying the answer verbatim. This is one of the worst habits a student can acquire. We never studied and learned, we just used short-term memory to fill in a blank. Even in the final tests, the questions were the same ones as in the PACE. In the higher grades, you actually had to look for answers, but the bad habit had been learned and enforced by then. The only subject in which this wasn’t possible was Math.
My first year there, I started a bad habit of just daydreaming and not getting any work done until the end of the day. Then it was a race to get as much finished before needing to ask for a Homework Slip. After a while, I was getting homework every day. My parents told me I needed to get my work done at school, so I began just crossing my goals off and not asking for a Homework Slip. Since the school was so large, the Supervisors couldn’t check everyone’s goals every day. I often got away with not doing my work, since the next day I would rush and get both day’s work done. A few days later, I would be back to daydreaming and not get anything done, again. When I did get caught, it was an automatic detention. After bringing home Detention Slips for the same thing a few times, and the spankings that went along with it, I starting forging my parent’s signature.
At Grace, one of the things they did was to allow you to serve detention at lunch time. This allowed working parents to keep their same schedule, yet take away free time from the bad kids. By forging my parent’s signature and serving detention at lunch, I missed quite a few spankings.
After a while, my behavior was bad enough that I began to get swats at school. We were given 5 swats if we got more than 6 demerits, which I seemed to do regularly. The swats would cancel out the demerits and you started over with a clean slate. Since school swats were nowhere near as bad as a spanking from either of my parents, I preferred to have swats at school. Even though they hurt, the worst part of them was the embarrassment. Mr. Martin was the one who gave out the swats, so everyone knew that when he took you to the back room, you were gonna cry. I can honestly say I was being a shithead at this time. I remember Mr. Martin being a nice guy and I honestly think he hated to give me swats.
I remember a time when he told me a story about a boy who was always getting into trouble and then getting a spanking. After a while, the teacher said he didn’t know what to do any more. So, when it was time to spank the boy again, he gave the boy the paddle and told the boy to spank him. That way the boy would know how much he despised giving spankings. The boy started crying and couldn’t do it. The teacher didn’t spank the boy and the boy didn’t have any more problems. Hearing this story, I thought maybe I was going to avoid swats. Alas, Mr. Martin dashed my hopes. He told me that he would have done that if he thought it would do any good. I got my swats after all.
Another thing I started doing was cheating heavily on my scoring. In addition to memorizing answers, I developed a code to write down answers, using the scoring pen. I began tapping dots onto all of my pages, as though I was bored. In reality, I used those dots to copy answers, then complete the answer when I got back to my seat.
The study and scoring method that was used encouraged children to cheat. We were expected to work mostly on our own, with very limited help from the Supervisors and Monitors when we didn’t understand something, usually math. Then, we were expected to score the work we didn’t understand and figure out how to do the problem correctly. If this isn’t a recipe for failure, I don’t know what one is. As an adult, I have been taught several methods for teaching people. Our Supervisors and monitors had no idea how to teach us, so they were unable to help us in the way we needed. I’m sure they wanted to help, they just didn’t know how.
I became a good sneak, due to the punishments I was receiving. I did everything I could to get away with doing as little school as possible. I learned that if you wrote with erasable ink lightly, when you erased it, there was no indent to show you had changed anything. I learned how to distract adults to take their attention away from what I was doing, so I wouldn’t get caught. I also practiced memorizing large amounts of answers for short term retention. This way, I could mark all of my answers correct and fix them when I returned to my desk.
After being frustrated for by this system for a couple of years, I just started not scoring my work correctly. I would just mark the page as all correct, without checking the answers. This would only work for a while, though. When a PACE was turned in, the Supervisors would check over the work to make sure we scored correctly. I started getting multiple demerits for scoring violations. These would lead to Detention Slips, which would lead to a spanking at home.
The punishment I received at school and home for my scoring violations and incomplete work was way above any pleasure I derived from cheating. I honestly don’t know why I did what I did. Several Supervisors took the time to try and counsel me. I was suspended three times. There were several parent/teacher meetings. Finally, I was expelled from Grace in the middle of my 5th grade year. They had put up with me for over two years and they had finally had enough. I finished out that year in a public school and didn’t go to a private school again until 8th grade.
I remember Mr. Wainscott taking me aside one day and talking to me about the problems I was having. He kept asking why I was behaving the way I was. I gave all kinds of answers, but he wasn’t buying any of it. Finally, I blurted out that I was cheating and disobeying because my parents smoked. (This was in a pretty conservative time and in a conservative group. Smoking and drinking were not acceptable behaviors.) I remember thinking that he would suddenly understand and all would be forgiven. I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Smoking parents didn’t change anything in the least.
One time, during a parent/principal conference, I was sent out of the room after the meeting was over. After discussing my future for a few minutes, Mr. Wainscott pulled out a hash pipe made from a soda can. He had no idea what it was. He had found it behind some wood used for a construction project. The good, Godly kids attending the school were getting high during breaks.
Not all of my time was bad, though. Twice a week, we went to the YMCA for P.E. We younger kids got to swim for an hour and a half each session, or we could go to the gym and shoot basketballs with the older kids. Our school had a pretty decent basketball team, so they made good use of the court there.
The school also had father/son and mother/daughter nights. One of my best memories, ever, is the night my dad took me to a father/son night. I remember that we watched a Harlem Globetrotter’s film and ate finger foods. My dad was a construction worker, so him being able to come to something like that was special.
Since the school was bringing extra money in, the second year I was attended, the church bought pews. These were nice, with dark wood and good cushions. I was just tall enough that my belt buckle was touching the top of the pew. The wood was something soft and I ended up scraping the top of the pew. I saw that and was sure I would get in trouble, but no one said anything. After a week or so, I sat in the same place and scratched it some more. I think I did this a total of 4 times until it was brought up in morning assembly. Oops.
The school also had a decent music program. Ms. Greenwalt was our music teacher and I think she had professional training from somewhere. It was here that I really began to enjoy music. The two years she was at the school, we put on large musicals. The younger kids (below 7th grade) performed “Down By the Creek Bank” one year. It was a blast practicing and I still remember some of the songs. The older kids performed “I Love America”, which I think was a Bob Jones University musical. Ms. Greenwalt also taught the younger kids how to play a recorder. Most of us just produced horrible screeching sounds.
This was definitely my worst experience in ACE. Fortunately, the third school I attended was a much better place. As I look back on my time there, I can’t help but wonder if the PACE order change is what caused all of my problems.
What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 3: My Early Education
I don’t have many early memories of my first couple of years in the Philippines (let alone my life prior to being there). Even those that I do have are vague and, possibly, based more on stories told to me by my parents and their friends than they are genuine recollections of my past. This is nothing unique to me but rather a way of explaining why I won’t even try to tackle the topic of my “first impressions” when I arrived in the Philippines. Instead I want to talk about something I do remember; my first years of schooling.
I won’t just talk about myself but also the range of options missionaries have (or don’t have) when it come to educating their kids and, where possible, the rationales they use. I also want to emphasize this point from the outset; a lot of missionary kids (and I am one of them) return to their passport country once they have finished high school even though their parents may be staying on. It not only marks the end of our schooling but also the end of our life as an MK. Whether we care to admit it or not our education is a big deal to a lot of us because it tracks the time from our most vivid MK memories to the end of the road.
I hope that last part didn’t come across as too melodramatic or get anyone worried that it foreshadows some overly nostalgic writing. I promise this will not be case so feel safe to proceed.
The education options for MKs are contingent on location. Families in remote locations tend to rely of home-schooling or distant learning (often via ham radio) unless they send their kids to a boarding school. If the family is in a city there are far more options of local, international and, in some cases, missionary schools. My parents began their work in a town of around 80 thousand people where I could either go to a local school or be home schooled. They opted for the latter.
Now the term “home schooled” conjures up very specific ideas in people’s minds so I need to specify exactly what I’m talking about here. While I was taught at home my education materials, lesson plans and marking were all handled by with the official New Zealand Ministry of Education Correspondence School. At regular intervals we would bundle up my completed assignments and post them off to New Zealand for grading. Technically I can say I was home-schooled but I tend not because correspondence school is more analogous to modern internet based distance learning.
It is easy to see why my parents took this route. My mother was in charge of our education and this meant she only had to teach the lessons and provide help when I didn’t understand something. The time spent marking and creating lessons was all handled by others. Also it meant that I should be keeping up with the current education back in my passport country. When we returned for a one-year break I would, at least in theory, be able to easily fit into the public school system.
That’s the other reason I don’t call myself truly home-schooled; my parents were happy for me to be educated by the state – in fact my years of correspondence school show just how much they valued New Zealand’s education system. There were enough home-schooled MKs in the truer sense, their parents chose the education materials and planned their lessons, for me to know the difference.
As with a lot people, Missionaries are not immune from holding snobbish views about the “best” way to educate their children. Most, but by no means all, of the Missionaries my parents worked with and befriended were primarily concerned about getting their kids the best education they could practically provide. There were some who seemed to be just as concerned over how their choices compared to others.
I want to be clear that, in all the examples I will provide the majority of missionaries who opted for these methods were simply exercising their choices and didn’t pass judgment on others for not doing the same. It also seemed that, for every possible educational option a missionary family could exercise, there was at least one person willing to criticize all the missionaries who failed to follow their perfect example. There were two categories, at least in the Philippines, which were easily the most common:
There were the true” homeschoolers who wouldn’t expose their children to state-approved materials. They were all about sheltering their kids from the world and the evils of secularism. At the other end of the spectrum were the missionaries who could not understand why the kids weren’t being sent to a good missionary school. They would extol all the benefits of the education such schools provided when compared to any home-schooling options. Often the missionaries they criticized might not be able to afford the fees (not all missionaries are supported equally) or live too far away to send their kids to such schools. It was a type of insensitivity that still seems baffling to me.
Then there were all the other ways missionaries were doing education “wrong”:
Don’t send your kids to a local school? You are a cultural imperialist. Sending your kids to boarding school? Maybe you don’t love them that much. Homeschool them the whole time? You are depriving them of a social life. Send them to public schools when you return to your passport country? They are going to be contaminated and “worldly”. You really can’t win.
It should not be a surprise that these types of busy-bodies exist in the missionary community. Missionaries can often be very opinionated and are not worried about expressing their views – particularly those who are in the direct evangelism side of things. After all they are people who believe that the best thing to do with their lives is to tell other people to join their religion. Part of that process involves convincing those same people that their way of thinking, acting and, ultimately, living are all wrong and the only solution is to follow Jesus (specifically in the way they prescribe). Offering opinions and being absolutely certain of oneself becomes second nature.
To finish off, I will briefly go through those early days systematically:
I was schooled in this way from 1985 to 1986 after which time we went back to NZ (our first four-year term was completed). During our year back in NZ I went to public school and had little trouble making friends or keeping up with other students academically. In that regard I can say my parents were correct in choosing correspondence.
We returned to the Philippines in 1988 where the plan was to begin a church plant in another, bigger town (this time the population was around 180 thousand) and I resumed my correspondence study which was supposed to take me through to 1991. “Supposed” is the key word; after just a year and a half the whole family returned to NZ due to both my parents experiencing health difficulties. That was the end of my experience with correspondence of which I only had 3 and a half years. It would be another 2 and a half years before we returned to the Philippines.
Over-all it is hard to say what impact the mixed up primary education gave me. Certainly I was both “home-schooled” and sent to public school but the curriculum was consistent with NZ educational guidelines all throughout. I can’t even say what I preferred. The correspondence schooling gave me a lot more free time but public schooling provided me with friends to play and socialize with during school hours. The key thing is I got taught the basics that I needed to continue and didn’t lag behind my peers.
In retrospect I was fortunate that my parents were more concerned that their kids had a good education than following a particular ideology. There were some MKs who weren’t as lucky. Their parents, well-intentioned people to be sure, followed the advice of various Christian “educational” gurus selling them the promise of well-behaved godly children. The results for those kids were varied with some lacking the knowledge and social skills expected of people their age. I am grateful I managed to avoid those problems because, as child, I had no ultimate say in my education.
Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.
I attended my first ACE school in the second grade, way back in 1979-1980. The pastor of our church had sent his children to this school the year before, so my dad thought it was a good idea to send me there. As he later said, “I thought you would come home every day singing psalms and speaking Bible verses”.
Wildwood Christian Academy was a part/ministry of The Church in the Wildwood. The principal was Mr. Barker. Mrs. Barker was the teacher in the Lower Learning Center, which I was in. The Upper Learning Center had mostly male Supervisors with only a few monitors. The Barkers were a very conservative couple. They were death on any music with a beat; there were even hymns that they considered too up beat. I came from a Baptist church that was pretty stiff, so I had no experience with up beat Christian music. They were also very strict on the dress code. One time, they made my mom get back into her car because she wore pants to pick me up.
It was here that I had my first remembered experience of religion mixed with politics. I remember hearing a recording of a person talking about the circumstances surrounding the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. The narrator made this a religious struggle; Americans had the might of right since the country was founded in the Word of God. Patriotism was very high in this school, we learned how to properly fold flags and how to properly stand at attention while reciting.
While here, I made a lifelong friend, Tyson. I also made some acquaintances that I have bumped into or heard about over the years.
I remember getting my first detention. When I was handed the Detention Slip, I was scared and hid it in my boot at home. After a few days, the school called my parents and got it straightened out. This was one of the few times I got detention that I didn’t get a spanking.
I also began to memorize large passages of scripture during this time. Every month, all of us had to learn a portion of scripture, in addition to the scripture verse in each PACE. This was quite a step up from learning a verse a week in Sunday school. The Lower Learning Center was usually given fewer verses to learn, usually 8 or 9 verses, while the Upper Learning Center had to learn around 15 verses. If you didn’t memorize the verses by the end of the month, you were given detention and not allowed to participate in any extra activities. One month, I remember the horror of having to learn all 21 verses of Romans 12. Both Learning Centers had to learn it, with a genuine imitation leather-covered King James Bible going to the first person in each Learning Center to learn it. No, it wasn’t me; I believe I memorized it just before the end of the month. I still remember one of the teachers, Mr. Watson, saying (with a Southern drawl), “…Thou shalt heap coals of fahr upon his head.”
During this year, I learned another ACE peculiarity. When setting goals for the day, we always set Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Word Building, in that order. This way, the Supervisors could easily see what goals we had completed for the day. Every subject was color coded, too: Math-yellow, English-red, Social Studies-green, Science-blue, word Building-purple. These are very strong order and color associations that I have to this day. I’ll write more about this in my next post.
This was also where I learned to cheat when scoring my work. We took our PACEs to a scoring station and scored the work ourselves. Just imagine, getting the same problem wrong several times and the answer is right in front of you. I did what almost any kid would do, I memorized the answer and wrote it down when I got back to my seat. People would put pieces of pencil lead under their fingernails or hide short pencils in their pockets to write down answers at the scoring station. There were all kinds of ingenious ways to copy the answers, one of which I’ll share in the next post. My cheating here was pretty low-level, since the work was easy.
Chapel was held each Wednesday afternoon. After lunch, we would go upstairs into the auditorium and participate in a mini church service. This was always a bad day for me, since I was losing 45 minutes of school time. I worried more about getting my goals completed than hearing about Jesus again; I was going to church that night, anyway. Occasionally a missionary would come and tell cool stories or there would be a Christian film during chapel, those were good days. The day before, the Supervisors would tell us to set less goals in our PACEs, so we would have plenty of time for the missionary or film.
I also remember a few random funny things. One day, someone told us that fluorescent colors were also called day glow. Two or three of us spent hours trying to get a fluorescent colored hard hat to glow. We held it up to a light bulb, turned the light off and were sure it glowed for a second. Another time, we had a fire drill. I had never participated in one before, so the alarm bell scared the crap out of me. Just a day or two earlier, we had been told what to do in case of a fire. We had been told to bust a window and get out that way if the door was blocked. For some reason, the door to our room was locked, so I was sure we were blocked in. I picked up my chair and was swinging it at a window when an adult stopped me. A second later, and I would have crawled out of the window. One boy sang a line to “Victory In Jesus” funny. Instead of saying, “…He plunged me to victory…”, he would say, “…He punched me to victory…”.
Overall, I remember having a pretty good time in this school. Of course, this was over 30 years ago, so some memories fade.
What follows is part two of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 2: Where I Provide a Primer on Missionaries and Mission work.
If you enjoyed my first post where I discussed Missionary Kids then consider this to be a direct sequel to that. This time I will talk about Missionaries themselves.
You may not know what Missionaries do or you might have a very good idea – either way please appreciate that this is my perspective on the class of activities know as “missions”. I will present three categories which are not prescriptive but, rather, represent the best way to classify these activities. Please bear in mind that lots (possibly the majority) of missionaries do not confine what they do to one single category of work. This should become clear when I explain the categories themselves.
Again; this is my opinion on the matter but, as an insider, my opinion should carry a bit more weight.
The categories themselves are easy to understand and break down as follows: Aid, Evangelism and Support. See, that isn’t very hard. Most of you with background in Christianity can probably start categorizing the things you know (or have heard) missionaries get up. You should also be reaching a realization that all the things you can think of fall easily into one of those three groups. But I will elaborate for the sake of everyone else and to prove my point.
Aid work is a no brainer. By that I mean, not the work itself, but the fact that even those with no religious background could probably list what it might entail. These are when doctors and nurses open hospitals and run free clinics in poor or remote places. When food is given to hungry and housing is built for those who need it. Perhaps it involves running an orphanage or setting up a school. Whatever it is these missionaries want to look after the needs of others. Often short-term mission trips (when a missionary goes out for less than 6 months) are in this category as they may have a specific project to work on such as building or providing emergency relief.
Ultimately it is still done for the higher purpose of serving God by either providing this aid to other Christians or using it to create more followers. This is not to say their motives are impure – from my experience these people genuinely want to help others – rather it is to say that it conceptualized as more than just helping people here and now. After all there are numerous charities and aid organizations that have no such “higher purpose” and are able to meet the same needs.
Evangelism also sounds obvious to most people. Unlike Aid work this is the side of missions where the non-religious get a bit wary. At least in New Zealand, where I am from, they do. Proselytizing is not considered positive in my culture as religion is considered something people should keep private. Anyway I will end that tangential point.
Evangelism is more than preachers trying to convert crowds of listeners or the devout handing out tracts to the unsaved. Don’t get me wrong; it is about communication for the purpose of winning souls for Christ – but it involves more than the obvious. Running bible studies for seekers, hosting radio and TV shows, putting together concerts, and translating the bible into a language for the first time are just some of the things that fit in this category. There are even groups of athletes who go organize sport contests and demonstrations as an “in” to get the message in front of them. Many of these people are gifted entertainers and precise communicators. They can draw a crowd or get small groups of people opening up about themselves, depending on their personalities, although many can do both.
The final category, Support, is the least glamorous and understood of the three categories. It is still vital to the missionary cause. Now I need to clarify one thing: I am not using the word “Support” as a substitute for “miscellaneous”. This is not a catch-all category for the left over missionary jobs that I am, somehow, going to force into it. It is a distinct part of missionary work and, it could be argued, allows the other roles to function properly.
Let me explain via an example:
A missionary going to a remote village would require transportation. Often the only way to get there is via an airplane as the roads are non-existent and, due to the mountainous terrain, traveling by foot could take several weeks. These missionaries, Aid Workers or Evangelists, don’t tend be trained pilots or mechanics – so there is a definite need for people with those skills. The same goes for a wide array of other necessary functions. There are teachers for missionary children, accountants who distribute funds among the missionaries, custodians of guest-houses and compounds where missionaries live, and even IT support.
Without this group most missionary work would fall apart very quickly so a good analogy is to see them as the heart supplying life to the rest of the missionary community.
I can already anticipate some comments on those categories. So I will try to address them here.
The first is that you can think of missionary work that does not fit into one of them. Before posting; think long and hard as to whether you might be mistaken or if it might actually be a hybrid of two (or all) of the categories. You may be correct but please think carefully before posting because you don’t to suggest something that turns out to be covered already.
I am willing to admit that there might be other categories I have missed entirely. In that case I am more than happy to revise my categories – after all these aren’t sacred truths set down for all time. If you are sure (and I mean; near certain) I have missed something then let me know.
Furthermore Missionaries don’t tend to categorize themselves as I just outlined. This isn’t because they resist categorization but because being an actual missionary isn’t that neat and tidy. Hopefully no one thinks that there is a checklist of neatly sorted jobs available so that, for example, those wanting to do aid work only look at the aid work jobs to the exclusion of everything else. Of course you don’t, that would be silly.
Usually a missionary hears about a need and feels called/”prompted by the Holy Spirit” to go and fill that need (or the other way around; they feel the prompting so they see what needs are out there). However, and this is the key, they almost never end up doing just that one thing. Instead they perform multiple jobs that don’t always fall into the same category.
The reason is simple; they embark on their missionary work with a plan that doesn’t take into account the sheer volume of additional needs. Missionaries tend to be similar to others in Christian ministry who believe that, as they are called to do God’s work, they need to work as hard as they can. When they get to their destination and realize there is more work than there are workers they try to take on as many additional tasks as they can handle.
My own parents, for example, started off doing church planting but ended up doing so much more; training church planting teams, providing theological education, assisting new missionaries with settling in, volunteering around the large missionary kid school, preaching, leading study groups and counseling fellow missionaries. That list is far from exhaustive. It is very common to hear of preachers becoming mechanics, pilots becoming interpreters and teachers being youth pastors – all without stopping their other ministries.
Hopefully that wasn’t too dry a read and you got something out of it. I want to make the point that this was intended to be descriptive and, hopefully, it avoided making judgments about mission work. I definitely want to address the positives and negatives of Christian missions (how it impacts the missionaries, their families and the places they go to minister) in the future. However this is not one of those moments. Thank you, once again, for your time.
I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.
This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.
As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.
This has been quite he journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years. For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it may be quite an eye opener.
Let me explain how an ACE school operates. Students start the day out in an assembly, where we prayed, read scripture, recited pledges of allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag and the Bible. Afterwards, we heard school announcements. Then, children who passed tests the day before were called to the front and given blue “Congratulation Slips”; we would applaud them before they sat back down. After a final prayer, we would go to a Learning Center.
In the Learning Center were rows of desks, divided into “offices” by wooden dividers. In each office, students kept their school work and items needed to complete their daily work. We also had two flags, American and Christian, which we used to signal the Supervisors (American flag) and monitors (Christian flag) we need help. Supervisors were people who had taken a 5 day training course and were conversant in all things ACE. Monitors were usually parents who were volunteering as assistants. Monitors were only allowed to do things like give permission to use the bathroom, score your work, or give spelling tests. Supervisors answered harder questions and could authorize you to do special things. Students in higher grades were sometimes utilized as monitors, something I did quite a bit of in 9th grade.
ACE Modesty Cartoon
Students had a star chart, on which were placed stars showing the work we completed. The work we did was contained in a PACE-Packet of Accelerated Christian Education. Each PACE was roughly 32 pages long and 12 in each subject were completed each year. Typically, we would do Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Word Building (spelling/vocabulary). As you got into higher grades, there were PACEs in literature, and home economics. For high school aged children, there were elective subjects in Old Testament Survey (studies, I don’t know why they called it survey), New Testament Survey, New Testament Church History, World History, American History, Soul Winning, Life of Christ, Accounting, etc. All of the courses had an overt fundamental Christian message, from the first math PACE, to your final typing test. Even as a Christian, I did not think that was a good thing.
Each PACE was divided into several sections. After a block of instruction and practice problems, there was a quiz called a “Check-up”. At the end of the PACE was a “Self Test”, which was to show you had mastered the information in the PACE. After completing the PACE, it was turned in to a Supervisor and a test was taken the next day.
Scoring the work was accomplished by going to a score station and using a red pen to mark your wrong answers. You then had to return to your office and correct the answer and re-score the work. You did this as many times as was necessary to get it right. I’ll bring up pen colors here. Blue or black was allowed for the students to use during the day. Red ink was only for scoring. Green ink was only for Supervisors and monitors. Even today, at over 40 years old, red and green ink pens still hold almost a mystical quality for me.
One of the most important things in our office was our goal card. Every day, we had to place the number of pages we planned to do in a square that was underneath the subject. We were required to do at least 5 pages in each subject each day, unless a supervisor allowed otherwise. After the goal in each subject was completed, we crossed it off. This was all done in pen, so there could be no cheating. Except for erasable ink, which was fairly new in the early 80’s. If your goals were not finished by the end of the day, you had to ask the teacher for a green “Homework Slip”. On this slip was written what needed to be done to complete the day’s goals, or if you needed to study for a test, memorize scripture verses, etc. Parents signed the slip and it was turned in the next day. The Supervisors performed a “goal check” each morning to ensure everyone was actually doing all of their work.
Any infractions of a rule resulted in a demerit being issued. These were kept logged in a binder. At the end of the day, a student with 3 demerits was given a yellow “Detention Slip”. This slip had to be signed by your parents and returned the next morning and detention was served that day. Three demerits was a 20 minute detention, four was 25, five was 30. Six demerits was automatic swats (spanking). Parents had already signed a slip that allowed the school to administer swats. Swats ranged from 3 to 5, depending in the severity of the infraction or number of demerits. In my own experience, Detention Slips ensured a spanking at home, as did swats. My parents didn’t follow the idea of double jeopardy; they felt if I was bad at school, I deserved the punishment at home. My parents backed the school 100% and did everything they could to make sure I obeyed and learned. As a consequence, I had a VERY good reason to behave at school.
Breaks consisted of a 5 minute break in the morning and afternoon and a 20 minute break for lunch. You had a chance to earn longer breaks by applying for one of three “Levels”. These levels were labeled differently in different schools but always corresponded to “A-C-E Levels”. “A” level would give you two 15 minute breaks and a 25 minute lunch. “C” level would give you two 20 minute breaks, a 25 minute lunch and the ability to score your work without asking for permission. “E” level allowed you freedom to do pretty much as you pleased as long as you completed all of your work. Applying for these levels consisted of completing at least 1.5 PACEs a week for A level, completing 2 PACEs a week along with scripture memorization and a monthly book report for C level, or completing 2 PACEs a week, scripture memorization, a book report every month, and a weekly Christian service for E level. These were something we all coveted, since it give us a bit of freedom.
All students wore a uniform to school. These were known as God and Country uniforms. For boys, it consisted of Navy blue slacks, a red dress shirt and a hideous God and Country necktie. For girls, it was a Navy blue jumper or skirt with a red shirt and a little God and Country neck scarf. Girls had to wear tights or flesh colored stockings, boys had to wear black or blue socks. Everyone wore polishable black shoes. The dress code changed over the years; first we could wear white or red shirts, then red, white or blue shirts. Grey slacks/jumpers were finally allowed. The schools also gave us a little leeway. I remember wearing a red turtleneck shirt for a while and another school let us wear blue or grey Docker or Dickie pants.
Cartoon from an Accelerated Christian Education PACE. Most of the violence and abuse in Independent Baptist group homes can be traced back to Lester Roloff
Part of the indoctrination we received was that shorts were evil on either sex and pants on a woman was the greatest abomination you could imagine. Girls had to wear skirts, dresses or jumpers during the school day. These had to be loose fitting and extend below the knee. For outdoor events or gym times, girls wore a glorified pair of pants called coulattes. All of this was done to help boys avoid temptation and help girls not to become sluts and keep them from tempting us poor, helpless boys.
Another feature of ACE, and fundamentalism in general, is the application of the 6 Inch Rule. This is a rule that states, “All boys and girls must maintain a 6 inch distance from each other”. This rule is a variation of Jack Hyles’ Bible distance rule. He said for a boy and girl to keep a Bible between them, that way by the time they made it past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they would be too ashamed to do anything. I know, a stupid rule, but it was what we had to do.
The King James Version of the Bible was the only Bible we were allowed to use. There was no question or debate in this area, and there was no explanation as to why, either.
I have saved the best part of ACE for last- the cartoons featuring the cast of ACE. Front and center is Ace Virtueson (pronounced Ay-see), the perfect child who is as wise as any adult. Then there is Pudge Meekway, the fat kid. Hapford Humblen, the buck-toothed kid who had a learning disability. Racer, who was almost as good as Ace. Kristi Lovejoy, the female counterpart of Ace. The red headed McMercy sisters. Reginald Upright, another good kid. Then there were the two bad kids, Ronnie Vain and Susie; they were the two non-Christian kids who were always doing bad things. These kids all lived in Highland City and attended an ACE school. The principal was Mr. Friendson.
We can’t forget the subtle racism in ACE. There was another city, called Harmony, where the black kids lived and went to their ACE school. There weren’t too many comics with these kids. Two of these kids were J. Michael Kindhart and Booker. There were a couple of girls, too, but I forget their names. I don’t remember any other races being represented, but I could be wrong.
The kids in these cartoons had all kinds of problems that were solved with the help of wiser, older people or prayer. Some of the stories were blatant rip-offs of Bible stories, some were retellings of Sunday school morality stories. All of these cartoons were designed to fit in with the theme of the PACE you were working on, themes such as honesty, diligence, faithfulness, etc.
There was a code of conduct that had to be followed. Each student had to agree to attend church, have devotions, not go to movies, not listen to rock music, keep their hair appropriately cut (or long, if you were a girl), etc. This was to control our behavior in and out of school. These codes were never a problem for me, since my parents were always more conservative than any school I attended.
Once a year, all the ACE schools held a State Convention in which we would compete for medals and a chance to attend the National Convention. Basketball, track events, singing, art exhibits, preaching, public speaking, spelling bees, choir events, solo singing events, etc. These were all designed to get us ready to preach or enter the mission field. During the times I attended ACE schools, boys had to wear sweat pants and the girls had to wear culottes–for modesty’s sake–for sporting events.
So, this is a brief overview of an ACE school. I hope it will make my next installments a little easier to understand.
What follows is part one of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).
Part 1: The Introduction where I talk about myself and Missionary Kids
Regular and former church-goers might remember these people. They were part of your church but never physically there; opting, instead, to live on the other side of the world as missionaries. Every three or four years they would return and report to the congregation (either taking up a Sunday service or maybe doing the rounds to all the various weekly home groups). They often required someone to dust off an old slide projector so everyone could see their pictures (until the merciful advent of power point).
Maybe you enjoyed these reports, maybe you found them dull or, just maybe, you have no idea what I am talking about. Whatever your perspective please read on if you are interested in finding out more about Christian missionary work (with a specific focus on protestant and evangelical missions).
Before I continue it would be rude of me not to introduce myself. I was not a missionary but the child of missionaries. In 1983, just shy of my 3rd birthday, my parents left the socialist democracy of New Zealand to work as missionaries in the right-wing dictatorship of the Philippines. I and my younger came with them. I grew up immersed in the proselytizing wing of Christianity and, while I am now an unbeliever, for most of my life I was a committed believer. I am, and I always will be, a Missionary Kid (MK).
Hopefully that puts some of what I will discuss in perspective. I am planning on writing about that world; the “frontline” of Christianity (at least that is how the missionaries see it). Obviously this won’t be a “pro-mission” series of writings, but it not intended to be an exposé either; more a personal perspective. For my first entry I am going to introduce the idea of Third Culture Kids.
Any discussion about MKs needs at least make mention of Third Culture Kids. The Wikipedia page provides some decent information if you want to read further but, for now, I am going to provide my own definition of a TCK and how it may have shaped some of my perspectives on life.
Firstly; what is a TCK? Well the best way to answer is to compare it to most people’s own experiences. For the majority of human beings their formative years are spent in the culture of their parents. They are formally educated in their country’s education system and their peers are the children of their parent’s peers. They share the same common history, enjoy the same cultural touchstones and learn the same values. The odds are high that you, reading this, fit into that category. If so then you were or are, depending on your age, a First Culture Kid. You were raised in the culture of your parents and, whether you realize it or not, have and affinity and implicit understanding of its traditions, taboos, and its sense of humor.
The next category is the Second Culture Kids. Unlike the First Culture Kids; these are children who spent their formative years in a culture different to their parents which they were expected to join. The most obvious example, and the only one I can think of, is the children of immigrants. While their perspective on life is shaped by the culture they were raised in their parents still retain the “old” attitudes and values. If you fit into this category you are likely to have experienced some unique conflicts with your parents over the “right way” of doing something. Often what your parent’s value may seem incongruous to what you believe is truly important out of life. This can be over the big issues like acceptable career paths and life-partners or over small issues like wearing jewelry or enjoying certain entertainments. You grow up in a culture different from that of your birth and, as a result, identify more with the new than the old.
That brings us to the group I belong to; TCKs. Like the Second Culture Kids we are raised in a culture different to our home or passport country (as we often call it). We are people who, despite being raised in a different country, are ultimately expected to return and integrate to our passport country’s culture. TCKs come from three main sources as the children of government workers, expatriate business people, or missionaries. It is the MKs that, on average, spend the most time in a single “host” country while the other categories of TCKs move around between more countries and spend less time overseas in total. As a result; MKs often have the hardest time integrating back into their passport country upon their return.
While I did interact with other types of TCKs growing up (my parents were friends with some expatriate workers) the majority of people I grew up with in the Philippines were either Filipinos (of the same Christian denomination as my parents) or other MKs. In other words; while it could be said that I identified with both Filipino and a New Zealand culture it was still through the lens of Christian culture. This meant I was unaware about a lot of Filipino cultural practices – particularly their social gatherings. Like Christians in many other countries the Filipinos my parents worked with had replaced the more “worldly” activities available to them with Christian alternatives. They especially avoided things with alcohol and dancing.
When our family would return to New Zealand on a four-year cycle for a year before going back to the Philippines I had a very similar experience. The people I interacted with the most were family or church people. Again; it was a very Christian-heavy environment. There was, however, one key difference; I always attended the local public schools when I was back. I’ll talk about the specifics of my MK education at another point but the public schooling was interesting to me. Every time I started afresh the other kids always seemed so godless (which they were).
I didn’t stop me wanting to socialize. Not only did I manage to make friends each four-year cycle but I got the added bonus of feeling smug on the inside because of the things I, as a good Christian, refrained from doing. When I was younger not swearing was my main spiritual differentiator but, on subsequent returns to New Zealand, I graduated to avoiding smoking which lead to avoiding drinking, not having sex and deciding not to experiment with drugs. In that regard I was similar to many Christian kids who defined their religious practice by the things they didn’t do.
None of this builds a case for MKs having trouble re-integrating back into the passport country. But I was lucky. I am naturally extroverted and enjoy new experiences so every-time I came back I saw it as an adventure. I also had the good fortune of having long-standing friends from the church that commissioned my parents. At the age of 18 I returned to New Zealand to start University I had a group of friends already and quickly made new ones. I had Uni friends during the week and church friends during the weekend with a slight overlap as a couple of them went to both. For me, unlike many of my former MK classmates and my own siblings, re-integration was relatively easy.
One final word on this topic; I said that I was lucky because of friendships I had to return to and the fact I could easily make new friends. One other aspect is the cultural integration. I wasn’t fully up with the nuances of Kiwi (a term New Zealanders call ourselves) culture but I could fake it until I was. I also was fortunate that I lived in the Philippines where a lot of the population read, speak and understand English. As a result a lot of entertainment (music, tv, film and books) came from North America and the UK – the same place a lot of popular entertainment in New Zealand comes from. When it came to the pop culture of my generation I had very few gaps.
There is a lot to be said for sharing these cultural touchstones. I know some MKs who grew up in remote areas (isolated tribal villages and the like) who found it hard to join in casual conversations when they returned. This was problematic because people in their late teens tend to talk about entertainment a lot and without the shared culture and history to draw upon pop culture can be a powerful way in. In my case I made friends with people who enjoyed similar movies, music, and video games.
Of course I still have moments, although not as often as I used to, where I’m with a group of people. Be it friends or colleagues it is inevitable that the topic will turn to an event reminder of a joke for which I have no point of reference. Many people experience this when moving to a new town or joining a new circle of friends – but try to imagine that on a completely cultural level. A level where you realize that this was something that everyone in the country probably knows. It is this reason that many TCPs seek out each other’s company and the company of immigrants. Regardless of whether or not we have a shared history we all understand the feeling of being a cultural outsider.
Traversing the culture gaps are further complicated by the fact that MKs look like the people of their passport country. Often certain allowances that are made for immigrants are not made for us when it comes to understanding slang words or making social faux pas. This affects MKs differently depending on their personality. While I am the type to laugh at my mistakes I have seen others who retreat very quickly from groups once they have done something they might deem humiliating. It probably doesn’t help that most of the MKs are returning home in their teens to either complete high school or because they have just graduated.
It isn’t all negative though. When I think about my childhood I realize I had an opportunity most people don’t have. I experienced two countries, two cultures and two ways of life which are very different from each other. My experiences were mostly positive and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I look at MKs I find that those who take the perspective of both cultures with them and are able to appreciate those unique experiences that those from either one wouldn’t have are the ones who do the best in life. This is regardless of whether they end up living in their host country, their passport country or somewhere else entirely.
I won’t elaborate further as this will start to bleed into some other topics I plan to write about. For those who have found this interesting so far: I am busy but will do my best to write more so if there are any questions that you have feel free to leave them in the comments and I will take them on board when writing future updates. I will give you an indication of some other ideas I already have like the “call” to missions, MK education, Mission agencies, the validity of mission work, and maybe even a look at the Open/Plymouth Brethren.
In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.
Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.
Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.
Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:
– You’re ready to leave.
– You’re ok.
– They need to step in.
Visit on Neutral Territory.
By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.
Keep Visits Short and Sweet.
My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.
Have an Itinerary.
Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.
Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.
People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).
Make a List of “Safe” Topics
…and stick to them.
I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!
I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.
Choose Your Battles.
Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.
“The Bible says…”
“Come to church with me this weekend.”
“I want to teach your kids about God.”
“You’re going to hell!”
There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.
Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.
It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.
Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :
How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?
How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?