“I’m willing to go to the mission field, but what about my children? They are going to need an education.”
That is a good question, and many potential missionary families have asked it. AFM tries hard to keep expenses down, and we adjust missionary salaries to meet the average cost of living in the country of service. So when the cost of living in those countries is significantly cheaper than living in the U.S., what happens when the family has to purchase education supplies from the States or when their children return here for academy or college? In some cases, the tuition cost may be more than the missionary family’s annual field salary.
The AFM Children’s Education Fund is part of the answer to this challenge. This fund, along with money the students earn at work, allows them to pay for Adventist academy and college education. And when the children are still in the field, it also helps the families access quality home-study programs and craft other activities to expand their children’s minds and encourage academic development.
Because of the Children’s Education Fund, AFM missionary children are able to participate in their family’s mission and still lay a great foundation for professional adult lives. Some of these missionary children have completed the circle and now serve as second-generation AFM missionaries.
I have visited a number of AFM projects where the surrounding community members highly cherished missionary children, named their babies after them and spoke about them with fondness and respect. Many could lovingly trace their conversions back to contact with these children and time they spent together. But if education wasn’t available in the field, then those children wouldn’t be there.
Missionary John Holbrook recently shared some fond memories about his education as the son of missionaries while growing up in the jungles of the Philippines. Although he initially complained about homeschool education, he later realized it was the best education he could possibly have received.
“As soon as I finished school each afternoon, I would run out to the village and have free run of the valley. My friends and I would dig up roots to eat, build ourselves little houses, help plant crops or play kickball. I remember a time when my best friend was away, and I spent each afternoon in his family’s house talking with a patient living there. She gave her life to Jesus largely because of those talks.
“Then, of course, there was the translation. It was tedious drudgery to sit and translate or edit for hour after hour with my dad, but it gave me a real, tangible part in our mission. The translation work gave me identity as a missionary with my family, and it gave me practical training in linguistics that no school could have.”
Dozens of other missionary children could happily echo these sentiments. While they engage in their studies during half the day and do chores and play during the other half, there are plenty of opportunities for them to engage in their own side of the mission. They assist the sick, give Bible studies, teach music, literacy or health, and exert Christian influence. Others help with Sabbath School classes or vacation Bible schools. Sure, they play ball, too. Some hunt and fish, make baskets or do other things common in their areas. It’s all part of being members of the community, learning languages, making friends and growing up.
These children are missionary gold! Their minds are learning to contend with languages and work effectively with people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures. They are taking part in the Great Commission. When they return to the U.S. to complete their high-school or college education, some may temporarily struggle from the shift in cultures and the loss of people who share their values and concerns. This is to be expected, and there are things that should be done to assist them. But, as they mature and complete their education, their chances of going back as quality student or career missionaries are very high. And when they go back to the mission field, they are so much further ahead than those without such childhood experience.
Whether they go back to the mission field or not, their lives here at home can be profoundly impacted by that experience, and they are still a treasure.
John Baxter, who raised two lovely, intelligent daughters while serving in India, was quite pleased when each of them decided to serve as student missionaries. He expressed to me his deep appreciation for all the donors who invested in their education for Christian service. He said access to such educational assistance is what allows missionaries with children to go to the mission field.
Notice, though, that, in a strange twist, educational aid can also be the very thing that sends them to the mission field and that prepares them for it. Here is John Holbrook again: “I had no idea that people back in the States were sacrificing in order to make sure I got the best education possible in the jungles of the Philippines. Now that I know, I wish there were some way that I could thank them. It would be impossible, this side of heaven, to track down all those faithful donors and express my gratitude. But if I could, I would want them to know that their investment paid off. Their sacrifice was worth it. Not only will hundreds of Alangan people be in the kingdom because they supported my family, but my education prepared me to be a career missionary, too. In that jungle school I learned to love God, and I developed a desire to serve the lost. Now I am working as a missionary, and those gifts and sacrifices have multiplied many times over.”
AFM has more missionaries in the field now than ever before. When you invest in the Children’s Education Fund, you are investing in their children, a noble deed in and of itself, and their parents are extremely grateful. But you are also investing in a harvest from today’s mission field, tomorrow’s mission field, and in the good of society around you. For that, a much larger crowd will someday thank you!