What’s it like to be a missionary kid?

Chris and Ros Howles

Chris and Ros Howles – working at Uganda Martyrs Seminary in Namugongo – share some of the challenges for their three children:

They have little privacy

They’re often poked, prodded, stared at, gossiped about and hassled. They cannot be one of a crowd, they cannot be anonymous, and they stand out clearly in their Sunday school as three white children amongst 400 Ugandan kids. This can sometimes frustrate them, but also we have to make sure as they grow up that they don’t feel that the world revolves around them.

It’s less safe for them here

Roads are extremely dangerous, sickness and diseases are more common and can be more serious. Even just walking to our local shops can be a genuinely hazardous affair.

They too readily absorb the culture

They sometimes take on board aspects of Ugandan culture that we don’t like so much, such as the acceptability of litter-dropping, a disregard for some animal welfare and only ever eating with their hands. We regularly stress to them the importance of mixing aspects of both British and Ugandan cultures. 

They don’t know their own cultural identity. 

We still call the UK home but why should they? Danny and Chloe have spent just eight months of their lives there in total and Josh left before he was two. Are they Ugandan then? But they look and act so differently to Ugandans! If or when we return to the UK permanently, how will they know how to act and live? How will they fit in there? Or anywhere?

They live with frequently stressed parents. 

Life for us here is much harder than it was for us in the UK, even than when I (Chris) was a teacher in a failing London secondary school and Ros an NHS doctor. Our emotions are more on the edge here and it’s so easy to take this out on each other and them. Thankfully, we do feel this is lessening with time as crossing cultures becomes easier and more practised.  

No snow!

I know the kids would want us to say this – for them, no snow is the biggest problem of life here! There’s also no castles, adventure parks, woods to freely walk in, leisure centres, scouts, football matches, ice-rinks or seaside. 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 say goodbye so often. 

We LOVE visitors, but we all feel it when they leave. We don’t want the kids to grow up having trouble forming long-term attachments because they are wired to presume it’s going to end soon. 

They miss family contact.

They go years without seeing grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is a particular sadness that they are growing up without regular time with extended family.

Having said this, there are so many benefits to life as they know it: they spend hours each day outdoors climbing trees, sword-fighting with sticks and digging in the soil. They think it’s normal to be Christian - having so many other kids in their Sunday school means that in that sense they are not ‘odd-ones out’. They get to see certain beautiful Ugandan values lived out: friendliness, helpfulness, sharing and self-sacrifice. They are learning to live in an open-house, in relationship with others. And, ultimately, 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. 

Please do pray for Josh (10), Danny (8) and Chloe (5). 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.

Find out more about how best to pray for missionary kids.