Homeschooling in the African Bush
- Jon and Almi Johnson The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
- 2011 30 May
My wife Almi and I have been serving as missionaries in Kenya, East Africa, since 1996. We have three children: Tanya (16), Christy (12), and Josh (9). You might feel that we have been called to give up lots of things. Would it surprise you to know that I find that far from the truth? God has restored abundantly everything that I thought I was giving up. One of our concerns was that our kids would suffer socially and possible scholastically as well, but we have gained the hearts of our children along with having well-rounded kids. Let me try to tell you how this has happened and how homeschooling is continuing to play an increasingly large role in what we do.
When we typically think of missions, we often think of taking the Gospel to the whole world or we think of short-term trips. We are so used to this that we rarely stop to think of what missions are all about. Missions are about going, and then teaching them “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20) It really isn’t enough to pass through and give an introduction to the Gospel. For the Gospel to permeate a closed culture, it will take time and commitment to teach the “all things” of Matthew 28. This means long-term commitment, and families are needed to go and stay until the job is done.
The heart of this call is to be a living example of what we are teaching. We are to teach first through a successful Christian lifestyle, as well as through our words. You will notice that this is the same requirement that is given for leadership in the Church everywhere. (See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2.) It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that our kids can and should play a large role in our ministry. Our families are the place that these character qualities are to be shown forth and hopefully a cause for others to emulate us.
With this in mind, we were thankful to find The Masters Mission. They recommended homeschooling and emphasized the importance of the home during their yearlong training program in North Carolina. Children were not viewed as something extra, but as our first priority and essentials to our testimony and qualifications of leadership.
We have enjoyed working with our children both physically and spiritually. My daughters are now inviting other teen girls over to the house to watch a movie or spend time with them and helping out at VBS and other children’s programs, as well as helping on work projects when I desperately need an extra hand. Once again I see that as I followed God’s way, I didn’t lose out, but rather I have gained infinitely. We still struggle with wanting to do more, especially my wife, but it helps to remind ourselves that our children are our first and longest ministry commitment. If we fail in the home, we fail as missionaries/leaders and as Christians.
We were thrilled and a little intimidated when we bought our first homeschooling materials in 1995. We made our choice, a bargain bin grab from Mission Aid, and started out. After all, how hard could first grade be? We have certainly learned a lot along the way. I won’t say that we have all the answers, because I found that I didn’t even know all of the questions, but let me tell you what we have learned.
First and foremost we learned that there are no shortcuts in homeschooling. (All of you veterans out there were probably laughing at the mention of our “bargain bin grab” from the beginning.) With something as important as our kids’ education, which will require commitment from my wife or me on a daily basis, we found that we needed the support of a full program. My wife does most of the teaching during the mornings. She plans any meetings and her housework for the afternoons, while the kids finish their studies. Schedules are printed and work corrected during the evenings. I help with certain subjects, such as writing, but am normally outside on different work or ministry projects.
It isn’t that we like or use the whole program, but as materials, resources, and the ability to change are in short supply, a core curriculum gives us a safe starting point. We then supplement with extra resources to try to meet our children’s needs and interests. We do school throughout most of the year and are schedule-oriented in our approach, but we have many planned and unplanned interruptions. The planned interruptions range from resupply trips to Nairobi to work projects where an extra hand is needed. Our unplanned interruptions can be anything from a sick friend/child/parent needing a ride to the hospital, to our dogs getting in a fight with a baboon, to unexpected guests. On the mission field, schedules are only a good starting point.
For our family, we have found Sonlight to work very well. If you aren’t familiar with Sonlight, their curriculum is based on reading books. We don’t have radio or TV currently, so having good reading material is important. (Would it surprise you to know that we laugh about our house looking like a waiting room in the evenings?) We supplement it with Teaching Textbooks for math and Answers in Genesis’s history program by Diana Waring and any other books/biographies/histories/magazines that we can find.
On top of that our life is accented by everything from normal church activities to game drives to see the wildlife. We have ATV rides to remote villages, biology lessons as we butcher meat with friends, hard work on water and development projects, and travel throughout the world. We try to always see different places as we travel in order to make history come alive (and to give us some family time while on the road). During our travels, we have been able to view the Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts; the great Platte River arch on I-80; the Grand Canyon; the Gettysburg battlefield; and the Creation Museum to name a few of our favorites that you might recognize.
The best part of this is that my family continues to be together and a part of the work wherever we are. This is the greatest advantage of our being a missionary family. We find ourselves emulating Deuteronomy 6 and using all of life as teaching time, even though we have set school times and break times. I often wonder if the talk around the table or during a work project isn’t of more importance in shaping their attitudes than the lessons they accomplish in class.
Homeschooling has also opened a new ministry opportunity. In Kenya, education is idolized as the route out of poverty. For the illiterate families of the bush, this has led to a mad rush to educate. The local school in our area has been overrun and is under-staffed. Student/teacher ratios are 60 to 1 or more. Most parents who are “serious” about educating their kids send them off to boarding school as soon as they can afford it.
This has been a challenge to the Church. We might lead a couple to the knowledge of the true God, but if they fail to pass it on to their family we have no basis for the faith to grow on. All believers are first-generation believers. They are coming from pagan environments and are burdened with the lifestyle choices they have made in the past.
On our mission station, we are using homeschool material to implement a solution to this problem. We are opening the Emunyani Learning Center, which will use homeschool curricula as its base. We hope to work in conjunction with the local school, as a supplement, to raise the standard of education above that available in a boarding school. This also will give us more opportunities to influence the lives of the students and the families who choose to follow this path (just as it gave us more opportunities to influence our children’s lives). Without our experience as homeschooling parents, we wouldn’t even have known what was possible. Now we have our library of books and our knowledge of what has worked for our kids.
I guess at the end, you as homeschool parents want to know if homeschooling has worked for missionaries in the remote areas. The answer is a resounding YES, even in the bush of Africa. Our Mission has a young man in an Officers Training Program and a girl who has graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is interviewing for a scholarship to attend Cambridge University in Great Britain. There are many others who are following their chosen paths as well. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the greatest accomplishment of our homeschooling. It isn’t the academic awards, but that we are winning the hearts of our children and passing the Gospel on to another generation.
Jon and Almi Johnson are long-term, career missionaries. They serve under Africa Inland Church in the remote bush of Kenya, East Africa. They have built their own house, installed a renewable energy system, and dug their own well. They enjoy camping and hiking with their three children, as well as working with their hands. The family’s hobbies include dogs, gardening, reading, photography, and computers. For more information, check out their links: thejourneyoftmmjohnson.blogspot.com,www.facebook.com/pages/Emunyani-Learning-Center/118786014854165,and www.mastersmission.org.
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine, Spring 2011.
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