By Jenny Giezendanner1

Thoughts of sending a young person to school in a faraway country bring out emotions of fear, denial, anger—and occasional relief!—in those who contemplate it. Horror stories circulate about MKs who have felt emotionally damaged due to their parents’ preoccupation with ministry at their children’s expense. Being “shipped off to boarding school” ranks somewhere near a fate worse than death.

Yet in our family and others we know, MKs are still going away to school, far from the circle of their immediate family. Do we really love our kids, and do the kids know it? Is our “ministry” taking precedence over their needs? We have faced these questions ever since we brought our kids to the field more than thirteen years ago. Confronting the realities of living with kids in a remote situation in a foreign country is a good place to start.

Educational Options

Educational options for a Western family in a non-Western village were few:

  • send our kids to an overcrowded local school in a language that not even our neighbors actually spoke
  • teach them at home
  • send them away for schooling.

After discussion with the local school authorities, the option of the local school closed on us anyway. Our eldest assured me she wanted to go to “real school,” but we had no peace about sending her so young to a school far away. So home teaching it was! Our whole family has become energized by having to learn, read, and research at home as a way of life, even though it would not have been my first choice in my home country when we started.

As our four kids have grown, my husband and I have had intensive input into their education and daily lives. Our family is extremely close. We often travel together to far-flung places that combine our own ministry with school “field trips.” Still, as the kids approach high-school age, the desire and need has matured to develop relationships with peers and other significant adults and to be exposed to opportunities we cannot offer them in our realm of activity. Our eldest maintained her interest in attending “real school”—someday.

Looking at options for high school, we felt we could continue to teach at home, send our daughter to live with willing relatives in my home country, or send her to boarding school. We wrote and talked with everyone who had any experience, suggestions, or information about these options. We amassed a pile of pamphlets, letters, addresses, etc. Our daughter pored over them.

Planning Ahead

Two and three years before the actual high school years were to begin, we visited schools with our entire family. We all wanted to be able to picture where our daughter and big sister might eventually be. Together we discussed the advantages and disadvantages, from as many angles as possible. We prayed and asked others to pray for us.

Finally, we concluded that a certain boarding school was the best choice. The “we” included our daughter who was going away just as much as it did us as her parents. “My parents and I have decided to send me …” was how she herself put it. I traveled with her for orientation and the first day of school. Saying good-bye was heartrending for us both.

All of us at home have missed her tremendously, and we have had second thoughts. We have had to process grief at losing her to a world that we don’t completely share.

Staying close

We have many ways, though, to help us stay close and minimize the pain of separation. During her school breaks we clear a lot of time to be together as a family—our vacation time, special family celebrations, and just quiet “normal” times. While she is away, we write several times a week on e-mail, and she knows she can call us any time.

We worked out a budget together, and we revise it with her before she returns to school each time. We also try to maintain good contact with the officials and staff at school through visits, telephone, and correspondence. This appears to be somewhat unusual among parents of MKs away at school, but we have found good response from the school. The teachers and staff there have shown incredible commitment to their students.

At this point, we still have three more kids to enter high school. We don’t know how they will feel and what will be best for each of them. But we are grateful for the opportunities that have opened up for our family because of boarding school. It can be a live and loving option!

And the rest of the story…”Every one of our four kids attended boarding school — the first three for their final three years to high school graduation, then the youngest actually choosing to attend for all four years of high school, at a different boarding school because we had moved continents in the meantime. While she was disappointed at first that she couldn’t attend the same school as her older three siblings, in the end she claims that her experience was even better! Although all four of our kids have quite different personalities and interests, every one of them has been happy with their high school boarding and found it a good preparation for the rest of their lives since. I am so grateful for this as well as for the many adults working at their schools who gave them personal and professional attention.” (2017)

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  1. This article was originally published in December 1996. The author was an SIL member with four children. She and her husband lived in a limited access area doing language work. While they no longer work for SIL, they still serve our organization in many ways. Here she describes their family’s struggle and growth through a difficult decision process. Check at the end to see how her three other children did in boarding school.