by Rhonda Hayward
“I am feeling sorry for your children because of how deprived they are living over in the jungles”, shared a concerned individual. My reply with a twinkle in my eye was something like, “YOU go and tell my 9 year old son who is barefoot 365 days of the year in a rain forest with a bow and arrow and freedom to roam…you go and try to convince him that he is deprived!” Yes, our children (and us!) have missed our extended families while living overseas, but honestly, not a whole lot else (OK…we’ve had a hankering for some Baskin-Robbins style ice cream at times!). We have been thankful that for most of their childhood, our children WERE deprived of some things like secular TV and movies & materialism.
This is all to say that growing up on the mission field is not a “to-be-pitied” experience. Our experience is that it is, rather, an extremely enriching, diversely educational and rich life skills-forming experience.
Our first born, Jason, was six months old when he came to PNG. He learned to speak Tay and English simultaneously as his first languages (mixing them freely) which allowed him to speak Tay as a native (as my friend Druk said, “You and Steve speak Tay well, but Jason sounds like one of us”). He learned to shoot a bow and arrow, cook food around the fire pit, and at one point as a toddler, wanted to wear nothing but a loin cloth.
Jason spent most of his time in elementary school being homeschooled in the village, talking once a week to a teacher at Ukarumpa. He spent his senior year attending Ukarumpa International high school, where he graduated in 2005. Afterwards he spent nearly a year living in the village working alongside us in our ministry with the Tay people. He helped translate literacy books, drove the tractor in maintenance work of the airstrip, and continued to share with and encourage the Tay people, especially the young men. Right before he left to return to the U.S., Tay leaders came to share a special Bible verse with Jason as their parting gift (along with gifts of money). They held a feast in his honor. We were deeply moved at the outpouring of love for Jason, who truly was “one of their own”. The day he left on the plane was a poignant, emotional day. I fought off tears as I walked out to the single engine Cessna plane and saw Jason encircled by his friends, all lying with their faces on the ground weeping. Jason stood there silently, tears streaming down his face. What a joy it was for the Tay to have Jason return for a visit the summer of 2009. He easily fell back into conversing in Tay. The people said, “We thought you’d forgotten how to speak in Tay.” Jason’s response was so appropriate, “It’s in here [pointing to his head]…where could it go?”
We will forever be thankful for the way our children have enriched our lives and hearts and our ministry. We are so proud of what they are allowing God to do in their lives. We have a very special daughter as well, named Carissa. I have chosen to focus mainly on Jason in this article because this month that 6 month old international traveler turned 24. Happy Birthday Jason, we love you!
Perhaps take a moment to think of a missionary child currently on the field or an adult MK back in their passport country (which isn’t always what they consider their “home country”!). Pray for God to root them deeply in Him and in His heart of love for them. We are all, in reality, “strangers and aliens on this earth”. God is our true Home. Our identity is in Him; our citizenship in heaven. We are only passing through this place we call earth, simply inviting and helping others find this true and Eternal Home with Him.