23 August, 2011
For Those Who Came In Late...Part IV
"Okay, so what about your kids? How do you justify taking them overseas and effectively denying them the opportunities that other kids in your home countries have?"
Ah, good question. So far, we've got one little boy, Levi, and one baby due any day now, (we don't know if it's a boy or a girl yet). Children of missionaries are usually referred to as "MK's", (Missionary Kids). I know a lot about MK's, because I am one, (or "was one" if you prefer--though once you've got it, the MK title usually sticks with you for life, sort of like OBE, or Ph.D. "Andrew Koens, MK".)
Back to the question--let's examine what life is like for an MK. Naturally, what an MK gets out of his experiences depends largely on what he puts in to it and on what kind of person he is, (I hope you'll forgive me for not saying "his/her" or "he/she"--I have a limited amount of patience for that kind of silliness in writing, and I expect my readers will know what I mean). So!
Many PNG MK's will admit that they don't have access to the following:
--video game arcades,
--cheap high speed internet,
--fast food chains,
--the latest fashions in clothing and hairstyles,
--the latest music,
--a chance to get a paying job,
--etc., the list could go on and on.
But most of those MK's will also tell you that they've never missed any of these things, (oh sure, you get the odd one who hates his life and is determined to be miserable), but as I've already said, what you get out of being an MK depends a lot on what you put in to being an MK. Besides the usual things that are common to all MK's around the world, like learning to eat strange food, learning to wear strange clothing or learning local language and customs back-to-front until they become second nature, most of the MK's I know in Ukarumpa are pretty creative in one way or another:
--some build their own go-carts from bits of broken motorcycles,
--others make their own clothing or jewelry,
--an extraordinary number of them are talented musicians.
--some take advantage of the high school workshop to become decent carpenters or metal workers,
--some will participate in the weekly soccer game.
--some will get into rugby.
--some are pretty good photographers, (and PNG presents the skilled photographer with no end of interesting subject matter to shoot).
--Some PNG MK's will get ahold of some old car and will learn how to keep it running on next to no money.
--Many ride motorcycles, some will organise motorcycle trips to the cities of Lae, Madang, or Mt. Hagen (I've been involved in a number of these). Some get involved in local off-road motorcycle racing or trail riding.
(PNG MK Palmer B., out having fun on his bike)
--Some get into horse riding and will even get involved in small scale horsemanship competitions.
--There are opportunities for those who are interested in acting, (I've been in several community theater productions myself).
--there are several talent shows each year,
--the topography around Ukarumpa is good for paragliding, so some will get into that,
--many will come up with creative ways to make money like making ginger beer or rhubarb beer (non-alcoholic), baking cookies, running a small scale dairy, providing needed services like cleaning out water storage tanks or cleaning hot water system solar panels, car washes, babysitting or dog sitting, to name a few.
--some will travel out to a translator's language group and will help out with cooking or babysitting while the translators are busy teaching a course in the village
--many will learn a sense of responsibility quite early in their lives,
--most will develop meaningful and lasting relationships not only with Papua New Guineans, but also with their MK peers, who come to PNG from all over the world,
--most, after leaving PNG, are likely to travel to other parts of the world as time and money permit--the wanderlust never quite leaves them,
--many will end up with a deeper appreciation of their home countries; both for what those countries have to offer, and for the problems that face those countries.
--most will end up with a global world view, a better then average understanding and appreciation of different cultures and how cultures can impact relationships between people,
--and again, this list could go on and on.
This is not to suggest that an MK's home-country peers are in any way inferior, or are not capable of all the same things that an MK may be capable of. Far be it from me to suggest that. It's just MK's live so much of this stuff first hand. Their knowledge is based on life experience, and the nature of their lives often demands that they learn things that "normal" kids simply don't need to. The reverse is also true and there are lots of funny stories out there about MK's who went back to their home countries and couldn't figure out how to get a driver's license or open a bank account, as they'd just never had to do that before, or were used to doing that kind of thing in a very different way, (most end up landing on their feet, though).
The parents aren't left out, either. In addition to the many things I've learned about and from PNG and PNGians, I've also learned a ton of stuff about and from my fellow missionaries. Strange non-PNG food that I have learned to like are Vegemite (Australia), and salmiakki (Finland--though this one wasn't too big of a stretch for me because I already liked dutch dubbel zout), and pickled kumquats (China--okay, nobody taught me to like these--I found them in a local store and bought them on a whim--I loved 'em!). Some of my best friends now are Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders for those who don't know), and Finns, (and of course, Papua New Guineans!). Over the years I have worked closely with Koreans, Germans, Dutch, Japanese, Swedes, and others and have gained an appreciation for each of their different approaches to the work we're all involved in.
So you see, I don't look at the mission field as a place that lacks opportunities for kids; I look at it as a place that offers a whole different set of opportunities. Speaking to my own experiences, I've never once regretted the fact that I grew up in Peru and didn't have the same opportunities my peers in the US had. I treasure the upbringing I had, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! As a kid, I loved being an MK.
And it's still true today, though slightly different--as a kid I loved experiencing a life that was different from anything my American peers were experiencing. As an adult, I love being involved in the work in PNG. Even though there are some aspects my job that frustrate me nearly to tears from time to time, I still plan to keep doing it for as long as we can. I look back on all the jobs I had before, and although I did love one or two of them, none of them can hold a candle to the one I have now. Yes, there are some things I would dearly love to change about my work, (for example, I'd love to have at least three guys doing my job, as there is more than enough work for three men), but the satisfaction of knowing that I am supporting something worthwhile, something of potentially eternal significance and not just fixing toys for people who have too much money, is priceless to me.
End of Part IV