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Sunday, September 01, 2013

A New School Year

20 years ago next month, we landed in Africa.  5 years ago exactly, we sent our 15 year old son off to boarding school at RVA in spite of being sure we weren't that kind of parent, thereby ending family life as a majority-of-the-year normal forever.  4 years ago, we sent the second son at age 14.  Both of those years we attended New Parent Orientation, overwhelmed by grace in the midst of bewilderment and painful separation. 3 years ago, we accompanied the first son at age 17 to America to start college and sent the second at age 15 back to boarding school in Kenya on his own.  2 1/2 years ago we moved to Kenya from Uganda ourselves, just outside the school gates, to work at Kijabe hospital, adding our other two children to this school as "station kids".  2 years ago, we added another daughter for 9 months of the year as our dear friends and mission colleagues sent their oldest to live with us and go to school.  That year was my first to participate in New Parent Orientation as the school doc, welcoming parents on tour.  One year ago, the younger kids started school being tended by colleagues so we could attend the Parents' Weekend at the US Air Force Academy for son 2.  And this year, thanks to all that crazy experience, we are officially part of the welcoming committee for RVA, helping new parents assimilate.

This is an inclusion that I do not take for granted.  I was the ONLY parent on the panel of six who was a first generation missionary, who had not grown up going to boarding school myself.  Twenty years is small potatoes around here, and I was honored to be asked to help.

New families took tours and met teachers and drank chai, and eventually all the parents listened to us panelists discussing issues like how to say goodbye well, what is the impact on the siblings left behind, what to expect during vacations, and how to communicate when far apart.  We told our stories, and I told our mistakes, with the assurance that in spite of us our kids are thriving.  Mostly I listened to my fellow more-experienced panelists and marveled at their parenting.  Towards the end of the first session, the moderator asked if we had anything to add.  I did, of course.  And this is the thought I believe the Spirit gave me to share.

The central story of the Bible is one of parental separation.  Jesus left home, and left full communication with His Father, and entered a distant school of difficulty and obedience.  A placement that led to His great suffering and loss, and yet through that loss, the redemption of the world.  So for parents saying goodbye, for hearts torn in two (or three or four), the truth remains that this may be the very means of redemption working through our lives.

I was preaching this to myself, of course.

A new school year means that our oldest is now choosing classes and finishing up applications and juggling responsibilities alone for his last year of college.  Our second is in the midst of Parents' Weekend again, but this time without our parental presence.  Thankfully our dear friend whose daughter we have here is serving as our surrogate there, going to classes and meeting professors and being an encouragement.  Meanwhile we're here with a full hospital schedule and three kids to parent in their own new school year start.  It's a lot of transition, change, absence, pulled hearts.

So I cling to the facts. At my first New Parent Orientation, I saw clearly two things.  One was that RVA was full of godly gifted people who could give more to my child than I could alone.  Another was that God had led us in this direction, and would redeem the losses for good.

The pattern of healing this world was set by Jesus, it is the path of the cross, and a new school year reminds me of this again.  The cross of separation brings the Kingdom to the far reaches of the earth.  I thank my parents for realizing that, and all the parents who said goodbye today, and all the kids who are on their own, praying we all see hope.  The valley that is watered by tears will pool forth in flowering fruit.


Anonymous said...

And our first year here I realized the Bible is full of children who were "schooled" apart from their parents. Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Daniel, and as said, Jesus! Our RVA kids are in excellent company, with amazing calls on their lives.

Anonymous said...

Made me tear up. Such excellent and sobering thoughts.

I am an MK who knows boarding life (from age 6 at a school in another African country and high school at RVA). Boy has RVA changed in the last 20 years! No such thing as new parent orientation when I was there. Sounds like a very good thing. Wish I could have been a fly on the wall to hear what was said.

My years at RVA were wonderful. However, it sounds like students' needs are being met even more effectively and lovingly now than they were then.

Your blog is excellent. You write extremely well. Thank you.