The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves make us who we are. The stories we tell others about ourselves make us known and understood.
We must know our own story so we understand the world and how we fit into it. And we must know our story so we can share and connect our story with others.
Telling Our Family Story
Our family’s story changed suddenly when a military coup required us to leave our home. There were so many varied losses: we left our home in 24 hours with just two suitcases for our family of eight. But the greatest loss for our children was the complete loss of all that was normal to them.
They are young, and they didn’t understand what the political situation had to do with them or with us leaving our home. They needed to process not just a singular event on our family timeline, but the hundreds of little things from our daily norm that we lost when we were forced to move away.
I wrote a picture book to show our simple daily rhythms and the familiar normal that was shattered first by the pandemic, then the military coup, and the deep mourning of our old life that followed.
It is a book of remembering what was and what no longer is, what parts have since been healed, and what parts will always ache.
Connecting Our Story to the Stories of Other TCK Families
When We Called Myanmar Home is our own personal family story, but it is a story that can connect with the stories of other families too. It is designed to help Third Culture Kids process their cross-cultural life and share their own stories of joy and loss as they reflect on the question, “Where is home?”
Remembering past experiences together as a family is an emotional journey. But it is in remembering both the joys and the pains of the past where we can process our life experiences, create our unique family narrative, and move into a space of healing and renewed hope. This book helps create the space for those conversations and that healing to happen.
Family narratives help us process painful experiences and celebrate joyful ones. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are form our identity, create a healthy self-concept, and give us a sense of continuity and resilience. Family narratives cultivate a healthy soil for our children to plant roots again when they’ve been pulled up. These stories help us mourn all that we no longer have and at the same time help us remember all that we still do.
At the end of the book is a TCK Guide to help facilitate the processing of the “daily normal” that is lost for young children when they move between cultures. Remembering both the joy and the grief of what was lost gives voice to the feelings of the child.
The guide can be used by a loving parent or caring adult who is doing a debrief with a child. A free download of the processing chart is available on my website.
Connecting Our Story to Our Passport Culture
When We Called Myanmar Home is also designed to help kids from our passport culture ponder what life is like as a kid raised in a culture very different from their own. One challenge we have as cross-cultural workers is effectively communicating our story to our friends, family, and supporters.
This short book uses vivid watercolor pictures, sensory descriptions, and poetic language to evoke an emotional response and help people better empathize with our family story. This narrative will help people in our passport culture expand their worldview and see how experiences in life can be very similar and very different at the same time.
As we live and minister cross-culturally, our family culture is neither exactly like our passport culture nor exactly like our host culture. It is our own unique family culture representing what is valuable, meaningful, and most significant to us.
When We Called Myanmar Home is uniquely our family story, but it will create a space for you to tell your family narrative, too.
May it be a blessing to you, your Third Culture Kids, and all those who love you and your Third Culture Kids. May it show you a path forward as you process your own story, share your joys, and mourn your losses – for you are never alone on this Kingdom journey. We have a Father who walks with each of us, who understands loss and who can hold everything we bring to Him. May we find in Him our true home.
When We Called Myanmar Home is available now on Amazon.
Some in the West have defined the “unchurched” as people who are Christians but who are not connected with a church.
Sometimes I feel like I’m an unchurched missionary.
Our mission organization has a specific focus: fill the gaps in the Bible translation movement to reach the Bibleless and church-less people groups around the world. These are the last places that the Gospel has not yet reached. We set out to provide Scripture access to those without, to reach the unreached and to church the unchurched. It’s inspiring and exciting and daunting.
But in going to these dark and lonely places with just our immediate family or a very small team, we can start to feel out of reach and unchurched ourselves.
Perhaps you are in the same situation. Do you have a Christian community where you belong?
Is there a pew with your name on it and a hand extended to greet you with the peace of Christ? Do you have a place where you can ask for prayers and confess sin? Do you have people who will bring you food when you are sick or send you a note when you’ve been absent for too many weeks?
Or maybe you worship at a home church where you are the Sunday school teacher, worship leader, pray-er, and preacher. Do you long for a larger church where you are part of the body instead of being expected to fulfill all the roles of every part?
Or maybe you are currently in your home country, but you also feel unchurched.
You go to church – or to a different church – every week, but you don’t feel part of the church. Some people may hold you on a pedestal because you are the “missionary,” and some people may even know your name or the names of your kids, but it doesn’t feel like a community you belong to, at least not anymore. After spending significant time overseas, for many cross cultural workers, attending church in your home culture can be one of the more difficult aspects of reverse culture shock.
For my young TCKs, it is really difficult for them to feel like they belong. Overseas when we attend a church, my husband and I can understand enough to follow along and participate, even when the practices are different from what we are used to. But our kids aren’t fluent in the local language, and the cultural practices are often jarring to them. The transitory life of cross-cultural living and the need to raise support and visit new people and new places can make TCKs feel unchurched even when they are in their passport country. What church do they belong to? Where are they seen and remembered as a member?
For most of the last 10 years, we’ve met in our home as a family on Sundays, inviting our friends who are not yet Christians to join us. Our family times of worship are tender and sweet. It is beautiful to sit together singing a hymn or taking communion together as a family. I love hearing our little two- or three-year-old pray, and I love hearing our insightful ten-year-old ask a great question. Because of our isolation, we have developed strong family spiritual habits.
But I miss church.
I miss community and fellowship. I miss Bible classes that I’m not teaching. I even miss bad lobby coffee and too-much-food potlucks. I miss hugs from old ladies who tell me they’re praying for me and the knowing glances from other moms wrangling their two-year-olds in the back.
But when I’m in my home country, I find that I still miss church. I miss feeling deeply connected to just one place rather than being spread out thin. I miss being seen not as someone coming to ask for money but as just another sheep in the flock.
Going to the ends of the earth to translate scripture and bring the peace of God to a people group who hasn’t yet encountered Jesus is beautiful and holy work. But it’s lonely and isolating and changes us in ways that make it impossible to go back home the same, which can make home seem pretty lonely and isolating, too.
Maybe you are in a place and a season of life where you are really missing feeling deeply connected with a church, too.
If so, here are five things that have not taken away the difficulty, but have helped me and my family when we start to feel disconnected and unchurched.
Remember you aren’t alone (even when you feel like it).
The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is so relatable to us cross cultural workers, isn’t it? We can pray to God, “I have had enough Lord,” and feel at times like we are completely alone as we serve God. We can be exhausted and need physical rest. We need to know God hears us and has not left us. We need God’s “gentle whisper” to remind us that He is with us and that we are not the only ones serving Him. God is with us, and we are not alone. He has many servants who are serving Him diligently. This is true around the world and in your home country.
Stay connected to spiritual disciplines (even when you don’t feel like it).
When our “job” is our ministry, it is even more important to stay connected to the Vine in our private, personal lives. Reading scripture, praying, fasting, confessing, giving, and practicing Sabbath rest are spiritual disciplines that can sustain us during the dry, isolating seasons and also the very demanding seasons of home assignments. Spiritual disciplines create space in our lives for God to show up and teach our hearts. We don’t always feel like doing these disciplines, but we do them as a submission to Christ, training ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). If you have TCKs, creating rhythm and space in your life for spiritual disciplines (not just in your ministry activities or fundraising activities outside the home) is incredibly important for fostering authenticity in your Christian life.
Create in-person community where you are with the resources you have (even if that means your “church” is made up of people who aren’t believers yet).
If you are feeling alone, look around you and identify the people who are already part of your life. How can you strengthen these relationships and create a true community? Are you sharing your needs or only meeting their needs? What needs do you have that this community could fill? How can you make the relationship give and take rather than just you giving and serving? When we didn’t have a group of Christians to meet with, we created a community from our friends, most of whom were still not yet Christians. This little home church group became our best friends and the people we called on when we needed help. We supported each other through griefs, trials, and difficulty.
Stay connected with key people in your home country or home church (even when that means your “church” is really far away).
With the Internet, it seems like it should be easy to stay connected to our home country friends, family, and churches. However, just because it is easily accessible doesn’t mean connection is easy to maintain. As time passes, it is easy to lose touch. People in your home country may be very busy, and you may be very busy or in a difficult time zone for connection. So, identify key people in your home church who seem to genuinely want to encourage you. Make an effort to send them personal messages beyond what you send out in a newsletter or post on social media, and make sure to encourage them and ask about their life, too.
Watch the worship service from your home church online. During covid many churches began streaming their worship times and Bible classes. Allow your TCKs to maintain ties to your home church and special friends, too, by arranging online messages and meetups for younger kids and encouraging older kids to stay connected through safe online communication.
Stay connected to online communities like A Life Overseas (even when you don’t know the people in “real life”).
I’m so thankful for the encouragement I’ve received from ALO, social media groups, and godly individuals I’ve met online but have never met in “real life.” Our kids are also part of a TCK group within our organization composed of kids all over the world. They meet over Zoom to have silly parties, talk about American culture, have Bible study, and be reminded that there are other kids just like them.
Online communities can sometimes get a bad rap because it “isn’t real life,” but these safe places can offer perspective and encouragement and create connections that can be a huge blessing when facing isolating situations. (If you’ve been blessed by the ministry of A Life Overseas, consider donating to keep the site running.)
God created us to live in community, but finding community as a global worker can be hard. Sometimes we missionaries feel unchurched ourselves.
So as we thank God for the community we do have, whether in our host country or our home country, may we look to God to meet our needs and the needs of our TCKs. May we trust Him to bring people into our lives who will provide community, whatever that looks like in the season we’re in. And may we look to Him always for the reminder that we never walk alone.
Moving to a new country and new culture is full of surprises. One surprise for me when I moved to Southeast Asia was that every single temple is filled with idols. There is not just one idol per temple.
We once visited a temple which, when literally translated, is called “The Temple of 80,000 Idols.” It was in a part of the country that we hadn’t visited before. We were tourists there and able to take pictures freely. The temple was full of idols, tiny idols and small idols, medium-sized and giant. There were very, very old idols, some made of stone, some made of gold, some made of plaster and clay. Each idol is a reminder of a god whose desire for sacrifice is never satisfied. The temple itself represents a religion of fear.
We walked through the dark stone halls of the temple, with idols inset in every wall, nook, and cranny. The hall opened up to a larger chamber with a 20-foot high gold idol in the center, surrounded by LED lights, flowers, and gifts of fruit.
Idolatry is a religion of more. It is a religion with an appetite that is never satisfied and a thirst that is never quenched. Whatever sacrifice you give to idols will never be enough.
Seeing the idols in another culture revealed the idols in my own. Why are Americans so dissatisfied, always seeking but never finding purpose, always looking, always consuming more? Why are we full of anxiety, stress, depression, and disconnection?
Could it be that we are restless and dissatisfied because we are offering our lives to idols instead of giving our worship to the Living God?
God provides true peace and rest. Satisfaction and peace can only be obtained through relationship with the Living God. As Christians, we “abide” in God’s love. We do not earn it or strive for it. Our salvation is a gift that we accept in gratitude and thanksgiving.
So we ask ourselves: are our lives at peace, or are we always striving for something more? Even as cross-cultural workers, we must ask ourselves these questions. What consumes me? What consumes my time, energy, money, devotion, and dedication? What part of my life is never satisfied and never at peace? What sacrifices am I making to idols that are robbing my life of purpose, peace, joy, and unity with God?
We have to ask ourselves if we, too, have sacrificed at the feet of idols who refuse to be satisfied. When will we seek the True God who can provide the purpose and peace our hearts long for, and that our daily lives so desperately need? When will our devotion lead to fulfillment and peace?
Even as a missionary, I can at times be tempted to think God is satisfied by my sacrifices. After all, I have sacrificed for Him. God has called me to that sacrifice, and it pleases Him. I have gone up to the mountain of the Lord holding on to my small faith and His big promises. But it is His sacrifice for me that brings me into a peaceful, fulfilling relationship with the Living God.
The familiar story of Abraham offering Isaac is often told from the perspective of Abraham, a loving father who is willing to obey God no matter the cost, even if that means offering up his one son. And that is true and part of the story.
But the story’s hero is not Abraham. The hero is Jehovah Jireh: “the God Who Provides.” In this story, God has already revealed himself to Abraham, but Abraham still doesn’t exactly know what kind of god is the Lord?
Is God a god like the Canaanite god of the Ammonites, Molech, who will demand child sacrifice by fire for his wrath to be appeased? Can God be appeased for now? Will he ask for more later?
Will he be like Baal, who demands more and more, always upping the ante and requiring stranger offerings, more and more dedicated signs of devotion?
Or is YHWH different? Different from the demons the people have known in the past? Different from the idols?
Who is this God that is calling Abraham? Who is the God who is asking Abraham to put his faith in Him?
God is the God who is satisfied not by our sacrifice but by His sacrifice for us.
Abraham climbs up the mountain and prepares to sacrifice. But as Abraham raises his arm, knife in hand, to take the life of his son, the angel of the Lord stops him. And in this moment, we see that God is the God who provides the sacrifice that saves our life and brings us into a relationship of peace with him.
Worshiping the true God will provide us satisfaction and peace. God does require us to sacrifice, but he has already paid the price in full. We do not work to appease God; instead, full satisfaction is found as we accept the full love God offers to us.
As God called Abraham, God has called us. We must continue to offer our small faith. We must continue to cling to His big promises. But we must remember: it is God who is the hero of our story, too. He is the one who provides. He is the one who satisfies. And it is His sacrifice for us that will always be enough.
As we work across languages and cultures to share His love and bring Him glory, we remember that we are enough because His sacrifice is enough. We have peace and fulfillment because He has provided the sacrifice for us. Truly, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).