Toys are spread all over the floor. The two older boys are wrestling and fighting and need disciplined. The youngest needs a nap, and we have an appointment to get to in an hour. Pick up that mess! Stop fighting! Please stop crying! There’s so much noise and chaos every day. This situation can be summed up in the title “stay at home mom,” which our American culture uses often. But how does this work in other cultures? How do missionary moms do it? Read this story by Krista Horn, missionary mom at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, to find out.
Recently I was asked, yet again, what it is that I do here. Besides the kids, that is. I’ve been asked this question many times, in various forms. This time it was phrased, “The kids are enough, I know [insert awkward laugh], but have you been to the Peds ward or the orphanages? I mean, what’s your thing?” I was honest: I don’t do anything. And I wasn’t embarrassed or guilt-ridden with that reply.
Long before we reached the mission field, and even before we had kids, I used to vex over this issue. What would I do? What would be my ministry, my “thing”? And how would I ever accomplish said ministry if we had kids in tow? What would it look like to be the non-ministry spouse as we headed overseas?
Well, after five years of motherhood and one year of missionaryhood, I’ve come a long way in my understanding of this issue. I currently don’t vex about it. The pressure to give an answer to the question “What do you do?” let alone give an answer the inquirer wants to hear, simply isn’t there. Not only have I given myself the grace to “do nothing” but take care of our three very busy and active little boys, but I’ve really begun to understand the fact that the value of “doing” and “accomplishing” is a cultural value – a high value in our American culture but not necessarily in this Kenyan culture. And that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often a very good thing.
It’s no secret that our Western culture is work-driven and success-oriented. It’s a wonderful thing in that it’s allowed our culture to come so far in areas like medicine and education and technology and infrastructure and countless other things. And being a Type A, super organized, task-oriented, efficient person, I love this part of our culture. Actually, I appreciate it so much that, since living here in Kenya, I’ve often had to fight my own cultural superiority when I see inefficient systems in place that perpetuate poverty and disease and lack of education. Sometimes I want to shout, “If you would just do something then it wouldn’t be this way!” And that’s partly true. There is certainly room for this culture to grow in just getting things done. However, I’ve been able to pull back a bit this year and see glimpses of the bigger picture, which has shown me that our own work-driven culture doesn’t get it all right, and this less-efficient culture doesn’t get it all wrong.
Here’s what Kenyan culture does really well: focus on people. Case in point: stopping to greet people is very important here. It’s unfathomable to the average Kenyan why you would have anything so important to do that it would cause you to breeze past them without stopping to say hello and shake hands at the very least, if not ask about the family as well. Another case in point: when you meet someone for the first time, the question “So what do you do?” never comes up. Why would that be pertinent? Most people are subsistence farmers anyway and wouldn’t be able to regale you with tales of their career path to date. On the contrary, people are not generally concerned with what anyone does, but they are concerned with how your family is doing and whether your children are well and how they’re enjoying the break from school. The people here care about people.
And that is something I’ve grown to love about this culture.
It’s also something that’s inherently hard to adjust to because, truth be told, it’s tiring to greet so many people along the way. It makes going anywhere twice as long as it should be, which is especially hard when you have a tired toddler on your back who really needs to get home and take a nap, or when you’re just simply not in the mood to say hello to anyone. And Eli often has a hard time coming and going from the hospital because there are so many “speedbumps” along the way (which is a Kenyan expression used to describe being late because of greeting people). But the point remains: this culture cares way more about people than our own culture tends to, and that is a good and godly thing.
So what do I do at Tenwek? Well, technically I’ve been teaching a PreK/K class for MKs for the past five months as well as coordinating all the holiday gatherings for the missionary community, which is something I suppose. But more than anything, what I do is take care of our kids. I feed them and clothe them and change their diapers and wipe their bottoms and teach, discipline, and encourage them. In other words, I have three little disciples in my charge every day, and mothering them is what I do each day as a missionary.
To read the rest of the story, visit Eli and Krista’s ministry blog at storiesinmission.blogspot.com.
ACT: There are many missionary moms out there, working hard to raise and train disciples of Christ. Will you send a word of encouragement to some of them? Here’s what you can do: Post a comment on this blog story—or a message if you prefer something more private— with your word of encouragement, and we will get it out to the moms on the field.