I’m thrilled to welcome Laurie Fowler as the first of many guest bloggers over the next several months. Laurie is a pastor’s wife and a mom to four grown children. Today, she’s sharing about raising her children on the mission field in Ecuador. She blogs at www.bymywindow.com.
Becoming a parent is an awesome privilege. No matter if the entrance into parenthood is somewhat by chance or carefully planned, raising the next generation is an amazing responsibility. What values do I want to pass on? How do I continue growing and learning while seeing to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of my family? What virtues from my own childhood are important – and what do I want to avoid with my children? How do I pass on my faith?
When I became a parent I felt great joy, a tremendous duty, and crippling fear. I knew my own failings, my own weaknesses, but I also had hope for the future and a plan to nurture my children to love God and mankind. I had a general idea of the life I wanted to establish for my family. But life is messy and loud and unexpected and rarely turns out as planned. Yet, God had a way of making our story even better than I ever could have imagined.
When I was 9 years old, my parents began a journey of faith that took our family of 4 children and a dog away from our relatives in the Pacific Northwest to the West Texas desert, the Midwest, and New England. The relocations affected me greatly – and for years I felt mostly negative about all our moves. I disliked always being the new kid, adjusting to distinctive cultures, and losing my sense of security. In fact, when my husband and I became engaged, I asked him to promise me we wouldn’t move around a lot.
Over the course of time, however, I was forced to examine my attitude about my own childhood and began to reflect on what I gained from so much travel. I had an insight of different cultures within this one country and appreciated the benefits and foibles of each. I also understood the universality of the human spirit. I was actually a richer person because of my experiences. That realization made possible the biggest decision in our family’s history – moving abroad. With 4 children. History repeating itself.
When my husband and I began contemplating a move overseas to be missionaries, I knew I would have to see firsthand what living in a third world country would look like for our family. It’s one thing to adventure alone or as a couple, but another thing entirely to bring along other little humans in your care. Mark and I traveled to Ecuador to see how missionary families lived within another culture and I pledged to be open-minded to what I encountered. While I was certainly struck by the amazing beauty and devastating poverty, my heart saw people as just that – people. With hopes and desires the same as mine. And their greatest need was common to all mankind: knowing Jesus, who intensely loves them.
The basic missionary philosophy begins with an understanding that as guests in a foreign society one must have an attitude of humility and a desire to learn and adapt. That approach gives value to people and draws them into relationship and acceptance. As a result, each family we observed tried to live in the same economic status as those they ministered to, taking into consideration their family’s personal traditions. They observed their own country’s holidays and made their home a haven for family, while still immersing themselves in their adopted country.
But the overlying reality of moving to another country to minister was the belief that we are firstly citizens of heaven – that this, my home country and my adopted country, is temporary. That where we invest our resources, our attention, and affections show what we truly value. That love requires sacrifice, and obedience to a calling from God will ultimately be rewarded.
In grappling with the decision to uproot my family, God was very kind to me. While flying over the Amazon jungle in a single engine plane, God gave me the biggest revelation of my life: He does not view one person as more valuable than another. He loves my children more than I do, and had a plan for each of their lives as well as mine and my husband’s. The children are not just along for the ride, but a vital part of the great experience and adventure. The Christian life is meant to be rich, abundant, full.
And so, with my anxieties stilled and our minds made up, we began to educate and prepare ourselves and our children. We read missionary stories and biographies. We got Spanish books and even took a Conversational Spanish course. I determined that I would be positive and excited about this new undertaking, come what may. We were not disappointed.
In our ten years overseas we experienced the best of times and the worst of times. Frankly, life is life, no matter the geography of where it’s lived. As parents, I know sometimes we got it right, and sometimes we failed miserably. Just like every other parent on the planet. But making the choice to raise our children in Ecuador most definitely provided an inner wealth we would have missed otherwise. We integrated our lives with nationals and ex-patriots alike. Our home was a meeting place for anyone, and we were happy. Most of the time we were all in with nationals and ministry, but sometimes we just needed Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and a movie in English.
Lessons I hope we taught our children (and learned ourselves) were that people are just people, no matter their race or social status. When I have more, I have a duty to give to those with less. When I have little, I practice self-denial. Materialism is empty and fleeting, but friendships are forever. God will always supply all our needs. God listens to and answers our prayers. Actions speak louder than words – if I say it and don’t do it, I lose credibility. We serve a God who sees and cares and who loves to give good gifts to His children – whoever and wherever they are.
When I observe my adult children, I can see the advantages of growing up in a different culture. They all love diversity and feel out-of-place if everyone looks and acts the same. (They attended school where the students hailed from 48 different countries). They see the world differently – they are “third culture kids” – belonging to both the foreign country of their childhood (which for my younger children was the real ‘home’), and the country of their birth. They love all kinds of food and aren’t afraid to try to learn new things. They are generous, hospitable, hard workers, and welcome challenges of all kinds. They have lived with much and with little, and can adjust accordingly. They love travel and all of them have traveled internationally both for pleasure and on mission trips. They have an eternal perspective and believe that people are the most precious thing on earth, deserving of dignity and honor. They support world and domestic missions, and also address injustice in their daily lifestyle – whether working with the homeless, children in need, refugees, women in crisis, or the poor in spirit. They are fantastic encouragers. They’re not afraid to reach out and make their circle of friends bigger. When they love, it’s with all their heart. They are people of prayer and faith and have witnessed God do amazing things. They esteem family and strive to offer their best at home. They have witnessed the truth that ministry and family are not mutually exclusive, but designed by God to function in beautiful harmony as a picture of what God wants for the world.
Everything we do teaches our children something. Within a family you see your behavior and decisions impact each member. I’m grateful we followed our hearts and our calling, choosing to apply to ourselves God’s mandate to Joshua when he was preparing to enter the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous, and do not be afraid.” And that has made all the difference.