Recently I was asked a very good question by an elementary Sunday school class in the U.S. about why families would leave their children in a boarding school. My answer for them deals with God’s call of our family to Rift Valley Academy. As I was responding to their question, I realised there may be many more wondering the same thing, and decided to post it for others to see as well.
My (Bill’s) first mission trip was to a boarding school for missionary kids in the U.S. When I learned that parents would drop their kids off and leave for the “utter most parts of the earth,” I couldn’t believe it. They only see mom and dad for two weeks each year? I could never do that to my kids! Then God called us to work at a missionary boarding school.
There are multiple reasons that a family may leave children at a boarding school. Before I get into those reasons, I need to help you understand something first. It is about culture.
Why do we sit in chairs around a table to eat a meal? Why do we use a fork, spoon and knife? Perhaps you have seen pictures of people in Asia sitting on the floor using chopsticks. Would you believe people in Ethiopia sit around one big pile of meat (not separate servings) and eat with their fingers from the same pile? Sometimes they use a form of bread that actually looks more like a rolled up white sponge. This meal is one of Preston’s favorites!
Is our way of eating with chairs and utensils the correct way and all other ways wrong? It is a matter of preference, isn’t it? The way we eat is just one example of cultural differences. Men in Scotland may choose to wear what we think is a skirt. In our culture that just isn’t right, but in Scotland (and every now and then at Rift Valley Academy) you may see men wearing a kilts.
Deeply embedded in our minds, we have a way that school looks. Students live at home with their parents until they graduate from 12th grade, and then might move out to attend a university or college. Boarding schools for students 12th grade and younger are unheard of. That is not the case outside our culture. A large part of the world that has formal education has boarding schools. How would you like to live with your entire 3rd grade class? Sounds like one big slumber party doesn’t it!
Adults may argue on either side as to which way is better. There is one big truth, boarding school sure is different than the way I grew up!
Let’s step aside from boarding school for a moment. Imagine that when you were three years old, God called your parents to work with a people group in Tanzania that has never had the Bible in their language, and these people have never heard of Jesus. For years you and your family live in this village. No electricity. No water. No boys and girls who speak English or look like you do, other than you brothers and sisters. For 12 years, the only people who speak English are in your family, except the two times you went to the United States for furlough (that’s when missionaries travel around to present their ministry to different churches—a whole new story we can tell you about another time).
I was talking with a 15 year old in my 9th grade Bible class who was a brand new student to RVA. The example you just heard was his story. When he came to RVA, he had never lived with other English speaking students. Even when his family lived in the U.S., he was home-schooled because his family travelled so much to present their ministry. While it is true that RVA is ranked number two academically out of all the schools in Africa, this student is learning life skills that he couldn’t get in his remote village in Tanzania. He has been learning social and cultural skills, things that will help him to be prepared to go to a university in a few years.
Some amazing facts about RVA and our students:
- Most students come for 9-12 grades
- Most students are bilingual or trilingual (some even know 4 or more languages!)
- Most are missionary kids
- RVA students represent over 30 countries around the world, including:
- (Asia) Korea (38% of our student body!), China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and more
- Australia, New Zealand
- (Europe) England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Swiss, and more
- (North America) USA, Canada
- (Central America) Mexico, Belize
- (South America) Brazil, Peru
- and of course—Africa!
Social development, academic progress, and cultural development are not the only reasons missionaries may need to have their kids live in a boarding school. Some missionaries, especially in Africa live in areas that are unsafe. There are countries in Africa that are very dangerous for people who believe Jesus is Lord. You may wonder why missionaries would risk their lives to go to these places. The good news of Jesus Christ is the greatest news in all the world. These places need the news about Jesus as much or more than any others. (Check out the short movie “Walking in Shadow” from this site: http://www.aimint.org/usa/explore/videos)
RVA is a valuable school for missionaries in Africa. Over and over we hear missionaries say, “We couldn’t be here without RVA,” and even “We couldn’t continue our ministry if it wasn’t for RVA.” I still don’t know a second language, but God can use me and my family to be a part of a huge team of missionaries fulfilling the mission statement for Africa Inland Mission, “Christ centered churches among all African peoples.”