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Missions from Korea 2014: missionary children.

The education of missionary children (MKs) is an important responsibility for all who are involved in mission. If missionaries are to be successful in their overseas ministry, they must have access to a reasonable educational option for their children.

The information presented here is based on empirical research of two sorts: first, a quantitative survey I designed and processed with the help of staff at the Korea Research Institute for Mission (KRIM) in late December 2012, which has been updated with additional data gathered at the end of December 2013; second, qualitative research involving field-based interviews carried out in nine countries in which 176 members of the Korean mission community took part--missionaries (70), MKs (76), and MK educators (30)--during the period of October 2012 through April 2013. (1)

The results of the questionnaire survey administered in late December 2013 show that 20,085 Korean missionaries were working with 166 mission agencies in 171 countries. These missionaries had a total of 17,675 children, with the percentage of children at each educational level as follows: preschool (16.8), elementary school (22.9), middle school (13.4), high school (12.9), college or university (29.1), and employed or employable adults (4.9). For Korean missionary parents with children of primary or secondary school age, the type of schooling selected, by percentage, was as follows: local schools (35.9), international schools (28.6), schools in Korea (14.6), homeschooling (9.0), MK schools (8.9), and other options, including Korean overseas schools (3.0). Field studies suggest that each option has both advantages and disadvantages.

Many MKs feel that as a result of a decision made by their parents, they had to leave Korea suddenly and without sufficient opportunity to prepare. MKs who are unhappy in the field may begin to question God's goodness. Healthy spiritual relationships with God and parents should be consolidated before MKs reach adolescence.

Linguistic challenges are a hurdle in the education of MKs, especially during the first years in a new field. When MKs return to Korea on furlough, their Korean-language abilities are routinely tested by their grandparents and church members, and all too often the children are made to feel shame for their deficiencies. Yet at the same time teachers at international schools think that many Korean MKs need to give more effort to improving their English.

The emotional and psychological challenges for MKs are also substantial. MKs who attend boarding school may miss their parents and siblings. Those who attend local schools often lack close friendships. An absence of peer bonding is particularly marked for children who are homeschooled. On all fronts, relational satisfaction seems very low, which can cause severe loneliness and depression.

MKs often struggle with their cultural identity, which is vitally related to one's sense of self and one's pattern of behavior. The quest for a singular cultural identity is increasingly challenging in our swiftly globalizing world. Identities are always in the process of becoming. MKs' multiple cultural identities surface especially on their reentry to their "home" or passport country.

Financial problems are experienced by almost all Korean missionary families. Only a small number of Korean missionaries have been able to afford education insurance or other plans that help parents prepare early for the high cost of a university education. The large majority of MKs whom we interviewed hoped eventually to earn a good salary, seeing such income as providing the opportunity to support their parents and contribute to the world. Interviews have led me to suggest that children of missionaries who have been securely supported by churches, fruitful in ministry, and respected by local Christians are more likely to see missionary service as a positive career path that they themselves might follow.

Currently, MKs may sense that they belong to neither the home culture "A" nor the host culture "B," but only to a third culture "C." When coined in the early 1950s, the term "third-culture kid" lacked its current positive connotations, which stress the child's intercultural adaptability and competence. Successful educational missionaries can help ensure that MKs belong to both the home culture "A" and the host culture "B," and thus in practice to a hybrid culture "AB." I suggest that such processes would allow us to replace the term "third-culture kid" with "hybrid-culture kid." Our understanding of the nature and mission of MK education should be updated along these lines.

Korean missionaries need to plan their children's education wisely by making informed decisions. A vague fideism among many Korean missionaries has sometimes hindered appropriate planning, effective preparation, and practical support for their children's education. Affordable best practice should guide decisions about MK education, which should be tailored to the situation of individual missionary families. Overall, despite many complicating factors, we should be confident that the complex goals of MK education can be achieved.

Missionary children need to understand and accept the realities of their lives and education and to appreciate what is available to them. An MK's spiritual heritage, cultural capital, and personal relationships are very rich and will provide him or her with opportunities later in life. Insofar as MKs internalize their identities and develop coping strategies, they develop psychological strengths and an emotional stability that will serve them well in unfamiliar situations.

A more nuanced approach will overcome the stereotypes of an idealized missionary life and will encourage Korean churches to upgrade their mission programs to take more fully into account the details of missionary life, including the realities for MKs. Because of factors often beyond their control, teachers, dorm parents/assistants, and administrators tend not to stay in this ministry for a long period of time, which inhibits the development and accumulation of expertise. Korean churches should set aside a portion of their mission giving as support for lay missionaries who work with MKs, for missionaries who do not focus on evangelism and church planting often have trouble raising support.

People who accept the lordship of God and desire the progress of his kingdom need to pay close attention to this often marginalized yet promising and often very talented group of people. God's mission is both cross-cultural and cross-generational. Korean MKs are God's covenantal people, but they are vulnerable as they stand with their parents on the front lines of the missio Dei. (2)


(1.) EunYong Cindy Kim carried out the interviews in the Philippines and Thailand. The remainder of the interviews in seven countries were carried out by Steve Moon with the assistance of Hee-Joo (Yoo) Moon and Jung Joo Lee. All are on the KRIM staff. In all but four instances the interviews were of individuals rather than of groups. The 176 interviews generated over 800 pages of field notes, which are now kept, along with recordings of the interviews, at KRIM.

Nine formal schools and two home schools in nine countries were covered by our research; two separate group interview sessions with a total of eight university students were added later. The schools covered by our research are Manila Hankuk (Korean) Academy, Manila, Philippines (principal: Segi Hong,; Grace International School, Chiang Mai, Thailand (superintendent: Jennie Garcia,; Black Forest Academy, Kandern, Germany (principal: Robert Shuman,; Hanal Korean School in GDQ International Christian School, Tirana, Albania (director: Roger Pearce,; Dakar Academy, Dakar, Senegal (director: Joseph Rosa,; Bourofaye Christian School, Dakar, Senegal (; International Gateway Academy, Istanbul, Turkey (; Glovill High School, Busan, Republic of Korea (principal: Kiy oung Shin,; Sejong Global School, Cheonan, Republic of Korea (director: EunHwa Chai, http://sejongglobalschool .org); and home schools in China and Myanmar.

(2.) This summary report is based on a fuller report that was published as an addendum to Family Accountability in Missions: Korean and Western Case Studies, ed. Jonathan J. Bonk (New Haven: OMSC Publications, 2013), 243-58. The numbers for Korean missionaries and MKs have been updated to reflect the new data set gathered in December 2013.

(3.) In 2012 the average monthly educational cost per four-person Korean missionary family was W591,082 (US$ 555), ranging from a low of W200,000 ($188) to a high of W1,000,000 ($940). See Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, "Missions from Korea 2013: Microtrends and Finance," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 37, no. 2 (April 2013): 96.

(4.) Alternative schools in Korea do not follow the pattern set out in the government's standard educational policies and curricula. They seek to overcome problems found in traditional public education by emphasizing differing educational goals and contexts. Overall, alternative schools are smaller in size, more experiential in teaching and learning, more individualized to accommodate different learning styles, and more likely to be based on a particular religious worldview than public schools.

Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, a contributing editor, is Executive Director of the Korea Research Institute for Mission (, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Korean Missionary Children Totals as of December 2013

Missionaries                             20,085

  annual growth rate (percentage)           1.4

Mission agencies                            166

  sending/supporting                     124/42
  interdenominal/ denominational         150/16

Missionary children                      17,675

Breakdown of MK population (percentage)

  by educational level

    preschool                              16.8
    elementary school                      22.9
    middle school                          13.4
    high school                            12.9
    college or university                  29.1
    employed or employable adults           4.9

  by type of schooling (for primary
  or secondary education)

    local schools                          35.9
    international schools                  28.6
    schools in Korea                       14.6
    homeschooling                           9.0
    MK schools                              8.9
    Korean schools overseas/others          3.0

Other realities of MK education (approximate proportion/percentage)

    MKs' language preference in        Korean        40
      everyday life
    MKs' country preference for        Korean        40
      university education

    MKs' language preference in        English       40
      everyday life
    MKs' country preference for        USA           40
      university education

    MKs' language preference in        Local                20
      everyday life                    language/other
    MKs' country preference for        Local                20
      university education             universities/other

    Korean MKs in international  MK schools as         7.2 to 18.0
      proportion of total student body
    MK educational cost as proportion of missionary           19.2
      families' expenditures (3)
    MKs in MK schools considering a career in                 21.7
      missionary service

Problems of Korean MKs (percentage)

    Serious adjustment problems in school                      0.9
    Professional counseling needs and mental health            0.6

Alternative schools

    Number of alternative schools in Korea (4)                 230
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Author:Moon, Steve Sang-Cheol
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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