Missionary children – God, mission families and collateral damage

Woo – way off track. The Yahoo Chefoo group has sputtered into life again. You won't know – because I never told you that I left home to go to boarding school (Chefoo in Japan) at the age of 6 and left home in the Far East to go for a British education in boarding school at the age of 10. It did me no lasting damage and I believe did me a lot of good but the same can't be said for the many hundreds of missionary children who went through the system. 

These days missionary families stay together. The children go to international schools and flying to and from the countries of origin is workable. But there is a shameful silence around the experiences of missionary children. The few books written about school experiences are highly selective about the stories they use. One of the wonders of the internet is that it allows stories to be told which have been suppressed by well meaning organisations. Missionary organisations are keen not to dampen the generosity of donors and other supporters. Or to terrify the next wave of recruits coming out of the colleges and heading for the planes. By suggesting that if this is the vocation they have chosen then perhaps having children isn't such a good idea.

These stories need to be told. Remember that children very clearly get the impression that their parents vocation and productivity is more important than their own needs or the family identity which expands and contracts like a rubber band to suit. With the sanction that comes from the terrible phrase 'Its God's will'.  These days we are more apt to call this spiritual abuse. Because children don't have the power to say no – I can't cope. Stop it.

One of the most bizarre and moving experiences of my life was sitting in a Japanese church jetlagged, sleepless and hungover on a whistlestop visit to Honda's head office and Dentsu our parent agency.  A deputation of elderly Japanese asked me whether I had been damaged by my childhood experiences because of the enforced separation from my family so young. I said no – honestly. And then they offered their thanks for the sacrifices I had been forced to make. It was surreal and I was hardly in a fit state to cope with it but I honour them for making the effort. Nobody else has bothered to say as much.

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