Turns out it can be a lot – especially if you are the Mother of a third culture kid. All growing up I dreamed of being a missionary. My favorite books to read were either by missionaries or biographies about them. I loved the idea of adventure, living in an exotic place seemed, well…exotic. It seemed so noble and so brave to leave your own culture and bond with and take on another. To give up all that was familiar for the sake of God and the gospel. We call this “romanticizing” and I definitely had a romantic view of missions. I also mainly thought of it as just me, and maybe a husband but didn’t picture how children on the mission field would change life and change what missions looks like.
I could fill many blogs on how children has changed and challenged my view of missions and missionary work. On how it has even threatened my ideals of what I should be in missions because some days I am “just a Mom” and all other ministry takes a back seat. But this post is about names.
We had our first daughter in 2010 while we were serving on a YWAM base in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hawaii is definitely a blend of cultures and there are aspects of life that make you feel like you live abroad a bit but it is still definitely America. Naming our daughter there came quite easily and although we didn’t feel pressed to do so, the name we gave her was Hawaiian.
This pregnancy and our son was different. In 2012 we began transitioning out of our life in Honolulu into a new phase and moving our family toward full-time work in French Polynesia. It took us some time, visa applications, lots of flying and moving to finally settle here but in November 2013 we landed in Tahiti and moved into our little apartment.
About 9 months into our new life here I found out I was pregnant with our second child. This was incredibly welcome news as we had been trying for 4+ years to conceive and had 2 miscarriages along the way (one here in Tahiti the month before I found out I was pregnant). My husband and I are quite different when it comes to naming our children. I have been doing it in my mind (and in lists) since I was 14. David would rather just hear a name in a quiet time. So for a large majority of this pregnancy we didn’t talk about names…at least not seriously. From time to time I would throw one at him in the kitchen while we washed dishes but that was about it. About 2 months before the baby came (we chose not to find out if we were having a boy or a girl) I came across the name Eliana (which means “God has heard and answers”) and shared the name with David. It was an instant hit in both name and meaning (which doesn’t happen for us) so that became our top girl name. We continued to be stuck on a boys name. I think it was just a few weeks before my due date that we decided we should probably really sit, discuss and pray over a name. A week before we had felt in prayer over the baby that God was really speaking peace and joy over our family and over this child. We felt like he or she would be a bringer of peace. So that’s where we started, looking up names that meant “peace” of “joy”. None really stuck out to us…and many of the meanings just fell flat for us. We wanted depth and declaration over our child and nothing was leaping out at us.
My husband really wanted to talk to one of our Tahitian friends here and ask about Tahitian names that meant joy and/or peace. Tahitian is a beautiful language and one thing we love about it is it is so descriptive. In English we have words for everything, in Tahitian you describe something. We went through many names and one that struck us quite quickly and we both loved the meaning was Vaihaunoa (pronounced Vai (rhymes with “hi”) hau (how) noa (Noah) – which means, “To be rooted in the peace of God forever”. One concern of mine with a Tahitian name was that none of our friends or family in the states would be able to pronounce it. I wanted one that was pronounceable but also a name we could shorten into a nickname so that child could chose to give his full name or his nickname. So with Vaihaunoa we had the long version and “Noa” for short. (The name “Noa” means comfort and rest).
We sat down to pray one morning armed with these things – Tahitian names with deep meaning and a few English names that were ok but didn’t strike us in the same way. But almost instantly when we started praying all this stuff in me started coming up that I didn’t realize was there…
- Fear of what people would think if I gave my white son a Tahitian name (both my stateside friends and locals here)
- Would I be setting my son up for success or failure by giving him a cross cultural name
- I have made fun of people and judged people myself for giving their kids “strange” names and now I was “one of them”
- Could I call my son Vaihaunoa or would that name always sound strange on my tongue because it’s not my first language?
I had never thought about what it would be like to have children overseas and consider that they would grow up with their heart in several places and the place they felt most at home may be a place that still felt foreign to me. My son and daughter will most likely feel more at home in Tahiti then anywhere else. And if we do move sooner than we expect this beautiful country is a part of their story and their inheritance.
I gave birth to my son 3 days ago and we named him Vaihaunoa “Noa” Alan Scott Burr. (Quite a mouthful, I know…I pray he can pull it off) ☺ Saying his full name still feels a bit strange to me and at night I sit up and wonder if I made a mistake. But in the stillness of the night with the Lord I am reassured that I have not. I am honored to be the mother of this little boy and raise him here in Tahiti, French Polynesia. I still cannot comprehend the blessing that he has to be embraced so fully by his family in the states and Canada and also by our friends (who are becoming more like family all the time) here in Tahiti. I am so excited to see what is in his future and I know that whether it’s here, or anywhere else in the world giving him a piece of Tahiti forever is a blessing.
This post is NOT a statement that I think anyone who serves overseas should give their child a foreign name….it isn’t about that at all. This process just revealed the things I feared about living cross culturally – the fear that I am not yet understood fully here and then by giving my child a cross-cultural name I won’t be understood by my home culture either. Scary! ☺ But I feel like the Lord is showing me a new way, not just how to do missions for me but how to do missions for my kids. How to shift my mind into realizing that their growing up will not be like mine and that’s ok but it will mean that some decisions I make for my kids might feel slightly strange to me.
My husband has a great perspective on the whole thing (He's a pretty wise guy!) when he says, “In one generation God has taken your family line from Lititz to French Polynesia. Just imagine where He will take us in the next one. What kind of names will our Grand-children have?”
Malia started school mid-August and has introduced us to a whole new part of life - both as first time parents of a school age child AND as people figuring out a whole new school system in a foreign country.
Children are enrolled in school as early as 2 years old! The “Maternal” has 4 sections;
Section Trop Petit (So Little)
Section Petit (Little)
Section Moyen (Mediums)
Section Grand (Bigs)
And then after these sections are complete they move to the elementary and basically start the equivalent of 1st Grade. Malia is in a class that actually has a mix of mediums/bigs. There are 20 kids in her class; 10 girl and 10 boys. Technically Malia should be a “big” this year since she turned 5 but we put her in Medium because of language and they included her in the mixed class because the older kids get an hour of English a week and so they thought that would be nice for Malia to have at least one class in the week that was in English.
Every child in her school and even in the elementary next door know “Malia - the English girl”. Her school is heavily Tahitian with a handful of French kids but Malia is the only English kid. She has done so well with the transition and we have been really grateful for her school. I was so nervous about school but God really set us in the right school, the right class and with the right teacher. Her teacher’s name is Tumata and she is PERFECT! Seriously couldn’t have asked for a better teacher for Malia. She is so kind and gentle and patient. She does know English so when Malia is really stuck she is able to re-explain to her. Malia’s French has come along very well and I think most of the time everything functions in French now but especially at the beginning Tumata would translate for Malia.
Malia’s school is in a poorer neighborhood and the Directrice of the school has been really committed to helping these kids be set for a good education. I guess previously the school wasn’t doing so well and wasn’t equipping children as well as they could and she just has a heart to see things change in this neighborhood and see these kids set up for their future. David joined the equivalent of the PTA and it’s been a good place to really get to know other parents and just be involved in our community a bit.
School has been a great place to become known and be fixtures in the community. I run into parents all over town etc. I’m also excited to see what Malia will bring to this little school - she has such a kind heart and such a brave spirit. When we see children crying in the morning before school she will pray for them. Her teacher’s foot was hurt at one point and she said, “I think I should pray for her.” :) May we bring the Kingdom wherever we go and see God do amazing things in Malia’s school and in the surrounding community!
Going to the Post Office - seems simple enough, right? :) And actually, most of the time it is - I know there are countries where the mail system is way more difficult to deal with but we have still had to learn a lot when it comes to mail and the post office.
The Post Office here is actually many things - it has its own bank, it’s the telecommunications department and it is mail. They don’t really do street addresses here and I have never seen a person or car delivering mail to an actual street address. Everyone has post office boxes.
One interesting thing with the post office is when we first arrived they were really strict about who picked up mail. If a package was addressed to David (we pick up our packages at a little window) he HAD to pick it up and show his passport. We found out that we could fill out a form so that either of us could pick up mail for the other but we had to sit and wait and talk to someone inside the post office. We got that all set up and still had problems a few times after that. Now they know us and seem more laid back. They don’t even ask to see my license anymore.
Packages take about 2 weeks to arrive to us when things are running as they should (Lately things have NOT been running as they should!) Letters take anywhere from 2-7 weeks depending how they are mailed. Over the month of December though the mail slows WAY down…like way down. This year was especially bad because of Chikcungunya (a mosquito born illness) which had many people out of work. I received a package from early November and a few others from December at the end of January!
Another interesting thing about mail is that packages valued over 20,000 XPF (about $200 US) are taxed 51% (customs gets some of this money as well as…). The 20,000XPF is the value of the contents PLUS the shipping cost. So it sounds high on one hand but when you consider that most of our boxes cost about $60-80 to even send the box that doesn’t leave a whole lot of money for content. The government really wants to keep people from spending money outside the nation but things are so expensive here that even many of our local friends find a way to get stuff mailed or brought to them because affording simple things is hard for some.
Interesting fact: I have I think on three occasions walked all the way to the post office (before we had a car) and back hoping to pick up a package that I knew was on it’s way and all three times there was nothing in our box. Not the best day when you walk 3 miles round trip for nothing. Haha! One time I definitely treated myself to a magnum bar for the trouble.
I have been wanting to do a better job at communicating about life here - not just snippets but really give better pictures of our life here. It’s hard for anyone to connect with something if they can’t see or experience it themselves. How do you communicate about life in a country none of your friends or family have been too (yet!)? :)
So my organized left-brain came up with a system for this :) I am going to do little blogs that talk about specific areas of life here. I will do topics like Grocery Shopping, Going to the Post Office, Driving, School, Team Life etc so that I can expound on that area of life here, share stories and interesting facts and answer questions if you have any. Hopefully it will be fun!
So today - Grocery Shopping! There are two main grocery stores here in Tahiti. Unlike the states we have very little choice when it comes to where to shop. In my hometown of Lititz there are 3 large grocery stores within a mile of each other! Not so here! The two largest chains are Carrefour (a French store) and Champion. Champion is the closest to us and it was the one we walked to during our 9 months without a car. It’s the smaller of the two but we were so grateful for Champion and it had a decent stock including a small deli and cheese counter. Carrefour is more like the Super Walmart of Tahiti. A large grocery section but also has household items, cleaning supplies, school supplies, toys, small appliances and clothing.
My first 6 months of shopping here were difficult - A. because we walked and B. it was just a very draining exercise learning what things were called (everything is in French), figuring out what was available and needing to stick to a strict list because of the cost of food here. Shopping is getting easier as I go - I’m much more familiar with things, I know a lot of French food vocabulary now and I don’t feel so intimidated if I have to ask for help. My current obstacle is now figuring out the seasons for different things - when things (especially different produce) are in and when I can’t count on them anymore for meals.
My funniest shopping blunder so far was walking almost the entire way home from Champion (about 1 1/2 miles away) with a large upright laundry basket (that we actually use as a garbage can….actual garbage cans are crazy expensive here!) with about 40 pounds of groceries in it. We had an outreach team here and so had run a few loads of people back and forth to do some shopping. I thought I got left behind (which would have been easy to do because we had several van loads going back and forth) so I decided instead of waiting around another 15 minutes to find out that, yes, I had indeed been left behind I just decided to walk. I had bought more groceries than I would normally if walking by myself because I had planned on riding home. The whole time I walked I was just praying the van would drive by, see me and pick me up. I got within 7 minutes of our apartment when I local friend and her husband pulled up and she was like, “Erin, what in the world are you doing?” I told her that I couldn’t find the team at the store so I figured I had been left. She then informed me that she had just been at the grocery store, seen some of the team and they were still shopping! Oy vey! So anyway, they kindly gave me a lift the rest of the way - which was lovely because I was definitely struggling and the last little bit home was up hill! :)
Interesting food facts: Tahiti bees are only able to keep up with about 40% of the honey demand of the island. Therefore it is EXTREMELY rare to see honey here and when you do it is very expensive! Much of the honey gets bought up by hotels and such long before it’s even harvested so it doesn’t even make it to store shelves. Also, it is banned to mail or bring honey into French Polynesia - they won’t import it because they don’t want anything contaminating their bees. The bees here have no diseases here and they want to keep it that way.
Because our team is very small at the moment and we can do big extravagant things, we simply do small things as God leads us and trust Him for the extravagance! A simple thing happened this week that was such a blessing and wanted to share it with you.
Two weeks ago our little team prayed and really wanted to do something for the staff that work at our apartment complex. We have a landlord plus two employees who work the grounds. They work incredibly hard and we always feel like they can't possibly be getting the thanks they deserve for all they do. The one man especially keeps our garbage rooms clean and cleans the garbage cans constantly (and with 40+ units that's a lot of garbage!) We felt to pray and get verses for each of them and bake some cake and so we did. Nothing extraordinary - just simple obedience to God.
Yesterday one of the workers came by our house. He doesn’t hear very well and therefore his speech can be rather slurred. It can be hard to understand him sometimes (and then on top of it, I’m just not that great at French yet!). But he came to our house and asked for two of our dining chairs. We didn’t quite understand what he wanted with them, but gave them anyway. 20 minutes later he came back with the seats freshly covered in new fabric and asked for 2 more chairs and proceeded to recover our 6 dining room chairs. He said that he was so touched by the gift and especially the verse that he felt to do something for us.
Funnily enough, I had gone out to buy fabric just the other day to recover my chairs but hadn’t gotten the tools yet to do it myself. The fabric he put on wasn’t my first choice but when he told us why and his heart to bless us they became the most beautiful chairs in the world. I LOVE my new chairs because they show me that even the simplest acts can touch others.
The Word and love of God is powerful! It tears down strongholds, builds relationships and sets people free. Don’t give up little opportunities to do things that can have big impact. It’s not about what you do but HOW you do it. If you do it to obey and show the love of God, anything can happen!
Since I'm knee-deep in French language learning that's what this post is going to be about. :) (Sorry, don't have a picture of me studying...David is cuter anyway!) It is a long, hard road to learn another language but I'm grateful for the challenge (sometimes I have to remind myself of that!). It has been interesting and eye opening to not know the language around me - I use all my brain power just to keep up and figure out what is going on. But it's also been good to listen more...to not have to have the first or last word (because I don't know the word anyway) and to really take in what's going on rather than having to be the one who is being heard. It's also humbling; humbling to stand in a group and feel totally alone or want to comfort or say something and not know how to do it. It's also the furthest I've been pushed to go for a relationship - I'm going to learn a whole other language and way of life just because I know it's worth it to be in relationship with you.
A scripture that has been a declaration for me is 1 Corinthians 14:10-11 "There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me."
I don't want to (and will not be...praise the Lord) a foreigner forever to these people here. I will always be from another place physically but through language I can be a friend, mentor, help, blessing etc to those around me.
We are not all called to learn another language for the sake of relationship and blessing others. But I do believe we are called outside and beyond ourselves to love others. If all your relationships are possible, I challenge you to ask God for an "impossible" relationship. God's love for us has given us the ability to show the same crazy, radical, limitless love to everyone. :)
Malia and I ready for our walk to the Post Office to pick up a box from home! It's always like Christmas when we get a package from those we love :)
We are so grateful that our first two smaller members of YWAM Tahiti team (many more to follow, we believe!) love to play and hang out together! :)
I know..this isn't the best photo - blurry and random (It's Malia peeking out around her stroller) but it is the first picture I took when we arrived in our new home of Tahiti.
We have been so blessed to be in this country now for 2+ months; bonding with our team, getting to know our neighbors, reconnecting with old friends and starting up our new lives here. God is so good and so gracious and we are excited for what He has in store for us and this nation. It is a privilege to serve God!
All of us are inundated with social media, blogs, Facebook, twitter, instagram etc. So although I want to use this space for something personal but I hope to keep it short and sweet and just a glimpse into daily ministry life in Tahiti. :)