When our first child entered high school, I began to panic . . . now I would have to be very diligent about keeping records; now I would need to make sure every class counted. What if I had not taught him everything he would need to know before he went out into that great big world? What if I had forgotten something? Then Chris Davis from Elijah Company told me, “Of course you will leave out something. In today’s society, it is quite simply impossible to teach your children everything. That’s why you have to be very selective about what you do teach your children.” OK, well, while there can be great comfort in that, it also provides motivation to narrow my question to, “Is there something major that I’ve left out?”
My husband, the ever-present balance to my jump-before-looking approach to life, helped me to carefully examine how, in the relatively little time we had left, we could round out my child’s education to help him be better prepared for life. In looking back over what was at the time nine years of home education, we concluded that while there was still work to do, we were, over all, doing well academically. What our son was lacking was experiential learning from a global perspective. Unlike many home schoolers in our area, we did not come from a missions background where our children saw and experienced, firsthand, life in another country. How could we remedy that?
Well, seeing our need in a new way, the church mission trip to Mexico became not just something that would “be nice” if we could come up with the funds but a necessary ingredient in helping to make sure our son gained the global perspective and experiences we wanted to help shape his worldview. He will never forget the fifteen-by-thirty-foot foundation that he helped pour and the walls and roof he, his dad, and the youth group built for a family that, prior to that time, had been living in a cardboard shack. What a blessing to observe this incredibly grateful family move into this tiny new home that he helped to build. At the same time, he had the sudden realization that he had taken his own home for granted for years. Simply hearing that there are people more unfortunate in the world who live in hovels is far removed and impersonal compared to seeing and experiencing it firsthand.
Mission trips were not enough, however. I found it very frustrating that I could not find a travel group?a group that I trusted?that would give my son an overseas learning experience from a biblical worldview. While we valued learning abroad, our family had nowhere near the funds required for a family “learning trip” overseas.
Other than deciding where we wanted to go, one of the first things we had to do was to get past our desire for immediate gratification. If we had looked at England through the dollar signs that would be required to get us there, we would have closed the door on this possibility before ever beginning. Instead, we prayed about it and decided to take it one day at a time. Because seeing the great museums of the world and visiting the England of Bronte, Lewis, and Dickens, as well as the country from which ours was birthed, became a long-term family goal, it meant we would all be required to save, and we also knew that we would not have the funds at the end of just a month or two.
We came to a couple of conclusions: (1) We were not going to be able to go on our own, and (2) we could not go immediately. We knew from years of experience helping my in-laws run a family business that group rates are almost always significantly less expensive than individual rates. In addition, because we had never been to England, we knew we would need someone who knew all the ins and outs, who could guide us to the most student-friendly attractions and help us not to waste precious time trying to understand the public transportation system. We formed a group large enough to get us “group” air, hotel, and entrance rates, found a travel provider willing to coordinate a custom tour according to our needs, and worked for months ironing out detailed itineraries that emphasized the history, art, and literature we were studying. One of the most difficult aspects of the planning ended up being eliminating sites from our itinerary. We quickly discovered that we could easily spend a month in southern England doing two to three activities a day and still not see everything on our original list.
Obviously, the largest obstacle for us as home schoolers on a very limited budget was not the time to go but raising the funds to make it a reality. Therefore, we developed a plan of fundraising during which each of us did research on various aspects of our goal destination, and before we knew it, everyone who committed to the trip had raised enough money to get us where we wanted to go. For months the students babysat, took care of yards, and hired themselves out in numerous ways in order to raise the funds. We were on our way.
What we learned as a family during this process was that delayed gratification has its rewards. We learned that if there is something that is important enough, no matter how daunting the initial monetary estimates may be, there are ways to get there, but it may take time.
As a group of travelers, we learned that those of us who have chosen a more relaxed form of church fellowship and worship are capable of reveling in the beauties of a formal service at Westminster Abbey, no matter how unmoved the rest of the congregation may appear. At the Tower of London, we learned that it really does not matter how rich and powerful or popular you are—if a government is not held at bay, it has the power to take everything, including your life. We learned that over there, we are the foreigners—the ones with the accent. Our students were astonished when in March of 2008 the Italian students they met on a square in Ravenna knew all about our presidential candidates eight months prior to our national elections and wanted to talk politics. We learned that there can be great beauty and great darkness in the same place. We were humbled to realize that as magnificently beautiful as the cathedrals are, God chose to live, not there, but inside of us.
More than ten years have now passed since my first child and I took our first trip abroad together. So far, each of my three oldest children has traveled overseas at least twice before graduating from our home school high school. These trips have provided amazing opportunities to see up close and in person the beautiful art and architecture from their history lessons. It has provided them a much broader perspective of the world. We walked the same path that Julius and Augustus Caesar walked in their triumphal marches. We sat in the cell where Marie Antoinette awaited her appointment with the guillotine. We recited Shakespeare in the backyard of the house where he was born. We strolled across the same square, over the same cobblestones that Galileo, Dante, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci once roamed. We visited the prison cell where Paul was held in Rome and from where he probably penned the second book of Timothy.
None of these things would have been possible had we concentrated just on the immediate obstacles we faced in the planning or had we not joined with others who shared our conviction that there is value in seeing in person the countries that laid the foundations for our western culture. Do not dismiss the possibilities so quickly because of immediate circumstances. There is a great big world out there, waiting to be explored, that can bring your child a new perspective that will better prepare him for the challenges to come. Go find it!