Am I a Horrible Parent for Moving My Kids (Back) to Africa?

If you ever asked us what our family life will look like in Cameroon, you probably heard, “Oh, we have no idea.” Or if you asked how exactly we would manage to homeschool the kids and do a linguistic analysis of a language, we most likely said, “Oh, we'll cross that bridge when it comes.”

Not worrying (or thinking) about tomorrow has more or less been our modus operandi these past few years as we've sought to conquer one stage of life at a time. But the “tomorrow” of Cameroon has come, and thus I am forced to ask myself the questions that my friends and family have been asking me for years, namely . . . . what in the world am I doing?! How can I pull my kids from a life they love and take them to one of the poorest, most diseased-filled places in the world for a cause they do not (yet?) believe in?

Currently our kids are used to playing in the Olympic stadium just around the corner from our house. They know where the neighborhood castle is, and if ever we visit a different city, they are always on the lookout for that city’s local castle. They go to a school where they are being taught how to properly brush their teeth, how to recycle, and of course how to speak French. It is not uncommon for me to come home with a handful of birthday invitations that their little friends gave them at school. And if they cannot go to school, they cry. America is a faint memory, but France is their home, and being surrounded by the amazing Alps is their normal.

Now we are taking them to a remote, poor village in Africa without electricity, a school, or a nearby hospital. Dave and I are now their teachers, their school buddies are now their brothers and sisters, and their parents are going to make them wear long sleeves and long pants in the hot African weather to avoid being bit by malaria-ridden mosquitoes (sorry kids!). Not only that, but our household pets will be a dog (yay!), a cat (yay!), and cockroaches (yay?). There will not be swimming lessons, gymnastics, Little League, or Sunday school. There might be a DVD on a really sunny day if our solar panels can generate enough energy. And say goodbye to ice cream and snack foods.

I have to ask myself: Am I a terrible mom? Can I really ask my kids to do this? These haunting questions have forced me to turn to the Word of God and I have walked away with the following responses.

Not the Center of the Universe

A child’s first word after “mommy” and “daddy” is typically “mine!” Why? Because we are all selfish by nature. I would argue that most children go through their day thinking not about what they can give but about what they can get. And if this attitude is not corrected, these kids turn out to be adults who swear at the poor cell phone rep because the iPhone color they wanted was all sold out.

Thus, it is a service to children to expose them to those whose problems are bigger than their own. It is a service to show them poverty, suffering, the effects of AIDS, and the reality of death. This, by God’s grace, can show them that it is absolutely absurd to complain about what their mom made them for dinner when there are children literally outside their window who have not eaten all day. It serves them to see that it is ridiculous to complain about their 14 sets of clothes when their village playmates are dressed in rags. And maybe, just maybe, the Lord will use this exposure to suffering to take their eyes off themselves for just a minute and enter into the life and pain of another. When this happens there are no limits to what they can accomplish in service to humanity.

I Have Duties Outside of Being a Parent

I am a Christian first. My first love is not my family, my first love is Jesus Christ, and thus I follow not the ever-changing whims and desires of my children, but the eternal desires and commands of my Savior. I have yet to discover a footnote to the Great Commission that says it was intended only for singles and that mothers and fathers are exempt.

This is the heart of my Savior, that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation bow before him, that the poor of this world be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, and that those who are weak in the world would shame the strong, that his Word be spread all over this world. So, as a Christian, his priorities become my priorities, and I am honored be a small part of his redemption of the world.

These Duties Do Not Contradict What I Am Called to as a Parent

I have other priorities as a mother, but in the wisdom of God, these duties do not contradict the priority to advance the kingdom of God. The Proverbs call parents to be channels of his wisdom to their children. For example, Proverbs 3 starts with “My son” and then the rest of the chapter instructs this child to trust in God, to not be wise in his own eyes, to fear God, to turn from evil, to not envy a man of violence, and so on.

I have yet to find a verse that commands me to make sure my children have a balanced diet, are involved in extracurricular activities, and are well socialized. These are wonderful things that I strive for, but I often need to remind myself to not feel guilty for taking something from my children that I was never commanded to give them. According to the Bible, my success as a parent is measured by my faithfulness to raise my children in the discipline and teaching of the Lord, and this is something, by God’s grace, I can do anywhere.

But I Can Still Dream Big and Pray Big

I admit that raising kids in a remote village in Africa is, in some ways, less than ideal. Yet my hope cannot be in what age they begin to read, their opportunities to play team sports, or if they have good Christian friends. Instead my hope needs to be in God who often saves and uses people from less-than-ideal backgrounds. Thus I am forced to turn my eyes from the opportunities I can or cannot give my children and turn my eyes to God who hears my prayers.

And in the meantime, I can still dream and pray big for my children. I pray that my kids will be able to step outside of culture and evaluate it biblically. I pray that they will be used to change the continent of Africa. I pray that they will learn how to do oral Bible storytelling and spread the Word of God to children in Cameroon. I pray that they will be deaf, not to the cries of the poor, but to the allure of entertainment. I pray that they will help orphans. 

To conclude, I do feel somewhat bad taking my kids from the Alps to Africa, but I do not think these feelings stem from God. When I let my mind rest on the desires of God in bringing the nations to Jesus and on his power to answer my prayers for my kids, I can move to Africa and not look back.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Stacy Hare's personal blog

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