What’s it like to be a missionary kid?

Chris and Ros Howles

What’s it like to be a missionary kid? Here are a few of our thoughts - pros and cons of growing up in Namugongo as opposed to the UK:

Pros…

  • They are learning to really live in relationship with other people: In the UK it was rare to have unexpected visitors, we would book up dinners with friends months in advance, our house was our own and our front door was closed. Here, we have visitors from the UK staying with us about one third of the time and we have very regular unannounced visits from friends and students – at least 10 a day. Sometimes we walk out from the bathroom and find someone in our lounge sitting waiting for us. Almost always we’ll stop what we’re doing, get them a drink and talk about life generally, until they bring up what they wanted to talk to us about (if there was indeed anything in the first place!). We never, ever get total privacy unless we leave Namugongo. We love the fact that the kids are learning to live life in a community - to be hospitable, to share, to welcome, to be open. These are precious lessons in life and we’re glad that that they have no great separation between the public and the private.
  • They LOVE the outdoors: Josh, Dan and Chloe spend hours a day outside, 365 days a year. They spend hours each day climbing trees, sword-fighting with sticks and digging in the soil. We leave the door open and they come and go as they please. Even homeschooling is done outdoors. They can go and pick up and play with a baby chick whenever they want - something we used to have to pay about £10 for in the UK! They are fit, healthy and fascinated by the world. We think that’s a fine way to spend your childhood.
  • They think it’s normal to be Christian: I know a false understanding of the world is not a good thing, but the fact that they live in a society saturated by church-going people who talk about Jesus easily makes it very easy to keep Christ at the centre of their worldview. The fact that they have around 350 other kids in their Sunday school means that they are not ‘odd-ones out’. We do engage with them about how things are different in the UK but, for now, this is a blessed way to grow up. 
  • They avoid the worst of UK cultural values and get the best Ugandan ones: Some of their friends have literally not a single toy in the world and our kids have hardly seen an advert directed at children in their whole lives (‘you MUST own this toy’ etc.). It means they are kept freer from the rampant materialism that is so ‘in your face’ in the UK and they understand how blessed they are to have what they have. Also, they are less exposed to sexual ideas that kids get exposed to so early on in the UK. Furthermore, they get to see certain beautiful Ugandan values lived out: friendliness, helpfulness, sharing and self-sacrifice.
  • Good food: Rarely a day goes by when we don’t miss the ease of UK convenience foods (Frozen peas! Pizzas! Salad in bags!) but they do eat well as a result. Food is almost all fresh, cooked from scratch and diverse: Ugandan food such as matoke and posho plus western food like bread and pasta.
  • No gadgets: Our kids have never swiped or tapped anything really and, for now, we like that.
  • They see real life: Life here is so much more rugged, so much less sanitised, so much more dangerous, thrilling and unpredictable. These kids get exposed to poverty, death, disease and brokenness far more than they ever would at this age in the UK. We like that these children are under no false allusions about what life involves for the majority of people in the world. That’s a very ‘real’ way to grow up. 
  • They get to be where God wants them:  A great piece of advice we were given many years ago is that the best place for your kids to grow up is where God has called you as parents. We’re absolutely convinced that this is the right place for us to be right now, the place where God has been preparing us for for many years. This is the right place for us to be and so that makes it the right place for them to be. 

Cons…

  • They are hassled all the time: They are at times very slow to trust people because they are poked, prodded, stared at, gossiped about and hassled by folk whenever they leave the college gates. They will have groups of children stare for 10-15 minutes at them as they play on a swing. They will have a total stranger grab them and pretend to ‘steal’ them regularly because they think that’s funny. They cannot trip over without people diving to pick them up. They cannot be one of a crowd, they cannot be anonymous, they cannot have any privacy. This doesn’t annoy them much at their age yet, but we worry what impact it has on a kid when they are forever the centre of everyone’s attention. We have to make sure as they grow up that they don’t feel that the world revolves around them. 
  • They do not have access to facilities like in the UK: There are no castles, adventure parks, woods to walk in, leisure centres to play in, holiday clubs, playgroups, scouts, football matches, ice-rinks or beaches. Given that we ourselves grew up with all these blessings, it seems a shame that we can’t also enable the kids to enjoy and learn from them too.
  • They are away from their family: They go years without seeing their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is a great sadness that they are growing up without regular time with extended family. 
  • They live with stressed parents: Life here is much harder in many ways than our lives were in the UK, even when I was a teacher in a failing London secondary school and Ros an NHS doctor. That causes us to be stressed sometimes and take this out on each other and even them. Thankfully, we do feel this is lessening with time, as crossing cultures becomes easier and more practised.  
  • They can’t go to school: The commute is far too long to take them to a British-curriculum school and we feel the loss of their not being with other children in a school community. 
  • They don’t know their own cultural identity: We still call the UK home, but why should they? None of them have spent more than eight months of their lives in the UK. Are they Ugandan then? They look and act so different to most Ugandans. What is their culture? If/when we return to the UK permanently, how will they fit in? How will they know how to act and live? 
  • It’s much less safe here for them: Roads are extremely dangerous, sickness and diseases are both more common and can be more serious. We pray regularly for the Lord to keep them safe. 
  • No snow: I know the kids would want us to say this – for them it’s the biggest problem of life here! 
  • They say goodbye so often: We LOVE visitors, but we all feel it when they leave. The kids are very used to saying hellos and goodbyes. We don’t want the kids to grow up having trouble forming any long-term attachments because they are wired to presume it’s going to end soon. 
  • They sometimes take on board too much of Ugandan culture: This includes the acceptability of litter-dropping, a disregard for animal welfare, only ever eating with hands and rarely using a please or thank you. 

Please do pray for Josh (8), Danny (5) and Chloe (3). Pray that the pros mentioned above would always be cherished by them and that the cons wouldn't affect them too negatively. Pray that they would be developing godly characteristics and that they would continue as followers of the Lord Jesus as they grow up.