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A conversation with Francine Hunt & Mariaana Klar

Raising children on the mission field can be one of the most challenging things for any missionary to navigate. There may be tough choices around education. Supporting children’s emotional health and keeping the family unit strong will also need to be a priority, alongside the many pressures that can come with cross-cultural ministry. Families are also likely to want to remain connected with their home culture, and friends and family there, which can add another layer to family dynamics.

While there’s no right or wrong way to do any of this, we can gain wisdom from those who’ve had to face some of these challenges before.

In this latest blog, long-term missionary Mariaana Klar shares how she and her husband Erik navigated some of these issues, while founding and running TheRiver.Asia ministry throughout Thailand. Mariaana’s full thoughts can be found on the latest “One Life at a Time” podcast where she chats with Pastor Francine Hunt.


Mariaana brings an interesting perspective to parenting on the mission field. Having grown up as a child of missionaries, it was a life she was certain she didn’t want for herself – or for any future children she might have. But as she reflects, “When we walk with God, and our relationship grows in God, our values and priorities also get aligned according to the will of God. And so, eventually we did come as missionaries to Thailand, when I was about 30, and our little son came with us.”

That son was Petter. Mariaana says that while life on the mission field was exciting and rewarding, one of her most painful moments was the day they sent Petter to boarding school – in fact, to the very same school she had attended as a child. Mariaana had found boarding school extremely challenging, especially the long seasons apart from her family. Thankfully, Petter had a much better experience than his mother did and advancements in telecommunications meant he could keep in regular contact with his parents.

When Mariaana and Erik’s daughter, Erika, was born ten-and-a-half years later, the couple were in a different season of ministry. By the time Erika was ready to go to school, the family could move to the city and send her to an international school close to home. “So, Petter and Erika had vastly different experiences,” Mariaana says. “But if you would interview each one of them, you would discover they actually had a very positive experience.”

Mariaana says regardless of where they lived, or which school the children attended, she and Erik were determined to give their children “as normal a life as possible”. For the couple, it came down to a personal realisation that: “Parents are called into ministry. It doesn’t automatically mean the children are called to become missionaries and to become ministry people.”

The couple saw good education as a key part of that; attitude was another. Mariaana says she and Erik always spoke positively about their work and their home church in Australia, to ensure their children also grew up with a positive outlook on life. “[We were] honest about the realities but [didn’t] make them think that ‘poor us here, we’re missing out on so much because we’re serving God’,” Mariaana says.

Honest and transparency were also critical. Mariaana says her advice to any parent – and not just those on the mission field – is: “Let them be honest about their feelings… Also, allow yourself to be honest with them and learn to say sorry when you fail. That kind of transparency will pay dividends for the rest of your relationship… for the rest of their lives.”

Another key focus for the Klars – and one that also paid off later in life – was keeping their children connected with Australia. One of the ways they did this was regularly sending them to conferences and events in Australia, as well as welcoming short-term missions teams to visit their work in Thailand – many of whom befriended their children.

“Our son came to Planetshakers conferences when he was still quite young… because we wanted him to be exposed to what was happening in Australia…. And our Hillsong Conferences became our yearly rendezvous as a family… Our home church became so dear to our kids that they looked forward to the day that they would go back to Australia and be part of their home church.”

In fact, when the children did return to Australia as young adults – first Petter, then Erika some years later – they felt at home in a country they hadn’t even grown up in, because of the connections they’d been forming throughout their lives.

“[Once living in Australia, Petter] would spend most of his free time at church, volunteering and doing stuff there. And that has not changed in his life. He’s still very much serving in the church. For Erika – the same thing. When she came back to Australia, she already knew lots of people in the church.”

Today, both Mariaana and Erik’s children are living in Australia, serving in their churches alongside their spouses, and raising happy, healthy children of their own.

Mariaana and Erik visit as often as they can. And one of Mariaana’s greatest joys is being able to video-call her grandchildren – including watching her youngest learn how to crawl.

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