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Dear Parents of MKs,

Hello. It’s me, an MK. I write this on behalf of other MKs who haven’t found their voices yet, who are still in the midst of constant transition, who haven’t sorted through the confusing and complex joys and sorrows that come with growing up MK. I write this on behalf of my own MK self, to say the things I didn’t know to say, things that were buried deep down and that, as a kid, I could only access through intuition, through approaching carefully sideways in order not to stir up the vortex of emotions. I speak as an adult MK, raised with one foot in Polynesia, another in Melanesia, and a hand straddled all the way over the Pacific, planted firmly in Texas. If the world were a Twister mat, we MKs would be pros at maneuvering ourselves into epic contortions as we shift right-foot-yellow to left-hand-blue.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Transition causes trauma. We know this from academic research across fields. Transition because of divorce causes trauma. Transition because of health diagnoses causes trauma. Transition because of death causes trauma. Transitions from village to town every six months, and then to the States every few years, definitely causes trauma.

During the London Blitz, children were trundled off to the English countryside for their own safety. The philosophy of the time dictated that children were better off not knowing what was happening, that more information would be detrimental to them psychologically. In fact, some of the advice to parents was to tell their children that they were going on holiday to the country, or even, not to tell their children anything about what was to occur. This may have helped the adults not have to struggle to find explanations for the changes their children were experiencing, but it wasn’t helpful for the children experiencing the change. The problem with this way of approaching necessary transition, in short, is that it stems from the perspective and needs of the adults, the ones who already have power and control in the situation, the ones who already have a voice.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your children are not experiencing the transitions you take them through in a vacuum. Just because they may not be verbalizing the trauma, or expressing it in ways that are easily understandable, does not mean they are not experiencing trauma from the transition. When I was sixteen, I stayed behind in Texas while my parents and younger siblings went back overseas. I remember that time as confusing and dark.  But years later, adults who were close to me at the time have told me things like: “You seemed so mature,”  “You handled it so well,”  and “We had no idea it was so hard for you, you seemed fine.”

I seemed fine because at that point I had spent the majority of my childhood in transition. Moving from village to town and back again. Moving from town to America. Moving from America back to town, back to village. Every transition required that I assume the cultural mores, dress, language, and customs of the place I was moving to. By the age of sixteen, I was an adept cultural chameleon. But how was I able to put on a new skin for each new place? I became an expert at compartmentalization. I carefully packed each place, with its friendships, food, smells, sights and sounds, into its own suitcase in my mind. Into the suitcases also went my feelings connected to the place. My love for the people. My pain at the heart bonds being broken. My anger at having no control. The compartmentalization is why I presented as so mature and well-adjusted to the adults around me.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your MK may look like they are doing well.  Your MK may even say they are doing well. Please consider that your MK may be very adeptly doing just what MKs do best – assimilating the culture they are in. The culture that says all things happen for the good of those called according to His purpose. The culture that counts it joy when hardships are faced. The culture that counts everything as loss for the sake of following Christ. The culture that celebrates the leaving of father and mother, the leaving of brother and sister, to follow the Call.

Your MK may look like they are doing well. They may even say that they are doing well. But please consider how long they have been in transition. Consider that it’s only when we feel safe, when we have been stable and settled for an extended amount of time (for some, it takes years) before we can begin unpacking the suitcases and examining the emotions that were previously too difficult to process. If your MK moves every few months or years, they may still be in self-preservation mode. Like it was with me, they may not be able to examine the trauma of transition except by carefully looking sideways at it, from an emotional distance.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your child needs you. They need you to listen, with no judgement or defensiveness, to their feelings. They need you to lay yourself low, to make yourself nothing for their sake, to humble yourself even to the point of death of self. They need you, as the person with all the power and voice, to create space for their fledgling voices. They need to be able to say, “This hurts me.” They need to be able to say, “I don’t want to leave.” They need to be able to say, “I miss _____.” They need to be able to mourn, to be angry, to rage against the dying of the light.

I’m going to say something now, Parents of MKs, that you probably don’t want to hear. But what I share with you, I share from my own experience, and from that experience I can reassure you that although this will be difficult to hear, there is hope for redemption.

My parents’ choices brought me pain. I didn’t know how much pain until I found myself, sobbing and unable to breathe, in the grips of powerful flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and threw me in a little ball onto my bedroom floor. All of the goodbyes and hellos, the shifting and the changing, all of the transitions and the leavings, finally caught up with me.  This breakdown precipitated some conversations with my mom and dad, who are still on the mission field.  Conversations that had to wait until they could get to me. But once they got to me, my mom and dad presented me with the greatest gift they could give.

That gift was listening.  They listened to me, with a complete abandonment of self and agenda. I had years of loss to deal with, and my mom sat with me on my front porch, twin cups of coffee steaming in our hands, as I cried and talked and she cried and listened. She never once tried to justify her choices. She simply acknowledged my pain, and acknowledged that it was caused by the life she had chosen for me. My dad listened, too. We took long, cool walks through the expectant predawn stillness, him quietly receptive by my side as I poured out the pain in my heart. He apologized for the pain his choices had caused me.

I talked to God, too. My parents’ empathetic response to my pain opened space for me to be able to voice the very scariest thoughts that I kept buried deep, deep down. One day, heartsick and angry and alone, I looked up to God and shook my fist in his face. “Why, God?” I asked, tears sticky on my cheeks. “Why did my family have to suffer? Why did you make MY family suffer for YOUR gospel? Couldn’t it have been some other family? Why, God? Why MY family?”

As I sat, raw and trembling, I felt his warm, gentle touch. I heard him whisper so sadly and kindly to me, “I know. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m here.” And that was enough.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know. 

You need to check your defensiveness at the door. You need to acknowledge that your choices brought pain to your child.

When my parents came to me, and acknowledged the trauma my siblings and I had experienced, when they apologized for the pain they had caused, they did not negate the Good Work they have done. They did not negate a lifetime of service for the Kingdom of God.  They did not negate the fruit they had harvested for the King. Instead, they further confirmed Christ to us. The humble Man of Sorrows. The One who laid down His life. The One who sought out the voiceless, the weak, and lifted them up.

Even though your choices to answer the Call of Christ have caused trauma for your children, and believe me when I say that they have, your choices to give space for their pain can make way for their healing. I ask you, on behalf of my fellow MKs both grown and still growing, to give this gift to your child.

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

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13161296_10156874097135022_561442390_oDanica is an MK from the Solomon Islands, who now has found her own little village in the mountains of New Mexico. She lives there with her husband and three children, three goats, two dogs, and an assortment of chickens. Danica has a degree in special education, and is currently working on a master’s degree. When she’s not writing papers for school, she enjoys playing mad scientist in her kitchen, rereading her collection of LM Montgomery books, and working on her yoga moves. Danica sometimes finds time to write about her experiences and feelings, at www.ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com.

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witness the miracle

So, it’s been a heavy year. There’s been a lot of tears and raw grief. There’s been a lot of therapy and the chance to heal in healthy relationships. Right now, there’s a season of counseling aimed at dealing with the trauma in my life.

Yes, heavy, I know.

Which is why my soul has been crying out for perspective. The kind which mingles tears with laughter. The one that sees how the cracked vessel of humanity can open a door to the glory beyond.

So I am sharing some humorous, yet tender glimpses into the life of a girl I once knew. She’s had some funny and yes, sad, moments in the crazy days of figuring out how to save the world. She’s gotten it more wrong than right, but no one can doubt her heart.

She has something to teach all of us. And I hope she’ll make us laugh, and maybe cry a little too. She’s worth knowing, and maybe you know someone like her too.

Something tells me we need to remember them all as we make our way on this long road home.

It’s the early, starlit days of youth. The clear nights of a Montana sky, with their twinkling grandeur, have got nothing on her. She’s too young and crazy, full of passion and self-importance to heed any caution.

It’s the summer of ’94 and she’s spending nine weeks in West Kensington, Philadelphia. She is living on the edge of the notorious Badlands. There’s been a drive-by shooting one block and one week before she comes. She goes door to door and gathers kids, some black, some Hispanic, some white. She loves on them all summer, even on the rest days. She runs the bases of kickball hard and throws with aim slightly off as she tries to get the little rascals. She jumps up and down and swings her limbs for ‘Father Abraham’. She gets a bit pudgy as she eats too many white chocolate-covered Oreos donated in abundance to her mission team. Over the phone, she breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, convinced he doesn’t share her fervor for urban missions.

She gives beyond reason. At the end of those nine weeks, she leaves her heart on West Tioga Street. She doesn’t know how she will ever get any of it back. She has done it all wrong, only returning for one visit and exchanging a few letters. She can only cry as she remembers the desperate reality of those dear children. She aches for what she does not know of their lives today. But the naivety worn by her oh-so-sincere heart captures me. I want to thank her for reminding me how to love without reserve. She shows me how real-life stories seldom have happy endings, as far as where we think they will go. Yet her twinkling eyes shine bright with the glory of the Great Story.

It’s still early, but she is starting to realize she cannot save the world. These are the Latin American Years. She translates and serves as a part of summer missions’ teams in Mexico and Honduras. She teaches the Bible story in Spanish before a hundred or more kids at VBS. Little Miguel with his spiky hair laughs at the words that twirl around her mouth and fall with the spin and thud of marbles.

On a later trip, she learns to sleep in a hammock which she falls into, exhausted. Her head hurts from being everyone’s brain as she translates the English into Spanish and vice versa. It amazes her how the corresponding sides smile as if her voice descends like wings of eagles. In her week of rest from translating, she tries the local guanabana and Montezuma takes revenge on her innocent stomach. She sways in a hammock as she determines to believe the motion will heal this sickness. She finds her way back to the church and Kids’ Camp. She sings loud and lifts her hands high in flowing, Hawaiian-colored pants. She cannot believe she wore them, but the pictures say she did.

She’s still jumping in with both feet and literally, dancing in the rain. She’s starting to weary and is woefully lacking in good missionary methodology. Yet, I want to tell her to ‘hang in there because I wouldn’t trade you for another.’

And now there’s a husband. Here she is all grown up, or so it would seem. Her missions’ journey is picking back up in a new country, new language and yes, with a fairly-new husband. One of her first days in country, her new boss sends her and her very brave husband out on a sort of Amazing Race about the city. Later she will call the horror of it all the Amazing Survival.

She and her dear husband (who you will instantly love) start out from a district just obscure enough to require two buses and a tram to get back to. The first address they are given is so hard to find, they will abort this phase of the mission entirely. Their first move is brilliant. They hop on the first tram they see and go in exactly the wrong direction. And now it begins. How each of a hundred times they are lost, she literally throws her too-sweet man at stranger after stranger. A thousand times, in a thousand ways, he learns to say the only phrase ‘they’ knew ‘beszélsz angolul?’ Do you speak English?

These two are trying to get it right, after all, they’ve committed to a whole year! And she does a good job that day, her maiden voyage as the wife of a missionary. She makes sure her hubby can handle all future stressful and uncomfortable language-challenged moments. But I would remind her that all of the packing that’s happened since can be considered ‘payback.’

Did I really sign up for this? This, for her, is when it becomes long-term, with greater sacrifice and did I mention children? Yes children. All thousand miles and points of light in a constellation of new life. She goes from filling two suitcases with child #1’s things only to learn to reduce three children’s things into a single suitcase. American baby food and ointments are easily replaced by the local fare. These are the days of flights, flights and more flights and the children so little. These are the days when the endless stream of comments must stop. You know the ones. ‘It’s good to do this [insert mission] when…’ ‘When you are young.’ ‘When you are both young.’ ‘When you don’t have kids.’ ‘When your children are little.’ (Dear souls actually say this last one and well Lord, love ‘em because I am not sure I can ;))

Early on this mama finds herself on the flight back to the States with a ten month-old. Heading west over the Atlantic, you know the day, like the song, that never ends? When you subtract hours only to add them back again in a way you’ll never understand. Flying east over the ocean, he is the miracle baby who falls asleep on takeoff, his chubby feet hanging out of his sleeping gown. He awakes only on landing while the woman in front exclaims, ‘A baby?!’ But coming back?? Well, it was somewhere between the crawling up and over our laps and necks, dropping every toy a 101 times, and no screen (Can you believe there was no screen?!) that she looks at her husband with wild eyes and panting breath and says, ‘We…don’t…have…to…thrive…only……..sur…vive.’

Clearly she has begun to understand what this whole crazy life is all about. Survival. Plain and simple. This mama is from not too long ago. She’s failed again and again and her upcoming book will bring many, many more stories of all such things. What do I do with her? I wrap her in my arms as she cries and I shower her with grace, for she could never give it to herself.

Then, I dry her eyes and teach her how to laugh.

 

 

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When the lights go out

by Elizabeth Trotter
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I want to do all the things. All the very good things there are to do in this world. So I overcommit myself. I don’t say “no.” I say “yes” instead, and spread myself too thin. Then my soul suffers. My work suffers. My sanity suffers. My family life suffers. My spiritual life suffers. I […]

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10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked

by Taylor Murray
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Most MKs are asked hundreds of questions during their families’ home assignments. Ironically, many of us leave our passport countries feeling unknown. In all honesty, we usually don’t answer questions well. Our fumbling answers can create distance.  Many times we feel as though these questions are asked politely, without time or desire to listen to […]

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In the Light, in the Dark, Remember

by Craig Thompson
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Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light. In Where Is God when It Hurts? Philip Yancey quotes these words of Joseph Bayly, former director of InterVarsity press and former president of David C. Cook Publishing. Then Yancey adds,  “Yet sometimes the darkness descends so thickly that we can barely remember the light.” Missionary and author […]

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Parents of Third Culture Kids, Failure, and Redefining Success

by Rachel Pieh Jones
TCKs and Failure

(revised from the original Who Wants Failure? on Djibouti Jones, written at the end of a year in Minnesota during which my husband worked on his PhD in Education Development) I opened the letter from my daughter’s first grade teacher and read it. “Crap.” I wrinkled it into a tight ball, threw it in the […]

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10 Ideas for Professional Development on the Field

by Amy Young
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When I was a freshman in college, my university had the in-coming students come a week early for orientation. During that week I attended a campus ministry get-to-know-you event. From the outside there was nothing overtly special about it: picnic in a public park. But did I mention I was in COLLEGE. I was a […]

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On New Paths

by Anisha Hopkinson
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About six months ago, I started running. I’ve been working on healthy eating habits and increasing fitness, and running found its way into that routine. As exercise goes, I really enjoy it and have been proud of my progress – consistently running 3 miles in 30 minutes. A fun running partner, a wide, flat dirt […]

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Changes at A Life Overseas

by Marilyn
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Change. We in this community know this word and all of its connotations all too well. We have experienced both the good and the difficult of change. In order for things to continue to run well, change is often necessary. So I’m here today to tell you about good change for this community.  For the past […]

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When There is No “Other Hand”

by Marilyn
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Although I’ve not seen it in years, Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite shows/movies. I’ve watched the movie many times and seen the performance live as a musical theatre production at least twice. The scenes that have found a permanent place in my memory are what I call the “other hand scenes.” These […]

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Ask a Counselor: how do we recognize and cope with trauma?

by Kay Bruner
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Recently, I was Skyping with a client overseas who wanted to talk with me about symptoms of burnout and spiritual dryness. As she told me about a particular experience, I said, “That was really traumatic for you.” Naming that experience as traumatic was an “aha” moment for her in understanding the current symptoms, and how to […]

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3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

by Jonathan Trotter
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Marriage can really be a drain on missions. Marriage on the field can be a constant source of distraction, discouragement, and pain. But I hope it’s not. I’ve written before about marriage and its purpose, but today I’d like to take a step back and speak directly to husbands: my brothers. This advice is carefully […]

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