Rethinking Witness

by Editor on June 25, 2014

Rarely does the faith of a missionary kid look exactly the same as their parents.  While the journey  begins and is rooted in the faith and calling of our parents, it grows and is sustained through our own decisions of faith. In today’s guest post we hear from a third culture kid/missionary kid and her journey of rethinking witness and growing into her own faith. Karissa Knox Sorrell gives us just a glimpse of her honest journey and with it food for both thought and discussion. Please join us today in “Rethinking Witness.” You can read more about Karissa at the end of the post.


On Easter Sunday this year I read a passage from the gospel of John in Thai at my church for a service called Agape Vespers. During Agape Vespers, bilingual volunteers read the gospel in a variety of languages. It’s the passage about Jesus appearing to the disciples after he rose again and Thomas asking to touch Jesus’ scars.

I used to read the Bible in church sometimes, back when I was an MK in Thailand. My Thai youth group friends knew that I wasn’t an adept reader of the language; they would nod and smile encouragingly whenever I read Scripture with my second-grade-level fluency.

Those people loved me. It didn’t matter to them that I spoke their language imperfectly or could barely read it: they cheered me on. My family had come into their Buddhist country holding the flag of Jesus high. We had turned many of them away from the religion of their families. Yet the church became their family, providing them with both recreation and support. Did they love us because we brought them Jesus, or because we gave them a family when they needed one?

It was a very different experience reading Thai again twenty years later in front of my Eastern Orthodox church friends in Franklin, Tennessee. I had practiced at home, but when I was standing in front of the entire church with hundreds of eyes staring at me, I faltered. Phrases that had slid easily off my tongue at home became slush in my mouth. Words that I had read easily before were now unintelligible before my eyes. Somehow, with several skipped words and incorrect tones, I finished reading the passage.

Afterwards, people came up and asked about the Thai. I told them about my past: evangelical Protestant missionary kid, Jesus lover, previously able to speak Thai, more rusty now.

Sometimes I wonder how far removed I am from my old missionary kid life and my old missionary kid faith. In Thailand, I took on my parents’ missionary status as my own. It was easy to stand up for Jesus when I was surrounded by people who didn’t know him. I had all the right answers, and I had abundant enthusiasm. Yet even though I witnessed to my friends over and over, I don’t think I ever led anyone to Jesus.

Today my faith still exists, but it is not always full of enthusiastic answers. Some of the old standby answers perplex me now. Maybe I have become more like Thomas, searching for a faith I can touch, a faith that allows me to doubt sometimes. Like the experience of reading Thai again, talking about Jesus with people feels more like floundering than fluency now.

I don’t witness to people anymore. Well, not with words, at least. I’ve stopped worrying about sharing my message and started trying to truly see people. Looking back at my high school years in Bangkok, I hope that my actions spoke over the rattle of my words. I hope that my friends saw in me a person who cared for them, who listened to their problems, and who tried to make them laugh. I hope they saw me as a friend who just wanted to share life with them, not a friend who was afraid they were going to hell.

People don’t need to be preached to about Jesus. Instead, they need to be loved with Jesus’ love. They need me to listen, bring them casseroles when they have babies, and go with them to difficult doctor appointments. They need to know that I accept them for who they are: humans created by God and worthy of love. My faith is no longer about how many people I can convert to Jesus; it’s about how many times I can find God in someone.

How have you witnessed without words to your community? When have you seen the face of God in the people around you?

KarissaKarissa Knox Sorrell is an educator and writer from Nashville, Tennessee. She writes about her upbringing as a missionary kid in Thailand, her conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and her wrestling toward authentic faith. When not writing, Karissa works with ESL teachers and students. Read more of her writing at and follow her on Twitter at KKSorrell.

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  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Thanks for writing Karissa – as a mom of several MKs, I really loved reading your experiences and thoughts. (To your question – the main way I witness to my community *without words* is to show up to work whenever they show up in labor ready to have their baby.)

    • Tara, I think most missionaries do both – they preach the gospel with words AND actions. I love that you work with moms during one of the most difficult and most rewarding moment of a mother’s life.

      • Richelle Wright

        I don’t think, as a TCK, that you are alone in this desire to not just hear Jesus preached, but see people live and breath the change Christ makes in lives so that He becomes relevant and real to others. i hear my 18 and 17 year old tcks say many of the same sorts of things… including the “preach the gospel. if necessary use words,” that you refer to in another comment.

        i appreciate what you say to tara – that you believe most missionaries do try to do both. we present something incomplete and one-dimensional when we don’t – something that really isn’t the gospel at all. and the New Testament has strong words about those false teachers who come presenting something as good news when it really isn’t… when we look at the example of Christ – he did both – the one without excluding the other. He served, he preached with His life and His words, and He is the Word, “became flesh and dwelling among us.”

        i see God in everyone around me – man has a sinful nature and yes, as such i believe separated from God. but first, he was created in the image of God and bears the unmistakable mark of the Almighty and it always leaves me asking: “how can amaing people do such awful things?” as well as the converse: “how can such awful people do such amazing things?” – if that makes sense.

        • Yes, it makes perfect sense. My church teaches that we are not totally depraved because we are, as you said, created in God’s image. God’s image is distorted in us, but not destroyed. We are still creatures of value and beauty. One of my favorite saints, Mother Maria of Paris, said, “Every person is an icon of God incarnate.” I try to use that as my motto, which means I find ways to honor and value others, whereas when I was younger I just looked at everyone as “someone who needed to be saved.”

  • This line resonates so much with me – Like the experience of reading Thai again, talking about Jesus with people feels more like floundering than fluency now.

    • Amy, thanks for reading! That line really speaks to the TCK experience as well as to my wrestling with faith and evangelism.

      • Marilyn Gardner

        I loved that line as well and though with me it was Urdu/Hindi not Thai (!) I really relate with this piece. The faith journey for an MK/TCK can be complicated. and yes – I would describe my faith as a kid as fluent….and then it really floundered. God in his gracious creativity was ever present in the journey, if not always audible. Thanks so much for this Karissa.

        • Thanks for giving me the opportunity, Marilyn! We are all on a faith journey, aren’t we?

  • I grew up in the South USA where preachers frerquently ask if we shared Jesus with our neighbors. But I never met a neighbor who did not know Jesus. Alternatively, I wondered how many people have actually seen Jesus lived out . .. if we focused on that, we would be much better.

    • Yes, I was sort of raised to think that I was supposed to talk about Jesus to everyone I met. I really tried to, and I felt guilty if I thought I “missed” an opportunity to talk about Him with somebody. Now I try to follow that old adage: Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words. 🙂

  • Tim

    Acts of the Apostles – the story of the early church. They used words. They spoke and proclaimed everywhere they went. Paul was also constantly asking for prayer for open doors of witness and that he might proclaim the gospel boldly. Biblically, begin filled with the Spirit not only empowers us to love our neighbor in word and deed, but also share His message (not mine) in love. Sorry, I have a problem of witnessing ‘without words’. Biblically, witness involves words but obviously not at expense of true Christian love.

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