- Esther Dalton TOS Magazine Contributor
- Published Jun 07, 2013
I was frustrated. The curriculum for my twelfth-grade English class required me to write an essay about C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and T. S. Eliot, comparing how they used stories to convey apologetics—a fascinating topic. Unfortunately, my family did not own any of their writings other than the brief excerpts anthologized in my British Literature textbook and our dog-eared copies of The Chronicles of Narnia—hardly enough material for a decent essay. The books my family owned were all the resources I had. We lived in Asia, not the United States.
As a homeschooling family on the mission field, we encountered many challenges like this one: lack of materials at home, lack of resources in the community, and lack of opportunities for interaction with other students and educators. Yet, for my two siblings and me, homeschooling was the ideal mode of education, because school had to be “portable.” During one six-month period in which our family divided its time between two cities that were 90 miles apart, I was able to plunk a trusty cardboard box labeled “Esther’s Books” into the trunk and take school with me!
Another difficulty we faced was that of getting our curriculum, as well as other resources, from the United States in the first place. Mail service was unreliable, and heavy books made postage extra expensive. The country where we lived had no public libraries and limited Internet access, which sometimes made doing research problematic, especially in high school.
Nonetheless, God provided ways around and through these difficulties. Generous fellow missionaries returning from the United States put books into their precious 50-pounds-of-luggage allowance. Thankfully, the program we used was “book light” compared to some others. It placed an emphasis on reusable resources, especially for the younger grades, which was ideal for our situation. In addition, while flexible, the program had a staff back in North America (accessible to its students) who provided accountability and support when we needed it.
Whatever curriculum choice a homeschooling family makes invariably involves a lot of reading, so without a public library, we unintentionally built our own. By the time I graduated, our family library included several thousand volumes: picture books, biographies, classic novels, and Bible commentaries from my dad’s seminary days. When assigned a topic to write about, we were usually able to come up with credible essays, even if it meant referring to our stack of back issues of National Geographic or our trusty 1978 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia. My mom regularly prayed for us to get the resources we needed, and several times God provided abundantly by making it possible for us to borrow from the library of the private international school nearby or from friends who had exactly the books we needed.
The biggest challenge we faced, however, was loneliness. Most of the other missionary children attended a Christian boarding school located a few hours away and were home only for holidays. Sometimes, when other missionaries were on home assignment, we were the only homeschooling family in our city. However, God was just as aware of our loneliness as He was of our educational needs.
During my ninth-grade year, we moved to a village where there were no other homeschooling families. We had no local friends and few neighbors. There, most people were safely indoors by sundown, and only the occasional wailing of jackals alerted us to life outside our walls. This was a big change from the bustling city of two million where I had grown up. In the city, I had enjoyed a wonderful friendship with the girl next door and had often stayed at her home until late in the evening. Even when a three-hour journey separated our homes, God still gave me opportunities to stay in touch with her. That year I got my first email account and became good at corresponding with friends who were far away. Some of the single women in my parents’ mission took me shopping and invited me to movie nights, and I learned how to make friends with adults.
Since we didn’t have access to many of the extracurricular programs that are available in the United States, especially after moving to the village, we took the opportunity to develop our imaginations and leadership skills by creating “programs” for ourselves. Using the encyclopedia, my brother constructed a regulation badminton court on our lawn, and our dad taught us the rules. At our bi-yearly mission conferences, I planned childcare programs for the preschoolers during the day and joined with homeschooled friends in decorating for the banquet celebration on the final night. My brothers and I loved the performing arts. We recruited whatever other homeschoolers were around, as well as local friends, and made movies or plays. The fall of my senior year, I directed a homemade version of the Beauty and the Beast musical with a cast of nine younger children and two obliging adults.
Perhaps the greatest blessing of being homeschooled was the privilege of becoming best friends with my family members. Times of isolation deepened the bonds between us. I became especially close to my mom, since she was often the only “girlfriend” around.
Since my siblings and I were never separated from our parents to attend boarding school, living at home allowed us to be involved in their ministry. On one occasion, I visited a literacy school for nomadic children with my parents and other members of their team. I helped perform a health check, weighing the little ones on a bathroom scale. Another time, I went to a sewing school for poor women, admiring their intricate handwork as my mom passed out prizes to the graduates. Doing missions together—just like we did school together—united our family in a way that would not have been possible had we not been homeschooled.
Though my Lewis, Chesterton, and Eliot paper may not have earned an A in a “regular” classroom, through my homeschool experience on the mission field I learned how to work with what God had given me. Through all the struggles, frustrations, and limitations of homeschooling outside of the United States, our family experienced God’s provision. Even though we sometimes felt alone, He was always there, providing the resources and encouragement we needed each day.
Esther Dalton is a student at Biola University in southern California. She grew up in South Asia, where her parents were missionaries, and was homeschooled for eleven years. Now she is pursuing a degree in English writing. Her first novel, Zelle of the Tower, was written while she was in high school and published in May 2011.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: June 7, 2013