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Celebrating Mother’s Day with ‘mishmoms’

Mission co-worker moms share tips for raising resilient children

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The children in Rhino Refugee Camp in Uganda were excited to meet Nicole, the newest member of the Smith-Mather family. (Photo by Derrick Jones)

LOUISVILLE – At a gathering of Africa-area mission co-workers in Rwanda last month, “mishmoms” sat together to share their experiences on raising resilient children, as only parents can, with deep understanding. In honor of Mother’s Day, Presbyterian News Service shares their unique perspectives.

They acknowledged that they might not see evidence of resilience until their babies are adults, or maybe not until their children have children of their own. Yet they are hopeful that someday, somewhere in the world, they will pass on some of the lessons they are learning as third culture kids, children who spend a significant part of their growing up years away from the country listed on their passport.

Mission co-workers Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather with their children at the Africa regional gathering in Rwanda in April. (Photo by Mark Crowner)

Nancy Smith-Mather: South Sudan/Uganda
“I could have explained to my 4-year-old and 2-year-old that every four years the mission co-workers on the continent of Africa get together for a week of meetings. I could have told them that this year we get to go to Rwanda, which experienced genocide in 1994, so we will learn from the incredible work of the Rwandan church in healing and reconciliation. I could have pointed out that lessons from the church in Rwanda can really help the church in the U.S., as well as in South Sudan at this time. Instead, I just told them that we were going to Rwanda to see Uncle Jim. They smiled and were excited about another opportunity to fly on a plane and to see a dear family friend. They didn’t ask anymore.

Jim McGill is not a blood relative, but in East Africa, men and women are called “uncle” and “auntie” with the same frequency that we use “Mr.” and “Ms.” in the U.S. While living in missionary housing in Decatur, Georgia, the McGill family is one of the mission co-worker families our children are engrafted into while we stay in the U.S. In Rwanda we would get to see Uncle Jim, and on our way back to Arua, Uganda, we would stop in Entebbe and see Auntie Milcah and Kyla, longtime friends from our time in South Sudan.

We have lived in at least half a dozen homes and in four countries since our first child was born four years ago. We try to explain life to our kids through their relationships with people. While our children do feel connected to their toys and to their “stuff” and to particular places, emphasizing the people in their lives and making extra efforts to connect with “family,” seems to give them a sense of stability, security and love in their world with many “homes.”

Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch and family have served as mission co-workers in Malawi since 2014. (Photo by Adam Creech)

Luta Garbat-Welch: Malawi
“Some of the things that I think my parents did really well for myself and my siblings that I hope to do with my kids as well was to take traditions with us from the different cultures that have shaped us, for example continuing to eat bedia and groundnut stew (from the Democratic Republic of Congo) in the places we moved after DRC. Our family traditions — some from the places we lived, others from our heritage; some that we created together went with us wherever we lived and provided a grounding, a stability in our unstable lives. Sometimes this included ‘things’ — cookie cutters that came no matter where we lived or decorations reflective of our cultural homes. As mishkids my parents embraced where we lived and helped us to embrace our homes as well. They helped us see the beauty, the creativitiy and possibilities around us. Fostering joy in us for the life we lived. We were not allowed to be removed from our environment! When we moved back to the U.S. more of the heartache began and the resiliency became “more necessary.” Then we were allowed and encouraged to grieve, to talk about what we missed, what we were confused about, to be okay with not knowing where our home was. And we were encouraged to celebrate, to honor where we had lived, and the people we had loved. Those family traditions were the anchor around the space to grieve and celebrate.

We have very young children, our oldest is 3 and our youngest is 10 months, so we’re just starting to teach resiliency, in addition to beginning family traditions. We have been working on knowing how our heart feels when we’re upset. ‘How fast is your heart beating?’ And then using deep breathing to feel our heartbeat slow down. We’ve been teaching the connection between our tears, our meltdowns and how our body physically feels. We’re teaching the emotion words that accompany these physical sensations in hope that our children will have a connection with their emotional self.”

Michael and Rachel Ludwig and family have served as mission co-workers in Niger since 2014. (Photo by Claire Zuhosky)

Rachel Ludwig: Niger
My children are only 7, 6 and 5, so I am not sure anything I am doing as a parent will prove to be effective. At the base of my teaching of my children is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Therefore, I appreciate having the opportunity to homeschool my children and speak into their lives at so many times throughout the day. At my children’s ages, I believe a lot of their resiliency comes from security.

If children feel secure with their parents and themselves, they can step out to try in new situations instead of shutting down. We do a lot of work on positive habits in our home and, as a family work to stay positive. Using kind words in a kind voice covers many areas and, in addition, thinking of what we can change and what we can’t change helps too. Maybe one of the biggest life changers for my children that results from living abroad is not having immediate gratification in all areas, meeting so many other children around the world and realizing that the world does not revolve around them.


Like all children, those who accompany their families on mission get to experience many cultures, learn multiple languages and make friends around the world. Sometimes these third culture children also experience some of the same stress and anxiety their parents do while serving on mission. That’s why their parents say it is important to develop resilience that will serve them well as they grow up.

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