Global Insights | Parenting in the Middle East

We thought it would be fascinating to hear about how people parent their children in different contexts, countries and cultures. Gospel-centred parenting will in some ways look very similar across the world, but in other ways it will look extraordinarily different.  Click here to read an introduction to the series. 

Thrillingly, we’ve had two different families get in touch to tell us about their experience of parenting in the Middle East, so we’ve included both in this post.

So without further ado let me introduce you to Jo Chee, a British expat, mum of four and Christian blogger.

Where do you live and what’s it like?

We’ve spent the last seven years of our life in a crowded city of over 20 million in the Middle East. Our mornings begin with the call to prayer from several surrounding mosques, none of which are synchronised or in tune! During the Muslim sacrifice month, the field in front of our apartment becomes a holding place for thousands of sheep and cows. On the day of sacrifice we’re not sure whether to watch in repulsed fascination or hide away behind the curtains, as one animal after another is slaughtered and the field fills with blood.
On the streets women walk hand-in-hand, one covered from head-to-foot, the other wearing a mini-skirt. It is a city of contrasts. West meets East. Beautiful history and stunning buildings on the water’s edge. Apartment blocks so close together that the sky is blocked. This is our home! Three of our children thrive here. One doesn’t.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you face in Christian parenting because of your context? What do you do to encourage your children to love Jesus?

In many ways, Christian parenting is the same here as anywhere. There are struggles, there are joys.

We have good intentions of having regular devotions with our kids. We begin, or sometimes don’t even begin, then very quickly our times together fizzle out. We sometimes have family worship instead of going to church (because we need a break from church in a foreign language). This works well when the kids are little. They love to sing and jump around. Fast forward a few years, and our teens feel somewhat uncomfortable singing along with Mum and Dad!

We feel on our own a lot. The first few years, we do not have families with kids our age to compare notes with. We learn by ourselves how to navigate this thing called parenting. We are often tired, not just normal ‘parenting tired’, but tired of trying to get by in a different language and a different culture. Just shopping for food can be overwhelming. It doesn’t leave much energy left for coming up with great parenting strategies!

Living here, we have seen and heard sad stories of kids messed up, just because their parents were too busy serving. We are blessed. If anything, our time here in a foreign land has been more about being family than reaching others. We have done both. But if God only brought us here to be a family, then that’s a great thing, and it has happened. Our kids have caught something of our heart to reach the lost. We have been on an adventure together. Shared experiences of living in a foreign culture have knit us closer.

We’ve had tough times too. Loneliness. Frustrations. One of the hardest parenting challenges has been walking alongside our son as he’s battled through low times and feeling like he doesn’t fit. This could have happened anywhere, but here it is compounded by the spiritual atmosphere, subtle but heavy. This son is our sensitive one. He picks up on what affects so many of the people living here. In trying to support him, I came to an end of myself. I share my story here: I Can’t Carry My Children Anymore: All About Letting Go and Letting God (http://mumskidsjesus.com/cant-carry-children-end-of-myself-letting-go-letting-god/)

My husband and I are relaxed parents. Sometimes maybe just a bit too much! We cannot force our kids to love or follow Jesus. We have mostly lived our faith and let our kids see Jesus in our lives. They’ve come with us to church when police stand patrol outside the door because of bombing threats, they’ve heard testimonies from locals who have come to Jesus through dreams and visions, they’ve seen the needless sacrifice of animals each year. Most importantly, they have come to understand the preciousness of Jesus’ sacrifice, that was ONCE and for ALL.

We love this country and all it’s been to us. We don’t know if our parenting would have been different elsewhere. One thing we’ve learnt: parenting is love. It’s about being family together, where ever you are. It’s about enjoying each other, knowing there’s a place to call home that is full of joy and laughter.

End note: We have recently relocated back to the UK, and are slowly adapting back to British life – a whole new challenge in itself! Wonderful news, that we praise God for: our son who struggled is a new child. He loves being ‘home’, is making great friends and is really happy for the first time in years. Our other children are finding it difficult being back, but we see God’s hand on them. It will take time, and again we want to build a home that is full of love, a place where they feel secure in all the change.

 


After several years of living and serving overseas, Joanna Chee, her wonderful husband, and four lovely kids, now live near London in the UK. Joanna blogs at MumsKidsJesus.com. It is her heart to encourage and equip women to love their families and meet with God. She is the author of several free resources including The Cultivate Love Challenge: 50+ Ideas and Resources to Help Your Family Grow in Love and Enjoy 7 Days of Praying For Your Husband. Follow her on Facebook and Pinterest.


 

We also heard from Sarah,* a British expat living in a different Arab country in the Middle East. In the country where she lives, non-Muslim expats are given permission to practice their faith privately, so long as they don’t proselyte, but it is illegal for local people to hold any faith but Islam.

Sarah is a mum to a 6 year old son.

Where do you live and what’s it like?

A middle eastern country. It’s amazingly different… brilliant weather, deeply Muslim, very other!!!

What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you face in Christian parenting because of your context?

Wanting to share my heart for others to know Jesus with our son, but in a deeply Muslim context. Wanting him to share our faith with others, but not wanting him to share about how and where we collectively worship.
Having conversations with him, about Islam and eternity, but having to trust that the Holy Spirit will moderate any typical 6 year old conversation.

What do you do to encourage your children to love Jesus?

We try and live our lives in a way that brings glory to Him, we try and talk about our relationship with God as naturally as possible, and ascribe God a central place in our home. We try to love our son as unconditionally as possible, as we believe parental wounding turns many young people away from a walk with God.
We pray, we teach our son to pray.
We homeschool, with a missions outlook.

* Name has been changed to protect her identity


It’s fascinating isn’t it?!

Where we live in the UK there is a lot of apathy to religion; that presents very different challenges and opportunities to living in a deeply religious country. We hope that this series will help us to have a greater heart for the global church. We also hope learning from other believers will help us to analyse our own contexts, so that we’re able to see with fresh eyes the opportunities and challenges facing us and our children, as we seek to live for Jesus where he’s placed us.

Perhaps you could take part in our series? We’d love to hear about how you parent in your particular context. Whether that’s in a rural village in France, a bustling cosmopolitan city in Australia, a council estate in Grimsby or somewhere else entirely. We’d love to hear from you. Fill in the form below to let us know your thoughts about parenting in your context:

 

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2 thoughts on “Global Insights | Parenting in the Middle East

  • February 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm
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    An interesting read, thanks a lot and great to hear yoru sensitive son is now thriving back in the UK Joanna. I’ll pray your others start to find their place as well very soon. Mich x

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