Monthly Archives: October 2018

Senior Year Abroad

It doesn’t make sense on paper to uproot a teenager for the final year of school. But we were questioned about taking him to France as an infant, or to Congo as a kid; much about our life looks like foolishness to some people.

But there are a number of reasons why it makes sense for us to go to Cameroon at the end of this school year, including the fact that Anna will be starting junior high, and Joel will be starting high school.

But James will be a senior next year, and the school in Cameroon has a policy of not admitting students for their senior year only. We believe this is a good and reasonable policy. However, we also think is a good and reasonable thing to ask for an exception to this policy for James. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons their policy makes sense, and why we think James will do OK.

The policy makes sense

Teenage years are tumultuous enough already, without adding a change of school (not to speak of country and language). I know; I moved high schools after my sophomore year. The transition to a new school wasn’t easy, with new classes, new class requirements and prerequisites. I made the best of it, but I wasn’t changing languages or countries (unless you count California to Oregon as an international move.… :-)).

Added to the above are the transitions particular to life in a cross-cultural context. The school is in Cameroon, which has its own cultures, languages and politics. Language might be the easiest to deal with, since French is a national language in Cameroon (in addition to English). But needing to use French to take a taxi, or to buy or sell in a marketplace, is a different kind of stress than having to take a language class.

Politics in Cameroon is its own thing, perhaps especially right now. I hear (from Cameroonians) the president has been in power for a long time, and many people hope for change. There is talk of succession from the provinces that use English, to the point that at least some expatriates are not living there now. When we were there in 2004 (just after Joel was born), I recall the particular irony of not seeing any campaigning for the presidential election until after the election took place.

Encountering other cultures is one of the mixed blessings of any cross-cultural context. We get to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters in Christ before we meet them at the throne of God (Rev 7:9̈-10). That said, other cultures have other foods, customs, and expectations of life, and these can take some getting used to. My personal top two “I hope I never have to eat that again” foods (tadpole soup, and fermented manioc) were first encountered in Cameroon, though we also saw fermented manioc in D.R. Congo. These adjustments are not insurmountable, but they do take time and work to deal with.

So when you add changes in language, culture and politics to changes of school and hormones, we get that this is not a small task, and we understand why many students would isolate themselves, come to hate themselves or their new context (or their parents, or God), and ultimately do very badly in a single senior year abroad.

James will do OK

That said, we believe that James will do OK, by God’s grace.

As I have talked to people who survived having missionaries as parents, and as I talk to people who work with missionary kid issues, it seems like one of the biggest indicators of how a missionary kid turns out is how much a part of the mission the child personally feels. Because of this, we have for some time talked our kids through transitions from the perspective that this is something our family is doing together for one purpose —not that dad has a job change and everyone else has to go along.

Another key element in weathering transition well, I find, is talking through transition, before, during, and afterward, to make sure everyone is processing it emotionally. This was a particular issue as we struggled with the more difficult years of Asperger’s, but we got used to talking each of our kids through what we would do when and why, so when we did it, there were fewer surprises for them. As soon as we would have an itinerary, we would talk about which planes we would take where (including which would have bathrooms, and which would have movies). I’m not saying this is something we have perfect, but we as a family have lots of experience weathering transition —enough to feel when things are going well, and when we need to take more time to work through things.

The above has two caveats. First, our kids have mostly been in Texas the last five years. So while James remembers Africa, I’m sure he will be surprised more than he thinks. Second, all of this (as in all things) has been done by God’s grace. When I say “experience” above, what I really mean is having some information in advance, but still screwing things up, and depending on God to make things right. Then spending time processing what happened and how to do better. Which means we have more information for the next time, but we still screw things up, and still need God to work all things to good (Romans 8:28). So ultimately what I mean by saying “James will be OK” is that God has given us a history both of weathering transition, and of depending on him, and we trust that he will show himself to be good in this case, as well.

What does this look like practically, right now? We are nine months out from a potential move to Cameroon at the end of this school year. We have already had a number of conversations, both as a family and individually, about the cost and the value of this transition. I have asked each of us to spend some time considering what the cost and value are for us personally, and we’ve had a number of very productive conversations since then. My goal is that each of us would have bought in to this transition without reservation —well in advance of any family move.

So far, I’ve talked more about our family process than about James. There are also a number of reasons why I think James will handle this transition well —beyond the fact that we have experience processing these things as a family. Basically, James is doing well in school, better than we imagined he would five years go. He takes tests very well, and he has developed friendships with classmates that he wants to see outside of school (something I never did much of in high school ;–)). But despite learning to be social, he is excelling at honors and college prep classes in almost every subject, including AP English; he is taking calculus now, as a Junior. James is in his fourth year of French now, and seems eager to be able to use it. Despite wanting to study math in college, he is also working on an endorsement in engineering. And until recently he insisted on taking (and enjoying, and doing well in) art —something I never managed to do myself.

Outside of school, James has showed a commitment to piano, both in practice and lessons (currently working on Sonata in G Major), and in leading worship at church. He is a very emotive pianist, and has said that playing the piano helps him express feelings that don’t come out in words. His commitment can be seen in that he wakes up at 5:45am to practice before school each day.

I’ll let James himself speak to his own motivation to go to Africa for his senior year (post coming soon), but I am grateful for the growth, maturity and responsibility he’s had to date. I am more grateful to see the man God is making him – especially given where he’s been.

WHEN (Cameroon Timeline)

So, when are we leaving for Cameroon? This is the top question we get right now; the short answer is “spring and summer 2019, God willing”.

First, recall that we’ve accepted an assignment with the Linguistics Services Team (LST), based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, but serving the Central African Basin in Francophone Africa. We will continue to use participatory research methods to develop writing systems in language communities that need them, so Bible translations will be read with fluency and power.

So when will we begin that assignment? While there is lots to do to make that happen, there are two main issues we are working on right now. The question of James’ schooling I address in another blog entry; the other is our financial readiness. Recall that Wycliffe has a policy that we must be receiving 100% monthly financial support to start a new assignment (which is a good thing). Since we are currently at 74%, that represents a non-trivial difference.

In the mean time, we have plenty of work to do. We are praying and talking to people about our work, individually and in small and large group meetings. But each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:7 ESV). We are also making plans and preparations for the move to Cameroon, trusting that God will provide us the right ministry partners at the right time. If you’d like to hear more about our work, either individually or in a small or larger group, please just let us know. If you have decided to join our Wycliffe ministry in financial partnership, you can do so here.

We currently hope to visit Cameroon in March. There is a linguistics conference one week, and a branch conference the next. In addition to these conferences, a March visit would help us plan and prepare for a move as a family, hopefully in June or July (between the end of school here, and the start of school there).  Our kids could meet some of their classmates for the following year, which could really help them transition. And we could see housing and transportation options first hand, as well as the kinds of things that are locally available (and thus unnecessary to ship).

A March trip is something of a bold plan, though. Logistically, in order to buy affordable airfare, we need to buy them in advance. This means we would need to have enough support to justify the trip by about Christmas, or perhaps January at the latest. But such a trip would be worth it; a family move (over the summer) would go much better, as each of us would have more realistic expectations of where we will be moving to.

Whatever comes of this March trip, I (Kent) should be ready to start on my LST work as we have our full budget coming in and get released to our assignment. Some of that work can be done at a distance (I attended a meeting virtually last week!), in addition to the work of selling/storing/packing up our house and preparing for the move.

As we plan this next transition, it feels like we have more questions than answers. How will the presidential election in Cameroon affect stability for this next year? What should we do with the stuff we left in DRC (is any of it worth trying to transport across Africa?) What will we need to make the move to Cameroon (e.g., a vehicle, household setup), and what will that cost? We hope most of these will be settled by the end of a trip to Cameroon in March.

Please join us in prayer that God would provide monthly financial partners for our Wycliffe ministry, such that we would have 100% of our monthly budget by Christmas, so we can make plans for March and June, and get back to serving the Bibleless peoples of central Africa, one alphabet at a time.