As an HSLDA Special Needs Educational consultant, I frequently have the privilege of traveling all over the US to local and state homeschool conferences in order to encourage and equip families in their home education journeys. I find it inspiring to meet with students and parents and see their commitment and passion for their faith, home education, and family. I truly count it as one of, if not the most, rewarding aspects of this ministry and my position. For the past 8 years, being a part of HSLDA's mission to advocate for and advance home education freedom has been a great joy.
But sometimes in the midst of “ordinary” conversations and workshops about special needs, therapies, scheduling, and curricula, I meet a family facing a very serious situation or hear heartbreaking stories, such as those who have had children taken away as the result of a “well meaning” family member or neighbor, or a tale of school system professionals interfering with the parents' freedom to direct educational decisions about special interventions, therapies, or curricula choices. I also have spoken with military and missionary families facinghardcircumstances such as spouses and children being sent home from overseas duty assignments because the child had special needs and could not be appropriately served.
As a former Army wife who lived and taught in Seoul, Korea for two years, such stories particularly resonate with me. Over a year ago, God began to stir in my heart a deep desire to support those families homeschooling outside of the US. So I prayed and let Him know I was open to whatever opportunity He may want to orchestrate in order for me to do so.
While attending a special needs home education conference in 2015, I had two separate professional acquaintances mention an educational organization based out of Hungary calledSHARE Education Services. They suggested that I and/or HSLDA might be of assistance to them, particularly to families overseas who were homeschooling children with varying disabilities. I learned that the international headquarters for SHARE Education Services is located in Hungary, but they have staff members living in other countries including England, Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain and the US.
After researching SHARE Education Services, I reached out to them and explained how HSLDA’s Special Needs website, workshops, and Struggling Learner e-newsletter may possibly be helpful resources to homeschooling families in Europe. The leadership of SHARE expressed interest in having me come to speak and present workshops, so I told them I would pray and make a decision.
A few months later in the August 2015, I was invited to teach at a local private homeschool conference in order to provide teacher and parent training on effective strategies for teaching reading. While there, I had the pleasure of speaking with the keynote speaker—who had served as a missionary to Hungary and been a part of SHARE Education Services! I took her stories of, students and parents learning, living, and serving overseas and lives touched there as God's voice of confirmation to me. It seemed pretty apparent I was supposed to go to Hungary for the SHARE conference. So, I accepted their invitation to be a part of their February 2016 conference to present workshops on homeschooling and to offer diagnostic reading assessments for students.
SHARE assists families serving in Europe, Russia, and Central Asia by helpingthem to enrich and enhance the education of their children. Nearly 20 years ago, veteran cross-cultural educators foundedSHARE Education Services to assist parents in providing quality education fortheir children. Today, SHARE continues to offer overseas families that much-needed assistance by providing conferences and seminars, testing services, resource libraries and materials, and personal consultation via e-mail, mail, Skype, VoIP, telephone, fax, or in person.
According to SHARE's website, “International research suggests that difficulty with their children’s adjustment is a main, yet preventable reason why families leave overseas assignments prematurely—and education is akey element in children’s adjustment.”
Parents raising their families overseas do not want to sacrifice their children’s well-being or education. Like all parents, they desire a quality education for their children thatprepares them for further education and productive life work. However, it is often true that families are located in areas where local schools may not be desirable, nor a good fit, for their children. In addition, parents often feel inadequate to homeschool on their own, or their children may have special learning challenges.
I traveled to Siofok, Hungary February 21-26, 2016 to for the SHARE conference, where families from over 27 different countries gathered. I was delighted to discover a large portion of them have chosen home education! While at the conference, I was able to meet with families who are currently homeschooling, as well as answer questions during a roundtable discussion with families investigating home education. I also presented a workshop on home educating students with special needs and assessed the language, reading, and writing skills of 12 students. Additionally, I met with a few families who were gathering information and seeking support to begin homeschooling not only their own children, but also neighbor children. A number of families were also starting support groups for other interested families who are residing in countries where homeschooling is not yet recognized. It was a joy to connect with these precious families and offer support and resources for their endeavors, and serve somewhat as an unofficial liaison between them and HSLDA’s International team.
During the week, I was struck by the excitement, comradery, and openness among the families. There was a great sense of unity and true fellowship among the attending families, volunteers, and staff. The children were respectful and kind, engaged learners and miracle of miracles, NOT ONCE did I see a child on an electronic device! That was definitely one big takeaway—in the US, our children spend way too much time on hand-held devices, rather than holding the hands of others! This year in my family’s homeschool, I have committed to prioritize and plan time for serving others—be it by taking kids to visit a nursing home or volunteer in the community in some capacity. My time in Hungary also made me recommit to protecting important, authentic relationships and sacred family time. We will allow margin in our schedule—time to play games, take a walk, pray with hurting people, laugh together, or go lay on a blanket and read under a tree disconnected from wires, social media, and false relationships.
Kathy Kuch and Steve Demme presented keynote and plenary sessions during the conference, and they were extremely transparent and real. Such authenticity set the tone for the week and allowed families to feel free—to be able to let their guard down and communicate openly about the many needs and challenges facing them. At this international conference, I sensed no judgment or the “comparison trap” among the families. There was multi-generational sharing around meal times and worship, heart-to-heart connections and conversation, caring for and encouraging one another individually and in small groups, as well as prayer and teaching. It truly was a beautiful picture of the body of Christ functioning in a healthy, thriving way.
God Expands and Releases
One of the most important ways this trip impacted me is how God expanded my view of what it means to be a missionary. By and large, the families I met were “ordinary,” yet extraordinary!
They are working in their various professional capacities, raising kids, going on trips, cooking meals, attending kids' music and sports lessons, and attending worship services—doing this thing called life—while being ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ by using their unique gifts and talents by serving where God has planted them. We are each one called to be ministers of the gospel—His ambassadors, wherever He takes us (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
Secondly, I was reminded how precious our freedom is. We know our freedom came with a fight; a fight previous generations fought and won that we must watchfully protect, or it could be taken away from us. Many of the international families I met are living, working, and homeschooling in areas of the world where it is risky—risky to be a Christian, risky to be different—not to participate in government schools and to go against cultural tides. Many of them are homeschooling now in 2016 much like the “pioneers” of homeschooling in the US in the late 1970's and early 1980's, not going out during school hours and “flying under the radar.” I was reminded of how much we, as Americans, take for granted and how easy life is here for us. This generation of homeschooling families in the US often takes for granted the freedom to be able to go to the grocery store and park during regular school hours. We think we are always going to be able to choose, “What will school look like this coming year? Will we do a part-time class at co-op or the local Christian school or perhaps tap into public school for a therapy?”Many of the families I met in Hungary did not have any of these freedoms and choices available—but they are stepping out in faith to fight for those rights.
I went to the conference as a homeschool educational consultant to encourage families, but these families truly encouraged me. I left there as a fellow parent—renewed and rejuvenated to keep running this race of raising my children and home educating—because I saw the fruit of the labor when parents have the FREEDOM to direct the upbringing and education of their children. In the midst of the many stories of hardship, persecution, various trials, feelings of loneliness, doubt and fears, as well as loss, there was great joy, faith, and excitement!
At the end of the trip, albeit exhausted, I had forged some friendships that I know will last for eternity. I felt inwardly refreshed to return home and keep reaching out and loving people, serving in the home and community, advocating for parental rights and homeschooling freedom, and to continue to spread Jesus' message of salvation and freedom (Luke 4:18-19). Folks, we are in a battle—for the hearts and minds of our children and for freedom. Parental rights and the freedom to direct the upbringing and education of our children is paramount to sustain the family and ultimately societies. Parents everywhere need to stand together, move forward in the authority of their God-given calling, and pray for each other. Please pray for those internationally who are seeking and fighting for freedom within the global home education movement.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)