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The cost of change includes children

Former CMS missionary Helen Reid (who served with Andrew in the Middle East) knows that being ‘all things to all people’ will be costly for children as well as parents. Read about some of those costs and how her family responded.

“Every Aussie kid should be able to ride a bike,” said my Australian friend, newly arrived in the Middle East. Easy for you to say, I thought as I wondered where on earth kids were meant to ride a bike safely in a large and busy city, with no footpaths and parks.

Families moving overseas face many issues as they seek to point people to Jesus not just through their official ministries, but in daily life. Do we give up our family traditions because they are different to the culture we are going to? What do we hold onto and what do we change?

When we moved to the Middle East, we had two very small children. We didn’t want to give up our bedtime routines, including that our children slept in their own beds and not with us. This was culturally very different to our Middle Eastern friends. However, in talking with some of our local friends, they thought it a good thing that Andrew and I had time without the children each evening. We did make some compromises such as taking the kids to Arabic church. That meant one late night a week for them, but we thought it was important to do this.

Each year CMS would generously send us a pastoral visitor. They didn’t just ask us questions about our work and ministry, but also how we were going as a family. Talking through some of these issues face-to-face was a helpful part of these pastoral visits.

Sacrificing time away from family was significant. Christmas was always a strange time. I missed my family in Australia and some of our traditions. Christmas in our location was celebrated on the 7th January, however many expats in our location would want to hold to the 25th December. We tried to save our main celebration until the 7th January, even though we were thought of as weird! Local Christians would spend the day with their families, so we would usually invite some other friends around for a meal on the 7th. We had family traditions of having Advent readings each evening, a Christmas tree, special food and gifts, but it still wasn’t the same.

Coming back to Australia we said goodbye to many dear friends and ministries. However we also gave up parts of our identity. I was no longer a teacher and leader in the school. We were no longer CMS missionaries and we didn’t know who we were anymore. I was challenged by a talk where the speaker said we shouldn’t be defined by what we do, but who we are in Christ. This has meant that I have become more content with my new life and tried to focus on being Christ-like in my situation.

From our children’s perspective, they have given up far more coming to live back in Australia, than when they lived in the Middle East. They have given up dear friends, a small and loving school community, an (English) church where they had a role to play, as well as continuous sunshine and warmth! Those things are taking a long time to replace in Melbourne. To this day, only one of them can ride a bike!


Helen has some excellent thoughts on how churches and individuals can help children of missionaries settle in Australia. See them here.