Home » Faith Formation and Pastoral Care » Having a Baby in Mission

by Kim Fischer, Maryknoll Lay Missioner serving in Brazil:
Raising a family in mission can mean many different things. It means you’ll be far from extended family. It means that your main form of communication with those back home gets relegated to Skype, e-mails, and phone calls. It means that your toddler son learns how to leave a video message for “Grawn-pa” earlier than you would ever expect. It means that holidays spent apart equal packages and cards instead of dinners and hugs.
It also means that your family expands. That the people you meet in your new home will reach out to you, they will invite you into their lives, their homes, and take you under their wings. While this never replaces the love between you and your family and friends, it opens you up to a new kind of love.
When my daughter was born in Brazil this past May, so many of our friends here reached out to help. They watched her brother while we were in the hospital. They came bringing diapers, food, blankets, hand-me-downs, shampoo, and their love. Brazil is a country so in love with children, it’s simply beautiful. Every child is a blessing, as strangers tell me every day as we pass in our daily routine.
Having a baby in mission means deciphering medicine instructions in Portuguese and triple checking them online. It means navigating the world of doctors, hospitals, and vaccinations in a second language. It means that one of your postpartum nurses will be surprised when you answer her questions in Portuguese, saying, “they told me you didn’t speak!”
Having a baby in mission means that when the elevator is broken at the train station, the young girl working flags down three burly security men to carry the stroller with the itty bitty baby down the stairs to the platform.
Having a baby in mission means that you simplify all of the baby equipment we are told is necessary. You don’t need a bassinet, and a rocker, and a swing, and a bouncy seat, and a play mat. You do need diapers. Unfortunately, there is no escaping that fact.
Having a baby in mission means you learn and adjust to new cultural norms. I wasn’t expecting to find myself comfortable with breastfeeding in public!
Having a baby in mission means that you will have a herd of new adoptive aunties and uncles to welcome and love your children.
Having a baby in mission means that you’ll have a child with double citizenship, and that her older brother will be bilingual. It means that your children will ask for foods that you don’t know how to cook. They will say words from school that you don’t understand. They will want to play children’s games that you don’t know. But you will learn.
It means that you will be introduced to a whole world that would be invisible to you otherwise. Children open the channels of communication rather quickly, and it’s easy to make connections when you have such a visible (and audible!) common denominator. In my work with refugee women, despite the language barrier of their French to my Portuguese and English, our children connect us. We care about each others’ children. Are they eating, are they sleeping, are you sleeping? We pass along clothes, diapers, advice. In the absence of having our own mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters with us, we form new networks of women helping women.
There is a woman in my exercise class who has never participated in the entire year I’ve been there. She’s quiet and seems to be content with watching everyone else dance. However, one night while someone else was holding my daughter so I could run the session, I needed a break. I offered to hold Celeste’s infant son in case she wanted to dance. She didn’t sit down again that night! All it took was the connection from one parent to another, and the offer of help.
Raising a family in mission has its challenges. But the joy of watching my children grow in another culture, incorporating that culture’s values into their own, broadening their comfort levels and expanding their worlds, is simply a privilege. I love being able to work for something I believe in alongside my husband, and sharing that with our kids makes it all worthwhile.

Erik Cambier
Erik Cambier served as Maryknoll lay missioner for 25 years, in Tanzania, the United States, Venezuela and El Salvador.