An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

by Editor on May 26, 2016

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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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  • Dalaina May

    yes. all of this. thank you.

  • Here are some more details of Danica’s story from her own blog site. Thanks for sharing your heart with us Danica. http://ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com/2016/05/16-and-alone-story-of-how-our-family.html

  • Craig Thompson

    Thanks, Danica, for sharing. I’m so glad you gifted your parents with your honesty, and that they gave you the gift of listening. I’m listening to you, too—and hope that I will always be able to do the same with my TCKs.

  • Lynn

    I understand that this happens to a lot of MKs, and I love that you are addressing this. Thank you for giving a voice to this much ignored topic. But also please know that not ALL of us were traumatized. I am 51 now and did not have this experience at all. I have wonderful, wonderful memories of my childhood overseas and feel very blessed to have had the experience. My experience was much different from yours as I was never left with others so I am sure that is just one of many factors, but I did want you to realize that some of us are ok with all the changes.

    • I’ve head this from other MKs as well, and I’m glad to know that not all experience transition and loss the same way I did. FTR I also have some amazingly wonderful memories of my island … which, I’m pretty sure, is why I grieve it so deeply!

      • Lynn

        Thanks, Danica and I hope I didn’t come across as trying to minimize your pain. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you and I am so sorry for your grief. So glad you had parents to listen to you and acknowledge their part..now that is amazing and what I hope parents of MKs realize from reading this post. Blessings!

  • Danica, thank you for sharing so openly and honestly. As an MK (Philippines) and a parent of MK (Malaysia), I resonated deeply with what you shared. The issue of grief is huge in part I think because in the conservative rationalistic environment we were raised in, “sacrifice” is a virtue and grieving (other than over the death of a loved one) is a weakness and sign of lack of faith. I’ve been learning about and awakening to a more contemplative faith journey to where grief, even though painful, has become a welcomed teacher. I had a similar experience you described when you “shook your fist at God”. I heard the same thing, “I am here” and that was enough — didn’t take the pain away, but brought peace. Thanks again.

    • You know, I grew up hearing, “mourn with those who mourn”, but it never meant anything to me (actually it made me deeply uncomfortable) until I accessed my own grief. Then, studdenly, I understood.

  • MK Noname

    My letter to parents:
    I am the MK that the mission forgot, because it wanted to.
    I am the MK that tried to forget the mission, because I needed to.

    I am the MK that was given Uncles and was told I should be grateful.
    I am the MK who wakes up from nightmares about those Uncles and is not grateful.

    I am the MK who might ring one day and you will have sweet nothingless answers to give from the script.
    I am the MK who could get a lawyer to ring and that is what you fear the most.

    I am the MK who you have labeled a bitter spirit.
    I am the MK who has drunk more spirits than you would think possible.

    I am the MK with parents who say they love me.
    I am the MK with parents who are lying.

    I am the MK with no name.
    I am the MK with every name.

    I am the MK that parents love to talk about because my posts are so radical.
    I am the MK who no parent has ever bothered to contact, because they are to scared to.

    I am the MK who has considered suicide, but I was already dead inside.
    I am the MK who has risen again and you probably wish I hadn’t.

    I am the MK for who does not exist.
    I am the MK who is everywhere, because I have found my voice.

    I am the MK who is ashamed of my faith because of the farce of the past.
    I am the MK who now has a choice about my faith.

    I am the MK who left with no friends.
    I am the MK who can now choose quality friends from the chaff of the past.

    I am the MK you probably tell your supporters that lies heaviest upon your caring heart.
    I am the MK who knows you don’t have a heart.

    • Thanks for sharing these powerful words with us. I’m so sorry for what you have endured and hope you have found healing.

      • MK Noname

        Well on the way to healing. This piece was written for a friend who struggles with words, but it is my journey as well (except that I don’t drink after a brush with one of the tropical ailments caught as a child).
        For me it has been a strange journey. Grew up with a very bizarre father, who joined a fundamentalist missionary group and off we went to escape the demons that were taunting him. There we found an even more strange environment, where abuse was prevalent and passed off as “discipline” or “breaking a childs will”.
        I came back home and got on with life, then discovered decades latter just how much the experience had effected others and the disasters their lives had become as a result. So I opened up and started writing about my experiences and found it helped others as well as myself.
        Of course my parents were very angry about what I wrote, but I’d already been disowned by my father, so there was little to lose.
        For me, the aim is to stop what happened to so many MKs in the decades past from ever happening again. Alas it appears that the abuse is still happening, but now the perpetrators face a much higher chance of facing justice and that for me makes speaking out worth it.

        • I’d love to read your stuff. If you want to keep your identity private, you can pm me on facebook?

          Also – “breaking a child’s will” sounds like the toxic stuff that the Pearls schill. That specific brand of fundamentalism is bad news.

          • MK Noname

            I tried to send thee a message
            I pressed send after the letter “D”
            Then I got upon my little knees
            And prayed it would get to thee
            I’m not sure my prayers were answered
            I got a reply from someone called Don
            He wants me to vote for him
            And promises to make all my problems gone
            He says he’s gonna make a big wall
            To keep me safe from what’s on the other side
            But Don doesn’t know way south of the equator
            Is where MK Noname does reside

    • would you mind if I share this on our ALO facebook page?

    • All the love to you, my MK sibling. I hear you. I acknowledge your pain. I hold your experiences and words with honor. Please know you are not alone. Know that I”m rooting for you. Sending my warmest hugs (if you want them) and fiercest of well wishes your way.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      You are so brave to write and face this. So much love and grace to you.

  • So beautifully put. Thank you for these insights.

  • Thank you for this.

    The pair of missionary parents I respect the most was actually willing to leave the field for their child who wasn’t adjusting. They didn’t end up doing it, and she was too young to remember any of that, but I think the foundation they gave her is amazing. She’ll hear about it as she grows up. It’s framed in an understanding of “family is more important than anything else,” not ever anything like “you almost dragged us off the field,” and it’s a very beautiful story.

    • Yes! That’s so rare, though. I know an Mk who lives with their parent’s accusation that they left the field “because of you”. It’s tragic for that Mk, and I have no words for their “parents” (I use the term loosely).

      • MK Noname

        Glad you mentioned this. As MKs we were told that if we spoke about the abuse going on in the mission boarding school that our families would be forced to go home and “black souls would go to hell”. It was an enormous burden of guilt to carry and facilitated an environment where paedophiles proliferated.
        The mission concerned estimates themselves that between 200 and 300 MKs were abused world wide in their boarding schools, yet very few of the offenders have been prosecuted. “Forgive and Forget” was the mantra and anyone speaking out was/is accused of “having a bitter spirit” or “attempting to destroy the good work of a godly man (and occassional woman)”.
        An investigation was done by an independent credible organisation (and is freely available to the public on line) on one boarding school. The results make for sombre reading. After it’s release the mission elected to investigate the remaining schools themselves, needless to say progress is very slow and there are considerable doubts as to the motive behind this move.
        Has anything changed? Given that an offender was jailed for 58 years only two years ago for crimes committed just prior to arrest, I fear not. And of his victims, the mission didn’t want to know!

        • This story is so depressingly familiar. “Protect the org” is the mantra and that needs. To. Change. Take ABWE as the most recent example. A predator was protected for decades. Only when victims started getting vocal (that is internet!) did they do anything about it. And even still. I am cynical that anything with truly change until an organization puts the needs of their most vulnerable (the children) first.

          • MK Noname

            Two ways to make organisations change:
            1: Start turning off the money supply. Donors don’t like to find out their donations are going to hire lawyers that will hide paedophiles or that their donations are not being used for what they intended.
            2. Find a bigger organisation with a very big stick that will administer that stick. Just make sure you have a nice big carrot to offer. As the old saying goes “my enemies enemy is my friend”.

  • Anna Wegner

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m not a TCK myself, but I’m now raising three. It helps us as parents when people who have walked the path before (either as kids or parents) can share what worked and what didn’t work. Our children aren’t able to articulate those things to us, and probably aren’t consciously aware of many of those things themselves. But we have had many people who have shared from a wealth of experience, for which I am grateful. 🙂

    • Thank you for hearing! Sounds like your kids are in good hands.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Thank you for sharing your story here, Danica. There are many MK and TCK stories out there that are sad and difficult to hear; thank you for sharing one with such a beautiful, redemptive ending. Your story can offer hope and redemption for MKs and MKs parents out there who are currently in the middle of a hard story. Thank you.

  • Dawn

    Danica, Thank you for your eloquent words! I almost thought you were speaking for me. It took me 25 years to explain to my dad how I realy felt, because I looked and acted the way I knew I was expected to. Actually, I even told him that when I graduated I felt like he believed that he was done his job of being my dad, and at 50 years old I still needed him to be my daddy. Thankfully the hurt is gone, but the scars are still visible. Bless you for sharing.

  • gingoro

    As an AMK I understand only too well the issues that you talk about plus others like sexual abuse, sadism and on and on. Dawit

  • Becki Nelson

    Danica – it’s my story too, and healing continues now even 40 years later.

  • Ama

    Thank you. This touches me in so many ways and rings so so true in my heart. Wonderfully said. Something that so many people need to know, but many have trouble putting into words.

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