by Camille Robbins1
I taught my kids at home (grades kindergarten through grade eight for one or the other) as well as enrolling them in regular school. Cara, our daughter, has been at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya since ninth grade. In the fall, our son, Caleb, will also go away to school.
I also am an MK. I started boarding school at the age of seven. I would like to mention five things I have learned from my experiences as an MK and as a parent.
1. I believe our whole family was called into ministry.
I believe that about my parents, and now about my husband, myself, and our children. My parents always integrated us into their work, and we felt part of what they were doing. When my father was turning out biblical lessons on the old mimeograph machine, I was proud to stand beside him and slip a sheet of paper between each page as it came off the machine. When I was older and my parents traveled to villages to do literacy work, I taught biblical stories to the children of my parents’ students.
Now our children help by collating books, baby-sitting for conferences, and in any other way they can assist around the center.
My parents always made us feel like their order of priority was God, each other, us, and then the work. And we have tried to do this also with our children. I feel that without this basis, you would not dare send your child away to boarding school.
2. I was given the choice of where to go to high school.
When I was a child, there was no option within our mission for parents to teach their kids at home, so when I reached high school age I was given the choice of where to go to high school. And so as the time drew near for Cara to enter high school, we gave her four choices, one being to teach her at home and the others being boarding schools.
Then we applied to the school of her choice. This gave her a sense of some control over what was happening to her. The day I first took her to Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, she was scared and not sure she wanted to go through with it. But because she had made this choice and God had opened the door, she hung in there and in just two days she was happy as can be. She didn’t even cry at the end of the week when I left to go back to Congo.
3. I think it was very important that I went with Cara and stayed nearby for a week.
I think parents can get into trouble by just putting their kids on a plane and sending them off to adjust to a new place without their presence. My parents always took me to school the first time. When I later flew off to high school without them, my older brother was with me and he had been going to that high school for a long time.
Going with Cara also met my own need to see that she was going to be okay. I got to see her dorm room, meet her dorm mother, see her school—all important in her adjustment and mine, too.
4. We make sure we write to Cara a minimum of once a week.
(Now that she is on e-mail we write almost daily.) We made sure she wrote to us at least once a week. In the early years our letters helped her hang in there. And being able to write to us when she was feeling lonely and homesick helped her get through those bad moments. My mother still has a huge file of the letters I sent her over the years I was in boarding school.
5. You need to make sure you know your child.
Every child has different needs and abilities to handle situations. Boarding school worked for both Larry and me. It is working well for Cara. We don’t know how it is going to work for Caleb. If it is not right for him, we will make a new plan.
I know one missionary family with five kids who sent all five to boarding school over the years. Four of the kids thrived. One was miserable. He kept running away from the school. The parents took that child back home to the village and taught him at home. And then he thrived.
Larry wilted when he tried to do high school by correspondence. He thrived in boarding school. His sisters tried boarding school, disliked it, and ended up doing high school by correspondence—and thrived. It is very important to be sensitive to the differences in your children and make the appropriate adjustments.
In conclusion, I would like to say that in my experience in both roles (parent and child), sending your child away to school is much harder on the parent than on the child. I take a lot of comfort from the story of Hannah and Samuel. When I went away to school at age seven, my parents gave me a children’s version of His Word and told me to read it every day. That habit has stayed with me all my life. I learned from personal experience the wonder that I’m never alone. I can see that Cara knows this, too.
This past Christmas on her way home, the plane that Cara was to take was hijacked and crashed into the sea just before it was scheduled to have landed in Nairobi. RVA called us but before they could tell us how Cara was going to get home, the line went dead and we could not reconnect. It took Cara three days to get home, during which we did not know where she was. She was sent to another country first and spent the night in a hotel there. She arrived at our gate late the next night. The first thing she said to us was, “I have never trusted God so much before in my life.” I felt the same way! We can trust God completely to take care of all the needs of our children when we as a family obey Him.
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