Raising African kids in a Central Asian country
It's the moment we dread. That all too familiar occurrence when a stranger walks up to us brandishing his or her camera and points it at our kids.
"No," we say. "No photos" as our children desperately try to hide behind us.
For many Central Asians our curly haired kids are the first African people they have ever seen in real life. We've lost count of the times our kids have had photos taken of them and their heads rubbed. We attract attention wherever we go.
The first phrases I learnt in the local language (after hello and goodbye) were: "Yes, this is my daughter. We adopted her. She is a gift from God."
It's so easy to get angry when people call my kids the derogatory "n" word, but if I can get passed my indignation and actually be calm enough to engage the person, I often find that they don't know how deeply offensive it is to us.
One time we were anxiously waiting to cross the border while the officer took his time searching our passports and examining our visas. All through those endless moments another security officer had his hand on our son's head feeling his curly hair. Our son was too scared to move but his eyes told us he was terrified. We whispered to him, trying to reassure him and asking him to endure it until we could leave.
In one of the biggest city markets the head rubbing and curious stares became too much for our son and he asked us to buy him a cap to hide his hair. That was almost four years ago and he has worn a cap every day since. It has become his security and his survival technique.
My daughter isn't trying to hide her differences - yet. But the conversation that we find ourselves having over and over again goes something like this:
"Why are those people staring at me Mom?"
"Because you're so beautiful and they have probably never seen a girl from Africa before."
In the midst of the difficulties God has been gracious in providing an international school where every kid is different and our kids fit in, a neighborhood that we have lived in for a while now with neighbors that accept us, and a team mate from South Africa who joined us last year and has been a blessing, especially for our little girl.
I often question the wisdom of bringing up our kids in this place. While it does bring many opportunities to explain our love and God's, I wonder at what expense for my kids. I want my kids to be confident, independent people, but instead they're often so timid and insecure in new situations with people they don't know.
I wish I could tell you that our kids know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God who loves them and so they are confident in how they look and who God created them to be, but I can't.
I wish I could tell you that my husband and I have it all figured out, but the truth is that it is a daily struggle to remind our kids of how special they are, how loved they are and that we can't change how other people react to us.
But what I can tell you, what I do know and am convinced of is that God has called us as a family to this place for this time. This means that He has not only called my husband and I to be here, but He has called our kids too. He has opened the door for us to be here.
The most challenging lesson for me is letting go of the control I want to have over my kids - the control to protect them and keep them from insult or injury. I'm like a mama bear at times fighting to protect my cubs at all odds. But I need to let God be the One in charge of their lives, not me. I'm confident in His goodness. I'm confident that before our kids were even conceived, God knew them. He chose our family for them and He knew that they would grow up in Central Asia.
I know that God loves and cares for my kids far more than I do. I know that God is teaching them and molding their little hearts and allowing them to trust Him in ways I can't show them by myself. God is working in my kids’ lives, growing them to be more like Him day by day.
Each day is a challenge for me and my African kids as they grow up in Central Asia. Some days we hide them behind us and other days we make the decision to encourage our kids to have that photo taken. Each day is an opportunity for me and my family to trust God more and to depend on His love and care for us.