Making Difficult Decisions About Schooling

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, in July 1990, with an 8-month-old baby boy. In all the thoughts of transitioning to a new country, it never occurred to us that there wouldn’t be a school for our children to attend. In one of our first missionary team meetings after we arrived, we found ourselves listening to a lively discussion about the cost of international schools and about the decision that, moving forward, all missionaries would homeschool their children until high school.

This news came as a bit of a shock to me. When the time came for us to choose a curriculum, the process was pretty simple. We looked around at all the missionary kids and went to the mother of the family whose children seemed to be doing well with their education. We asked her what curriculum she used to teach her children. That’s what I ordered.

Some of the things our children said they enjoyed about studying at home were:

“We would learn about another country, and then we would go there.”

“It was so easy to get from one country to another.”

“I loved that you could make some choices about what we wanted to study and learn deeply about it.”

“I loved the Greece project.”

“I loved the Egypt project.”

“We would often invite other missionaries and Thai friends over to see our presentations.”

I found that having this extra time with my children (time I wouldn’t have had in the United States) was very helpful in balancing our ministry time. On the missions field, we did everything together. We went all over town, attended funerals, spent time at our Thai church, and had overnight guests on a regular basis. Our time of homeschooling was a time when we could study at our own pace, focus on learning and read God’s Word. Our children had more time to read and write than we might have had in a traditional school.

I found that I enjoyed teaching our children and ended up getting a master’s degree in education. This degree also allowed me to teach at an international school my children could attend for free. Other MKs received tuition assistance because of my teaching position at the school. Our children actually loved this option most. We spent hours together traveling back and forth in Bangkok traffic, which gave us time to talk and laugh.

Here are some things our children said about the international school:

“Going to the international school was great. It allowed us to feel comfortable working with people from lots of different backgrounds.”

“We were always willing to learn other languages because our friends spoke them.”

 “We got to play sports and do musicals like normal kids do.”

Living overseas afforded our children some special opportunities. They lived in an exotic country and grew up with unusual animals that you have to see in a zoo in the US. All 3 of our children were called on to create voice-overs and English-teaching videos, and they were even able to be in commercials that were shown in Japan and the US. They met famous people who traveled to our country.

MK schooling may be one of the most sensitive topics for missionaries. Our children felt enriched from living in another country during the years they were growing up. They naturally learned other languages through friendships they developed. All 3 of them lived overseas until they returned to the US to go to university, and they had a few stateside adjustments.

Unfortunately, many families end up going back to the US because of the lack of support in some areas of the world for MK schooling. I encourage us all to pray for missionaries all over the world as they make tough decisions about schooling options for their children.


Claudia Johnson is the CWLC director and leadership consultant at national WMU. 

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