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We boarded the plane with heavy hearts, one-way tickets in our hands. Settling into our seats, we watched the city we had grown to love, with its sandy beaches and scrubby bushland, receding into the distance. Over the past few weeks, I had been focused on the logistics of moving a family across continents, but now as the aircraft gained height, my emotions slowly began to surface.

  • The sorrow and pain of goodbyes.

  • Bewilderment and confusion at what God was doing.

  • Fear of what lay ahead and how our children would adapt.

  • Guilt for walking away from friends with whom we had been serving.

Transitions come to those serving in ministry in many different guises. They might be big and obvious, like crossing continents and cultures, or moving across the UK. They might be ‘smaller’, such as a move to a new home in the same town, or a new ministry role without actually needing to move. Sometimes, a transition may involve something more subtle, such as a much-loved and servant-hearted family leaving your church, or colleagues moving on.

A few years ago, my husband was appointed pastor of the church we attended. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but this transition was subtle and so we weren’t immediately aware of its impact. However, our kids were. They continued to attend the same school, with the same friends, but their profiles shifted. They became more visible. They no longer felt ‘anonymous’, since it now seemed that everyone knew our business. For one of them, this was especially difficult.


Transition is inevitable, but it does seem to be particularly prevalent in the lives of those in ministry. It is not unusual for ministry families to be adept at reciting the number of roles they have had, homes they have lived in, or schools their children have attended. As a child growing up in a ministry home, I used to love counting out the number of moves we had experienced.

Someone once compared transition to the moment when a trapeze artist lets go of one trapeze, but hasn’t yet caught hold of the other. It can seem like there is no solid ground to stand on, and emotionally, we might feel like we are in freefall. For adults, there’s a lot to process but for children, the impact can be even greater. It’s very common for children to feel bewildered. Their lack of agency, the inability to understand why mum and dad would want to move at all, plus all that goes into adjusting to a new life; it’s a lot to process.


A friend of mine grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid). I remember her telling me that her father would inform her of a move by picking her up from school, and telling her that it was her last day; the family was moving on. No time for processing. No time for goodbyes. This was a repeated experience throughout her childhood. Unsurprisingly, she struggled to form friendships as she grew into adulthood since she never knew when those relationships would be taken away from her. No doubt her father sincerely believed he was doing the very best for his family by taking this approach.

So how can we help our children transition as well as possible through the changes that come from being part of a family involved in ministry?

As a family, we have been hugely indebted to David Pollock, whose book ‘Third Culture Kids’ has had a significant impact on us. He writes insightfully about cross-cultural transition, as well as transitions big and small. Perhaps most helpful is his advice to families about building a metaphorical RAFT to carry them through transition.

  • R = RECONCILIATION - This about relationships with those we are leaving. Are we leaving our relationships as healthy as we can, leaving an open door to return to them? Are there relationships that need work, people with whom we need to reconcile? Is there a need for forgiveness or apology?

  • A = AFFIRMATION - This is about affirming the good in the people you are leaving behind. Are there people you need to thank? Should you encourage your children to do the same? What specifically has this person done for you and your family? Write a list of those people and suggest your children do the same. Give thanks to God together as a family, and then let these people know how grateful you are for them. Encourage creativity in your child—cards, pictures, etc to give them the opportunity to express their hearts.

  • F = FAREWELL - What is a good goodbye? They’re important, but easy to get wrong. That’s because we’re all made differently. As we left South Africa, I thought I knew what would be best for my boys, so I suggested a large farewell party for all their friends. How wrong I was. One of my boys immediately poured cold water on that idea, telling us he wanted to say goodbye to each special friend, one at a time. What followed was several weeks of sleepovers as he had a final special moment with each significant friend. And of course, we don’t just say goodbye to people. We also bid farewell to special places and pets. Each requires time and attention.

  • T = THINK DESTINATION - This is about focusing on where you’re going. What’s ahead of you? What will it look like? Where will you live? What will school be like? How can you prepare your family by exploring the road ahead? Internet searches, maps, images, and ideas can be shared around the kitchen table as you look ahead to what God has in store for you all.

As I sat surrounded by open suitcases a few days before departure, my eyes welling with tears, I was prompted to read Psalm 121. Verse 8 resonated deeply;

The Lord watches over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Ps 121.8

As I finish, a short caveat.

However well we build our RAFT, it will not, and cannot, protect us from all sorrow, confusion, fear, and anger that arise from transition. Even trauma of various kinds. However, Psalm 121 reminds us that the Lord watches over us. And that should give us courage. He sees and knows the pain we and our children are experiencing. He is our helper, our protector, and our shade.

We don’t walk this journey alone.

He knows the path ahead even when we don’t, and we can trust him.

Not just for ourselves but for our children.


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