If You Send an MK Some Cookies

cookies

Inspired by Laura Numeroff

If you send an MK some cookies, she’s going to want to eat a couple.

But first she’ll ask her mom if she can walk down the street to get some apple soda to go with them.

On her way, she’ll see a stationery store.

That will make her think about buying a card to send to you.

In the store she’ll find one that says, “Thanks You! Very! Very!”

Then she’ll decide to make a card herself.

For that she’ll need some glitter, so she’ll ask the clerk (in his language) if he has some “really small colorful things,” while making “sparkly” motions with her hands.

He’ll probably reach under the counter and pull out a bag of marbles.

She’ll politely decline.

While she’s leaving the store, she’ll see a lizard on the door frame.

She’ll imagine what it would be like to catch it and take it home as a pet.

Then she’ll remember her dog. He’s most likely hungry, and it’s her day to feed him, so she’ll cut her trip short to hurry home.

On her way back, she’ll hear her neighbor calling to her through an open window.

The lady will wave her over and hand her two huge cucumbers and another kind of vegetable she’s never seen before.

She’ll take them home and put them on the kitchen counter.

On the counter she’ll notice a roll of tin foil, and that will give her an idea.

She’ll tear off a strip and grab some markers and some scissors and take everything into the living room.

She’ll color all over the tin foil and cut it into tiny, tiny pieces.

Chances are, she’ll sneeze and some of the pieces will fall under the couch.

When she leans down to pick them up, she’ll find a bracelet that she’s been looking for that her best friend gave her last year.

That will make her miss her friend so she’ll pull out her phone to look up the difference between their time zones so they can video chat tomorrow.

After she figures that out, she’ll add her friend’s name to the “to-do” list she keeps.

She’ll also write down “glitter” because she wants to go back to the stationery store to show the clerk what she’s made and ask him what it’s called.

When she thinks about the store she’ll remember that she never got any apple soda.

That will remind her that she has some cookies.

So she’ll eat two or three.

And that will remind her of you.

[photo: “Cookies,” by z Q, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Top 10 Most Valuable Mindsets for MKs and TCKs

by Michèle Phoenix

I’ve written extensively in the past few years about attitudes and choices that can help MKs and TCKs to avoid some of the pitfalls inherent to being multi-cultural. Here are, in my estimation, the top ten most valuable of them.

1. I will believe that I am not weird—I am complex. 

It’s a refrain I’ve heard from young and old in my work with Third Culture Kids and the problem is mostly semantic. Saying “I’m weird” implies a sort of terminal condition. No one will ever understand me. “Complex” hints that with time and awareness, others will begin to figure us out. Has a global upbringing made us a bit more complicated than others? Absolutely. But it’s not an insurmountable thing for those who love us enough to seek to understand us. This video might be a great place to start!

2. I will recognize that I am not special—I am blessed.

Calling ourselves “special” implies superiority, yet those aspects of our lives that have shaped us are usually not something we’ve earned or chosen. We are MKs because our parents made the decision to go overseas as missionaries. That makes us fortunate—blessed—not better than others. “Special” often yields arrogance. “Blessed” is more likely to yield a humbled gratitude. The latter is so much more attractive and inclusive. For more, read here.

3. I will allow myself to fail publicly and privately.

One of the greatest challenges MKs experience is the pressure to live up to the expectations of people for whom “Missionary Kid” implies a deeper faith, better behavior, wiser choices and flawless living. If we let those standards guide us in even a subconscious way, we set ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointing others and ourselves. Accepting the fact that we’ll fail and admitting to it when we do is good and healthy—even if it’s disenchanting to others. For more, read here.

4. I will stay connected in some way to my other cultures.

When juggling so many cultural influences, it sometimes seems easier to simplify our lives by distancing ourselves from some of those places we call home in order to just exist in one location. It is an understandable and natural inclination! The problem is that much of the richness of our multi-culturality comes from being able to draw on the entirety of our life-experiences. It’s precisely because we juggle so many cultures that we have so much to offer—a broader worldview, global understanding, adaptability, etc. It would be tragic to lose the depth and wealth of our complex background has given us for the sake of a more “simple” identity. Staying connected in some small way to past worlds (whether through people or media or traditions or all of those) allows us to retain the treasures they’ve instilled in us. For more, read here.

5. I will apply the same curiosity, exploration and acceptance to my passport culture that I apply to foreign cultures.

As MKs, one of our greatest strengths is being able to insert ourselves into new cultures with inquisitiveness, grace and tolerance. Those skills seem to fly out the window when we reenter our own passport culture! If stranded in a remote tribal village, we’d enter the fray with some of our most prized traits on display: open-mindedness, a sense of adventure and cultural acceptance. But returning “home”? Not a chance. Think of how different our re-entry experience would be if we applied the same attitude to our passport culture as we do to foreign places. For more, read here.

6. I will be versatile in my relationship-building methods. 

As MKs, we build friendships in an uncommon way. We’re often quick and intense as we enter into relationships, aware that time is limited and comfortable sharing rapidly on an intimate level because of that. Mono-culturals tend to approach friendships differently, letting the “deepening” take a slower, more casual route. It may take longer and initially seem shallow, but there’s a good chance we’ll achieve meaningful relationship with our less global peers if we’re patient enough to allow for a slower pace. Dismissing people early because they don’t dive deep fast enough can eliminate the chance of true friendship. Understanding how our relationship model differs from that of mono-culturals is a good place to start. For more, read here.

7. I will use my experiences to enrich and not diminish others.

It’s a nasty little habit we have—nothing entertains MKs more than celebrating the “stupidity” of those less fortunate than us. Our backyards are the stuff of fantasies to most mono-cultural peers. We’ve seen more and experienced more than they can even imagine. Yet rather than being grateful for our blessings, we sometimes use our global savvy to make fun of the less fortunate. We’re in a unique position to bring the worlds we’ve known to those who will never get to witness them for themselves, yet we too often opt for something that looks an awful lot like arrogance instead. Let’s commit to kindly and humbly expanding the horizons of our mono-cultural friends (at an appropriate time in relationship with them) rather than mocking, humiliating or belittling them. For more, read here.

8. I will strive to distinguish between human failure and God’s character.

There’s no denying it. Many of us carry wounds from our years overseas. Some of us have been neglected, abused or afflicted by illness. We’ve seen death and famine. We’ve been harmed by the poor decisions of those who were supposed to care for us. It’s easy to blame God for the scars—as I did for many years. Yet so much of the violence and injustice we’ve suffered is the direct result of human mistakes and cruelty. God grieves over the actions and circumstances that harm us. Blaming Him will only deprive us of the powerful healing only His comfort can afford us. For more, read here.

9. I will choose to exercise gratitude, but won’t ignore the hardships.

The hardships are real. They influence our thinking and our outlook, our serenity and our faith. We must acknowledge and address them in order to heal from them. But as we’re in that process, balancing the pain with an intentional focus on what we have to be grateful for can be a perspective-enhancing practice. For more, read here.

10. I will acknowledge that being an MK alone won’t get me through life—having an intimate, trusting relationship with God will.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our MK identity that we think it’s the only thing that defines us. It becomes the most meaningful and foundational aspect of our lives, and we can make the mistake of assuming it’s all we need…because we think it’s all we are.

But we’re so much more. We are children of God. And though our multi-cultural skills might be tremendous assets to be prized and celebrated, when life becomes treacherous and dark, they’ll be of little help. Only an active, intimate and dependent relationship with God will carry us through the trials that are inevitable and unskirtable as we live life in a broken world. His love and presence are inexpressibly precious. For more, read here.

You’ll notice that each of the ten mindsets above is stated as an intentional verb:  believe, recognize, allow, stay, apply, be, use, strive, choose, acknowledge. A shift in our way of thinking won’t happen organically. It will come as we invest determination and focus in making it happen, subjugating harmful habits to practices that might enhance our own lives and those of others.

To read more of my articles about MKs and parenting MKs, click here.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Check out this collection of our most-read articles

Consider this the Table of Contents for a book on missions, cross-cultural living, grief, TCKs, MKs, missiology, common pitfalls, transition, short-term missions, relating to senders, and a whole lot more.

I figured it was time to compile our most-read posts and present them to you, organized by topic. So here they are, 85 of our most-read posts ever.

My hope is that this article, this Table of Contents, if you will, would serve as one massive resource for those of you who are new to our community, those of you who’ve been hanging out here all along, and even for you, our future reader, who just found our little corner of the internet. Welcome!

Many thanks to the authors who’ve poured into our community, aiming to build and help (and sometimes challenge) the missionary world and the churches that send. If this site has been helpful to you, would you consider sharing this post with your friends and colleagues and missions leaders?

A Life Overseas is loosely led, with a tiny overhead (that covers the costs of the website), and a bunch of volunteer writers and tech folk. Why do we do it? We’re doing this for you! We’re doing this because we like you and we want to see cross-cultural workers (and their families!) thriving and succeeding and belonging. We’re doing this because we believe the Lamb is worthy. We’re doing this because we believe that God’s love reaches beyond our country’s borders, extending to all the places, embracing all the peoples.

I hope you are encouraged. I hope you are challenged. I hope you are reminded that you are not alone. This can be a hard gig, for sure, but you are not alone.

If this is your first time here or your thousandth, stick around, browse around, let us know what you think, how you’ve been helped, and what you’d love to see in the future. We’d absolutely love to hear from you!

 

With much love from Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Jonathan Trotter

 

Third Culture Kids / Missionary Kids
10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked
10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread
To the Parents of Third Culture Kids
Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say
8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas
6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need
An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
10 Ways Teachers Can Support Third Culture Kids
Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

 

Rest / Burnout / Self-Care
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
Ask A Counselor: How in the world can we do self-care when . . . ?
Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
8 Ways for Expats Who Stay to Stay Well

Top 10 Digital Photography Tips

Family / Marriage
Missionary Mommy Wars
A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Nine Ways to Save a Marriage
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy
Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage
Dear Single Missionary
Homescapes MOD
I’m a missionary. Can I be a mom too?

 

Cross-cultural living & ministry
3 Kinds of Selfies You Should Never Take
Missionaries are supposed to suffer . . . So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?
Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field
To My Expat Friends
What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo!
The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping
One-Uppers
A Cautionary Tale: Expats & Expets (What not to do)
The Introverted Expat
5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)
The Aim of Language Learning

 

Missiology
Please Don’t Say, “They Are Poor But They’re Happy.”
Let Me Make Your Kid a Buddhist
How to partner with a poor church without screwing everything up
Rice Christians and Fake Conversions
Responding to Beggars
10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
There’s no such thing as the “deserving poor”

 

Theology in Missions
The Idolatry of Missions
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
Rethinking the Christmas Story
But Are You Safe?
When Missionaries Starve
Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 1}
Is Jesus a Liar?

 

Cautions
10 Reasons Not To Become a Missionary
In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries
The Cult of Calling
Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?
Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
When Missionaries Think They Know Everything
Visiting Home Might Not Be Everything You Dreamed
Misogyny in Missions
The Proverbs 32 Man
Stop Waiting for It All to Make Sense

 

Grief & Loss
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
Ask a counselor: how do we process loss and grief?

 

Transition
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping
Dear New Missionary
5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field
Why I Quit My Job as a Missionary to Scrub Toilets
Jet Lag and Heart Lag
When You Start to Pick Your Nose in Public…
You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .
Going Home

 

Short Term Missions
What to Do About Short Term Missions
Stop calling it “Short Term Missions.” Here’s what you should call it instead.
Your Short-Term Trips Have Not Prepared You For Long-Term Mission
The Mess of Short Term Missions

 

Relationships with those who send
A Letter to Christians Living in America from a Christian Living Abroad
Dear Supporter, There’s So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You
Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas
How to Encourage Your Overseas Worker
When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy
Facebook lies and other truths
Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

 

If your favorite article didn’t make the list, put the title and link in the comments section and let us know why you love it. Thanks again for joining us here. Peace to you.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs

“My book is called Misunderstood because that is how many young TCKs feel.” – Tanya Crossman

It’s true. Many kids grow up among worlds and end up feeling completely and totally misunderstood. They may feel misunderstood by the societies they’ve grown up in and the societies they’ve returned too. They may feel misunderstood by the nuclear families they’ve grown up in and the extended families they’ve returned to.

So what do we do?

What can parents do? Parents who know they don’t understand all the ins and outs of growing up globally?

Well, what do we do when we interact with anyone we want to get to know better? Read a book? Google them? Ask other people? Read an article? Maybe.

But typically the best solution is just to treat them like the unique human beings they are and start asking questions.

I think that one of the simplest things we could do to help the TCKs in our life to feel more seen, more loved, and less misunderstood, is to get better at asking questions.

And of course we have to care about their answers.

 

“Smart parents give their kids lots of answers, but wise parents ask their kids lots of questions.” – Unknown

 

Questions give value and open the door to deeper intimacy. Questions are Christ-like, with one scholar identifying 307 individual questions that Jesus asked during his earthly ministry.

It’s hard to ask questions, though, because I have to shut up long enough to listen to the answers. Most of us simply prefer giving answers to asking questions.

Oh that we would excel in question-asking! And not because we’re trying to control or manipulate, but because we’re genuinely interested in what people have to say.

Like TCKs.

One teenager who grew up overseas said that she would love to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.”

No two stories are the same. I’ve had teenagers here in Cambodia thank me for NOT being a TCK. I was a bit confused until they explained: “Sometimes, adult TCKs come in here and think they know everything about us because they grew up abroad too. But they have no idea!” Apparently, I earned points for knowing what it was that I didn’t know, which caused me to keep asking questions.

May we all know what it is that we don’t know. And may that knowledge lead us to ask questions.

May we echo the angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 when he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?”

May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we care about where they’ve come from. That we care about their stories; the good stuff and the hard stuff. May we communicate to the TCKs in our life that we ALSO care about where they’re going. That we care about their hopes and their dreams. And their fears.

And at the end of the day, may they feel, as Hagar did, seen.

Understood.

Of course, we can’t fully know or understand anyone, but we can keep asking questions, we can keep being interested.

We can keep reading their book, even if it’s as small as a passport.

 

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Tools & Resources

The Key Jar: A fantastic list of questions in PDF format. I screen captured this thing and then just keep it on my phone. Occasionally, when I’m out with one of my kids, I just pull it out and say, “Hey, do you want to do the questions?” Some of my kids like it more than others, but I can tell you that it’s generated TONS of fascinating conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Gottman Card Deck: Although it’s designed for couples (you can easily see why), there are some great questions on here that are totally appropriate for kiddos. If you’re like me, new or unique questions are hard to self-generate. I can do, “How was your day?” but it’s a bit harder to just come up with more involved questions. So I use an app. Not all the time, but sometimes. This app is free, so try it out and see what happens.

If you’re interested in more of the story about Hagar and how asking questions is Christ-like, here’s a link  to a message I preached at an international church this year: The Questions of God, Hagar, and Genesis 16. [Links to the podcast on iTunes and mp3 download.]

Tanya Crossman’s article on A Life Overseas: Parallel Lives: TCKs, Parents, and the Culture Gap

A popular list of questions MKs would love to be asked, by Taylor Murray. [MKs and TCKs are not the same, but the majority of these questions seem to apply to both.]

 

Photo by Mitch Harris on Unsplash

6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need

by Michèle Phoenix

As I travel to speak and consult with missionary families around the world, the word “permission” regularly comes up. In a subculture saturated with expectations and obligations, it seems to have a restorative power.

Missionaries’ Kids, too, live under burdensome expectations and would benefit as much as their parents from clearly articulated permissions. I believe the following are crucial to raising a generation of MKs unhobbled by the unreasonable demands of a world that may not fully understand what it is to be young and vulnerable, living cross-culturally in the fishbowl of ministry.

 

1. Permission To Be Kids

It’s no secret that missionaries’ children, much like pastors’ kids, feel held to higher standards than their peers. With friends and strangers watching their every move, there is unrelenting pressure to behave well. Be good. Be polite. Be friendly. Have a positive attitude and never—ever—complain.

The broad expectation that they be better behaved, smarter, and more mature than other children their age—or at least that they convincingly project these traits—can become a debilitating pressure.

And if there’s one thing MKs do well, it’s try to live up to unrealistic expectations.

When I was visiting with a missionary family a few weeks ago, I asked an 11-year old boy why his family had moved to Romania. He told me that he was there to “introduce people to Jesus.” Perhaps the most meaningful words I heard on that three-week trip were his mother’s when she said, “No, honey, mom and dad are here to introduce people to Jesus. Your job is to be a kid.”

What a simply-worded, freedom-giving statement! Her son, a relatively new MK, heard from his mother’s mouth that it’s okay for him to just.be.young. So he can talk back or stomp his foot or hate zucchini or complain or lie and expect consequences—but without the disproportionate shame too often levied on MKs who are just being kids in the world of ministry.

 

2. Permission To Fail

Children will fail. They’ll do stupid things, they’ll forget instructions, and they’ll disobey rules. It goes without saying that MK or non-MK, they need to know that mistakes and bad behavior are not unforgivable flaws.

In the ministry world, though, failure can take on more ominous overtones.

  • “We need to set an example for the unbelievers watching us.”
  • “God wants us to be a light in the darkness.”
  • “You represent God in your middle school.”

The exhortations seem benign, but they add a deeper condemnation to inevitable stumbles.

Demanding unreasonable exceptionality of MKs because their family represents God sets them up for the worst kind of failure: one in which their imperfection hurts their family’s work and tarnishes God’s image.

So it isn’t just a bad grade. It isn’t just getting cut from the soccer team. It isn’t just posting something inappropriate on Facebook. It isn’t just stealing change off the teacher’s desk or telling a lie about a friend.

It brings shame on themselves, on their families, and on God.

If we’re not careful with our words, we heap a spiritual burden on six-year-olds whose lives are already complicated by cross-cultural living, frequent transitions, and successive losses. The liberating balm of “permission to fail” for young people who are often overly self-blaming cannot be overstated.

 

3. Permission To Grieve

The heaviest burden many MKs bear is the number of goodbyes they have to say in their early years. The mission field is a transient place where someone is always leaving. The repeated departures create an expectation of loss that colors both their entry into new relationships and the nature of the friendships they form.

The world’s unspoken expectation of courage and resilience in the face of so much loss puts pressure on grieving MKs to get over it fast, to find comfort in an unflagging faith, and to forge ahead without handicap. Little emphasis is put on the grieving process, and little space is given to allow it to evolve.

Adding to the issue is the unwillingness of many adults in ministry to model healthy grieving for the younger generation. If MKs don’t see the grown-ups around them honestly demonstrating the journey from loss to healing, they won’t know that they’re allowed to walk it too.

Until missionary parents and the missionary community as a whole give permission to missionaries’ children to express and work through their grief—as ugly as it may get—we will continue to see hearts hardened toward God (on whom many blame their losses) and adult MKs still crippled by their losses in later seasons of their lives.

 

4. Permission To Dissent

MKs know they’re a package deal. God called their parents. He funded their ministry. They made it overseas and are doing good work. How dare they question a Calling? How dare they resist another move or resent another change of schools?

Of all the MKs I’ve worked with in more than twenty years, those who have felt no permission to voice a disagreement or question their parents’ choices are the ones whose resentment has been most bitter.

How easy it is for adults with a clear vision and driving passion to carve a path toward the Calling they perceive.

And how destructive it can be when the children in their care don’t feel the same impulse, but measure the Call in toxic increments of change.

Before announcing a new direction or an imminent uprooting, parents of MKs might consider gently introducing the topic—then entering into ongoing conversation and collective seeking. With compassion and attention. With hearts trained on their children while their spirits are tuned to God.

With permission to dissent—to express opinions that are contrary to their parents’—children will feel freedom to voice honest feelings, allowing the family to proceed perhaps more slowly, but with each member engaged in discerning what God is asking of them. The MKs will feel seen and known, and communication and empathy between family members will deepen.

 

5. Permission To Doubt

Not all MKs are saved. Not all MKs believe that God is real. Not all MKs view their parents’ faith in a positive light.

I didn’t encounter Jesus—truly encounter Jesus—until I’d been a missionary for a couple of years. Yet presumptions about the faith of MKs abound both in their sending churches and among their family members.

Of course she’s saved. Of course he’s on fire for God! They’re MKs!

So the young person whose life is steeped in Christianity feels guilty for doubting. Guilty for the shreds of unbelief that daren’t be expressed lest they bring shame (that word again) on the family and their work.

I’ve seen MKs trying to process their lack of faith being tisk’ed into silence. Or voicing their doubts and being preached into submission. Or hinting at uncertainty and being reproached into repentance.

Faith is not an inherited conviction. God is not a transferable commodity. Yet the pressure on MKs to not only believe, but be exemplary in their faith is rampant. What unfair pressure on souls whose perception of God has been complicated by a ministry-saturated worldview.

Permission to doubt is more than mere processing-space. It’s the gift of honest grappling toward eternal outcomes.

Parents need to extend it. Ministry communities need to extend it. Churches need to extend it. Adults and peers need to celebrate it as part of God’s working in the MK’s life.

Permission to doubt is crucial to an authentic faith.

 

6. Permission To Redefine Significance

The message comes from within and without the missionary community: “The best, most significant, and God-pleasing life you can live is one devoted to his service.”

But it’s a lie.

The best, most significant, and God-pleasing life is one in which relationship with him is central. Not work for him or sacrifice to him. Relationship with him.

In the missionary world, we too narrowly define significance as working for God. Well-intentioned believers reemphasize the message: “Your parents are doing the most important work.” Churches further accentuate it by highlighting missionary families and rewarding their effort with attention, prestige, and donations.

So the MK who wants to become a dancer feels like a sell-out. She’s seen the need, after all, and all she wants to do is dance? Shameful. All he wants to be is an electrician? Sad. All she sees herself doing is teaching? So unworthy of the MK-upbringing that shaped her—unless she teaches overseas.

I’ve known guilt-ridden adult MKs who can’t reconcile the career they love with the definition of significance that distorts their perspective—successful businessmen providing for the dozens of families they employ who feel they’ve missed the boat. Artists revealing God’s creativity and beauty to a cynical world who feel disloyal to the Call that galvanized their parents. Stay-at-home dads modeling God’s heart to their children who fear their lives are not significant enough.

Significance is not what we do. It’s who we are because of our relationship with Christ.

It’s the light we shine by our mere presence wherever we toil—not the task we do there. It’s the expression of God’s spirit in us that requires no words. It’s a dancer’s sublimation of the horrors of this world. The craftsman’s honesty and the excellence of his work. The teacher’s heart as she nourishes young souls.

There is deep significance in choosing to exercise the talents God has given us and in radiating him in the process. Too often, permission to find one’s intimate significance, then pursue and excel at it is poorly stated or withheld by well-intentioned missionary parents.

 

The Gift of Permission

Because so many of the expectations delineated above are unspoken, their antidote will have to be clearly articulated and frequently repeated. My encouragement to missionary parents desiring to remove the pressure from their still-developing children is fourfold. From their earliest age onward:

  • Foster open communication with your kids.
  • Use simple, unambiguous words to free them from unreasonable expectations.
  • Embody grace and mercy.
  • Model in your adulthood what you preach into their childhood.

Dare to open conversations that may take years to finish. It’s a healthy place to start for both the missionary and the MK.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

A Third Culture Kid’s Story of Faith

There is no single story when it comes to the third culture kid; the missionary kid. While we can learn and grow from research and the common themes that have emerged to form a perspective, each child has their own story. Like fingerprints, these stories are unique, formed by family of origin, personality, and life experience. There is no single story around faith either. Instead, the mystery of faith weaves through a life – sometimes accepted, sometimes rejected, but always present. 

When I set out to write my memoir, Passages Through Pakistan, I thought it would be about belonging. After all, wasn’t that what I had worked through for a number of years? Wasn’t that part of my identity? But the more I wrote, the more I realized that the common thread woven through the narrative was not belonging. It was faith. So today I have included two excerpts from the book. My prayer is that if you are a parent or a third culture kid,  you will know beyond doubt that your (and your child’s) faith journey is infinitely important to God; that he can turn ashes into beauty and mourning into oil of joy.*

*****

All adults can point to a time when they go from the naïveté and simplicity of childhood and cross over into the complicated world of the adult. Some of these coming of-age moments are dramatic, some are profound. All are life-changing.

It is easy to dismiss these moments. They may seem undramatic, insignificant. But to the individual, the drama they represent is a one-way passage out of childhood. Once we pass through we can never go back.

For many years, I would only tell happy stories about my childhood, stories of midnight feasts and camp outs, of traveling to beautiful places and life-long friends. Years went by before I could admit that some of my childhood memories were deeply painful. If I acknowledged just how difficult they were, I would be betraying my parents and my childhood. More than that, if I mentioned the painful parts, I would have to deal with the pain, and some of it went deep.

The real reason I didn’t want to tell these stories was more complicated than I wanted to admit. My parents’ faith had led them to Pakistan and sustained them through the years they were there. If I was a healthy child, then teenager, then adult, no one could criticize their life choice. Here was their best defense against those critical of the missionary life. If I admitted the pain, if I was truthful about the hard stories, their defense was stripped.

But was I really worried about them? Or was I more worried about what would happen to my own faith?

If I acknowledged the painful pieces of childhood, could my faith withstand it? Or would I be left with a “where were you God?” echoing hollow in my heart?

A friend of many years, a counselor with a specialty in helping children in trauma, helped me understand the distorted theology that was controlling my memories. When I finally began to admit that all was not perfect, I felt a profound sense of freedom and relief. As I became more honest about my life, I realized the depths of God’s care for me and his limitless grace in my journey. [Passages Through Pakistan – pp 114-115]

This I knew, and I knew it well: when you’re six and you wake up at five in the morning, away from home and unconditional love in a dormitory of seven other little girls, just as young and equally homesick and insecure, there is no one to comfort you. When you are twelve, and your backside aches for a week because of the beating of a house parent, there is no person to comfort you. When you question why dads and babies die in the middle of the night, there is no person to answer you. When you are sixteen, and you feel misunderstood by all those around you, unable to articulate your heart, there is no person to comfort you. When you are eighteen, and your heart is breaking at the thought of leaving all you know and all you love, there is no person to comfort you.

My faith was more than theology – it was a living, breathing entity. It wrapped me with a profound sense of comfort and love, and I knew beyond any previous doubts that God was real. I knew in the marrow of my bones, and the depths of my soul, that there was something greater than boarding school loss, stronger than the grief of goodbyes, deeper than the pain of misunderstanding. I knew that redemption was not just a theological idea, but that somehow it was more real than anything on this earth.

Faith was the story written on my life, and my life was witness to a greater reality. [Passages Through Pakistan – pp 166]

Passages Through Pakistan from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

*Reference to Isaiah 61:2-3

Passages Through Pakistan: An American Girl’s Journey of Faith is available here:

The Kindle version will be coming in July of 2017.

Before I called you, I saw you

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Within mission circles, the term “call” or “called” is loaded. It is loaded with story and passion; with grit and determination. It is also loaded with hurt and condemnation; with wrecked dreams and spiritual baggage.

A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Lost to a Call.” It was a short essay, written from the heart, but it only captured some of my relationship with this word. As a daughter of missionaries I learned this word early. I don’t know if I learned it from my parents, but I certainly learned it from the broader Christian and missionary communities. From early on it felt like a word fraught with meaning; a word that one dare not mess with.

Because calling and call were rich with spiritual punch. They represented times of prayer; times of searching scripture; agonizing over decisions and seeking guidance.

Here’s the problem: I am a failed missionary. I don’t say this with any desire for sympathy or pity, I say it as fact. My husband and I were young, in love, and passionate about working in the Middle East. After a year and a half of marriage, we went overseas with a mission organization only to leave the organization in shambles a year later. We continued living overseas for a long time after, but for many years there was a sense of shame connected to our story. We were failures as missionaries. There were times when we desperately tried to inch our way into missionary circles, but it always ended with disappointment and frustration. We didn’t belong in the missions community. We were the ones that didn’t have a call.

But what is call all about? Is it about being called to a place, or being called to a person?

In the beginning of the Gospel of John we see Jesus reaching out to those who would be his companions for the next three years. They would travel with him, laugh with him, bicker about who was his favorite, eat with him, get angry in front of him, and live all of life with the Son of God. The story in John says that Jesus sent Philip to get Nathanael. Nathanael doesn’t trust Jesus’ origins – evidently nothing good ever came out of Nazareth. So Nathanael reluctantly goes with Philip. As he approaches Jesus, Jesus calls out with a bold assessment of Nathanael’s character and Nathanael is astonished.

“How do you know me?” he says.

And then those beautiful, bold words “Before Philip called you, I saw you.” Before the beginning of time I saw you. I knew you. I loved you.  The God of the universe who set the heavens in motion, who breathed life into man, saw Nathanael. He saw Nathanael just like he sees you, just like he sees me.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”

He saw you in your entirety. In the secret place where he knit your bones together, God saw you. This is the beauty of our God. He does not stop loving when our circumstances change. He does not stop loving when we question where we are and why we are there. He does not withhold grace because we misread or misplace a call. In our failed state, my husband and I came to realize that the fact that we exist as image bearers is far more important to God than anything we will ever do. Because before he called us, he saw us.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today. I don’t know the struggles, the hurts, the failure, the feelings of inadequacy, the homesickness, the hurting marriage, the language frustrations, the confusion over next steps, the confusion over any call. But this I do know, and I stake my life on it: Before he ever called us, he saw us. 

This, my friends, is what missions is all about. 

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A Life Overseas Friends! My new book has just been released. Called Passages Through Pakistan – An American Girl’s Journey of Faith, it is a vulnerable memoir that spans birth through age 18 when I left Pakistan for the United States. I would be honored if you took a look! It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Reviews from ALOS writers:

10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread

Ever talked to an MK before? Did you wonder why we looked a little lost? Why we tend to give people confused looks all of the time? Yeah. As an MK myself, I can say with confidence: we’re an odd bunch. Guilty as charged! But there’s more to the story than you might think.

You see, MKs are usually asked many questions about our lives overseas. Although these well-intended questions are asked out of genuine friendliness, curiosity, and a desire to connect, a few can be extremely difficult to answer. Here are the top 10 questions MKs dread:

10 Questions MKs Dread Picture

Question #1“Aren’t you glad to be home?”

On the bright side, MKs have many homes we love dearly. On the not-so-bright side, MKs never know where home actually is. It’s complicated. Hence our blank expressions mixed with terror when confronted with this daunting question. Are we supposed to pick one? Do our homes across the ocean not count?

We are typically struck with this realization when ‘home’ assignment isn’t turning out how we envisioned. Permanently wrinkled clothes. Too many road trips in a ridiculously-short amount of time. A diet consisting mainly of the huge boxes of Wendy’s chicken nuggets purchased by sleep-deprived, currency-confused, mega-sized missionary families. Life is crazy. We recognize once again that our home country doesn’t feel like home anymore.

 

Question #2 “Do you remember me? I held you when you were 6 months old!”

Question #2 Baby Picture

MKs desperately want to avoid sounding rude, but our diaper-clad years are pretty vague. Especially when being held by 300 different people at eight different churches in five different states was our reality. Faces tend to blur after a while. Especially at six months old and/or long gaps between home-country visits.

Once, a dear older couple invited my family to their home for dinner. I none-too-geniously doubted I had ever met them. Then I saw our prayer card faithfully stuck on their fridge and blushed bright red. Oops.

 

Question #3 “Where do you buy your clothes?”

Missionaries aren’t usually applauded for their awesome fashion sense. But on occasion, we find ourselves accidentally wearing something not three years behind the current trend. I have these crazy-patterned bohemian pants I purchased in Chiang Mai at a night market. They’re faded and stretched, but they tend to attract attention. Once, a girl enthusiastically asked me where I purchased them.

Thailand…”  I answered. She stared at me, alarmed by the fact that she would have to fly thirteen hours to purchase them. MKs’ wardrobes are usually furnished in more than one country (or even continent!) It happens.

 

Question #4 “How’s insert host country?”

Politically? Economically? Agriculturally? Socially? Spiritually? Personally? MKs have been asked all of the above! This is why I always try to avoid the professor-looking gentlemen with big glasses and grey sweaters at church visits. They are unfailingly interested in the population of Japan (my host country). I looked it up in preparation for my family’s last home assignment. But then I forgot.

 

Question #5 “Have you made a million friends?”

Well. Do my siblings count?

In truth, siblings are usually the only steady source of friendship MKs have. Chances are, we haven’t made a million friends in our host country. It’s painful to admit, especially when that is what’s expected of us. Language barriers and cultural differences make friendships difficult to bridge. Friendships with teammates are can end abruptly as families change location or ministry. Coupled with the realization that many of our former friends in our home country have moved on—most MKs are actually seeking friendships.

 

Question #6 “Can you say something in Chinese?

Yup. Chinese. Totally not dependent on what country we actually live in.

 

Question #7 “Don’t you love listening to your parent’s presentations?”

The first sixty times? Yes! Now? We hear them in our dreams. Seriously, no joke.

A few years ago, my family and I visited a friend’s small group to present about our ministry in Japan. My sister and I wanted to play outside. All the other kids wanted to listen to our parent’s presentation. We stared at them like they were crazy. Really?

 

Question #8 “Do you eat bugs?”

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This question wins the “most-frequently asked” award. Actually, I don’t eat bugs on a regular basis! But, yes, a lot of MKs do. I eat raw fish, squid, and octopus weekly, though. (That tends to still illicit the same response.)

Once, my friend went to a store in her host country to purchase a kitten. She picked the smallest, cutest, furriest one and handed it to the shop owner with her summer savings. He smiled, picked up the kitten, broke its neck, and gave it back to her in a paper bag for dinner. She ran home crying, “Mommy! Mommy! I didn’t want to eat Fluffy!”

 

Question #9 “Have you had fun over there?”

I love living overseas. But it is not a vacation! It’s life. Normal, mundane, regular life. Math tests, grocery-shopping, and room-cleaning still apply to MKs too. Just under different circumstances. Possibly without air-conditioning. Possibly without beds. Probably without a dryer.

But that’s okay. The only time I wished for a dryer was when I put on a freshly-washed shirt straight from the clothes rack and found a beetle crawling up my sleeve. I probably wouldn’t have categorized that experience as fun.   

 

Question #10 “Are you going to be a missionary when you grow up?”

What if someone asked you, “What’s your dad’s job? A doctor? Oh. Then you’re going to be a doctor too, right?”

“I don’t know!” you might reply.

I don’t know either. But I do know that I want to follow God’s call for my life, wherever that may be.

 

The next time you talk to an MK? Recognize they might feel lonely and insecure despite their nonchalant façade. Ask “how are you?” instead of “where are you from?” Give them a smile and a hug.

And to MKs, the next time you are asked one of these 10 questions? Smile. Recognize that they are asked out of a desire to understand and connect. Love back by engaging … even through these ever-dreaded questions.

 

 

Taylor Murray is a 17-year-old missionary kid serving with her family in Hiroshima, Japan. Author of Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition, she is passionate about supporting TCKs and their families through her writing. Visit her blog at www.taylorjoymurray.com.

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

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We don’t go into cross cultural missions without a fair degree of idealism. We would never leave our home, family, friends and culture if we didn’t think it was our calling and that we would make a difference. As parents, our children become part of that idealism. We can’t help having expectations and dreams of how our kids will be shaped by an amazing cross cultural experience.  As I look back over the years, I can see how my ideals didn’t line up so well with our family reality. For me, growth has included embracing a continual lowering of expectations and perhaps a little more acceptance of being who we are.

My sons are now 19 and 17. As a family we are about to leave SE Asia for a season to help them settle, or become unsettled (depending on how it goes), back into our passport country. They were born in our passport country and moved with my husband and me to SE Asia at the ages of 4 and 6.

We had already spent 3 years in that country before they were born and had a reasonable grasp of the language. We wanted to go deeper this time. I imagined us becoming a culturally-integrated and truly incarnational family, making a profound impact by our deep identification with the people. We somehow thought that immersing our kids into the culture would be easy even though our own previous experience of living in that culture had been extremely challenging. So many people had told us that kids are incredibly adaptable and resilient. They teased that our boys would soon be much more fluent in the language than we were and love all the new experiences.  It didn’t work out like that for us.

It’s easy to see things clearer in hindsight. At the time it seemed like a good idea to please our local friends by placing our boys in a national school of 6,000 students, where our children were the only little blond foreigners that the school had ever had. That was the beginning of an exhausting and painful inner struggle that felt like a tug-of-war in my guts. I was torn between what was best for my kids (helping them grow, learn, and be stretched, but still protected) and doing whatever it took to build relationships with local people and feel accepted by them.

We did come up with a strategy, after a few disastrous experiences, for how our kids could avoid being touched, kissed and pinched by strangers, or teachers who should know better, and still maintain some level of respectfulness. We made it clear to them that snarling like a rabid dog as adults approach is not OK. But giving the formal greeting of hands in front of the face and then running off before they can touch you is usually acceptable.

There were many days out visiting in a village where after several hours of intense connecting with local kids I could see my boys were just about to reach that point of things getting ugly. They were exhausted from the cross cultural relating, and it was in all our interests to leave NOW.  Again I felt the inner wrenching of being torn by the desire to stay and go deeper with our local relationships and ministry and giving our kids what they needed.

I now see how children have culture shock and culture stress like we all do, and they don’t just adapt because they are kids. They react according to their personality and a myriad of other factors that can be hard to identify or predict. They need support and acknowledgement of their struggles. We came to realize that although we really valued local relationships and knew they were key to our ministry, our relationship with our kids was the one that would last a life time. That was our top priority. That didn’t mean life was all about them, or we never expected them to learn patience and self-control. It did mean that we wanted them to know we were always there for them and were trying to make the best decisions we could for us as a family, trusting that God was in it all with us. One time this meant relocating to a city where they could attend international school, quite a change and unsettling for our ministry, but definitely the best decision for us as a family.

When the boys were 12 and 14, we moved to another country in SE Asia with a different language and culture. This time I accepted from the beginning that it was the international community that would be their life. My husband and I went to language school again, and they went to an international school. After five years they have friends from all over the world but only speak enough local language to tell directions to a Tuk Tuk (local taxi) driver.  They have not gone to a local church or become friends with the local neighbors. But they do have a supportive school community. They can get around the city independently and are fully engaged in the international church and youth group. I’m more than content with that.

My kids are definitely TCKs, although they don’t like to be labeled as such because, like most of us, they just don’t like being labeled. They are TCKs who connect deepest with other TCKs but they are also their own persons. They have their own experiences of being a TCK and don’t necessarily tick every box on the ‘you know you are a TCK whenlist. They may not have connected very deeply with this culture we live in but that is OK and I really like them.

Sometimes parents of younger children who know my boys and see how they are usually pretty comfortable relating to other kids and adults ask me something like “What are your parenting tips for TCKs?” I don’t think I have anything to offer that is different from what you would read in any quality parenting book. I naturally think my sons are great, but I believe that has more to do with who they are than anything my husband or I did or didn’t do. We made plenty of mistakes. There have been many influences in their lives. If I believe that they are great young people because of my incredible parenting, then I am setting myself up for some difficult days ahead. If they start making decisions I am unhappy about does that mean I really messed up as a parent? We really don’t have that much control. I’m grateful that God leads us all on a journey of grace and healing, our kids included.

Accepting who we are and who my kids are means being willing to not hold too tightly to certain definitions or ideals. It means being open to things being a little fuzzy for a while and different from what we expected, and that can be hard. It means letting our kids be the people they are becoming and letting go of a desire to make them into any kind of extension of ourselves. Yes, we have been in this cross cultural life together as a family and we are all shaped by that, but they are not little missionaries. They are themselves. And I really like them.

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My name is Rachael from Australia. Before having children, my husband and I served in Thailand for three years, working with people living with leprosy and other disabilities. After a significant time back in our home country we returned with our two sons for another five years of working with the Thai national church. We later moved to Cambodia and served in team leadership with our mission for five and a half years. Our boys have done Thai national schooling, home schooling, Australian government schooling, and both Christian and secular international schooling. They will soon be university students in Australia and more importantly, they are still talking to us.

“I Can’t Trust Anyone” | Lies We Believe

The last two months we’ve been exploring the ideas in Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). I hope this series is as healing for you as it has been for me.

So far, we’ve given ourselves permission to say “and” in The Little Word That Frees Us. Then we began to exchange our “shoulds” for “coulds” in “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs” | Lies We Believe. If you’re new to the conversation, you might want to go back and read those first two sections.

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I’m different

Before we dive into this lie, I need to clarify something. Sanford, himself an MK, says this belief has nothing to do with the legitimate “differentness” of being an MK and having a blended-culture worldview. That’s the TCK part of being an MK, and is a different discussion.

Rather, the belief that “I’m different” comes from being treated differently. It comes from living under different expectations and being required to abide by different rules. Sanford says this is not imaginary: though church members try to deny it, they often do judge PKs and MKs differently. People apply standards to them that they don’t apply to “regular” people. Likewise, we ministers and missionaries often apply standards to ourselves that we wouldn’t think of applying to non-ministry people.

We need to pause here and acknowledge the truth inside the lie: adults and children in ministry contexts do have different experiences, and those experiences can be quite exotic. More travel, more exposure to other cultures, more opportunities to attend events and meet well-known Christian leaders.

Other times our experiences are darker. We (along with our children) see the underbelly of church and missionary culture. We know all about problem people and problem finances. We know who is “against us,” and at times we even know who is responsible for eliminating our positions and reducing our influence, all in the name of Christ. These are the secrets we must keep and the burdens we must bear — and that too, makes us feel different.

If we think we’re different, however, we may keep ourselves from pursuing deep relationships. We may push people away and close our hearts to them. We may become lonely and even depressed. Alternatively, we may slide from believing we’re “different” into believing we’re “better.” We may like our positions of influence and authority: they boost our ego and pad our sense of pride. Although it’s uncomfortable to admit sometimes, we are a tribe who likes to set ourselves not merely apart, but also above.

Neither of these reactions is right or healthy. We may lead very different-looking lives, but we bear the same image of God. We may shoulder different responsibilities, but we share the same human need for unconditional love and acceptance. I don’t believe God’s desire for those in ministry is any different than for anyone else. I believe He wants all of us to experience authentic, life-giving community. But if we believe we’re different, we may cut ourselves off from the fellowship we so desperately need. If we believe we’re different, we may deprive ourselves of the deep relationships our souls crave.

We need to delete the “missionaries are better” mindset from our vocabularies. We need to stop isolating and elevating people in ministry and start embracing each other as equals, no matter which labels we personally claim. We need to take responsibility for the pedestals we’ve placed certain people on – even if we placed ourselves on those pedestals.

We need to level our hierarchies. Missionaries sin, ministers sin, and our children sin — just the same as everyone else. We all need a Savior. Honesty, openness, and acceptance are for all members of the Body. They’re for the ones preaching from the pulpits, and for the ones sitting on the back row. They’re for the ones sending monthly newsletters across the ocean, and for the ones sending monthly checks in the mail. They’re for everyone.

 

I can’t trust anyone

“I can’t trust anyone” closely follows “I’m different.” Many of the same experiences that lead us to believe we’re different also lead us to believe we can’t trust anyone, and it can be hard to tease out the differences.

At first glance, “I can’t trust anyone” might not seem like a lie. If church people have let us down, if they’ve mercilessly judged our struggles, if they’ve betrayed our confidences and broadcast our private stories to the world, this statement might seem true. And we might have decided we’re better off on our own. We might have decided we don’t need anyone after all.

Truth be told, I had trouble writing this section. Unlike some of the other lies in this series, I don’t have significant personal experience with this one. I’ve certainly considered myself “different,” and at times “better,” but I haven’t personally struggled with trusting people. I’ve always had a small circle of people I could trust, and I have a feeling this is because I didn’t grow up in a ministry home.

My story is not everyone’s story, however, and I’ve spoken with enough pastor’s kids and pastor’s kids’ spouses to know this trust issue is a big deal. It plays out in loneliness, arrogance, and a lack of close relationships.

While I’ve generally had safe people in my life, I know this much is true: some people cannot be trusted. Some people are not safe. There is truth inside this lie. Sometimes unsafe people in the Church hurt us deeply. Sometimes religious people wound us so severely that it almost seems irreparable, and we decide never to trust church people again.

While it is most definitely true that some people can’t be trusted, it is also true that some people can be trusted. Trustworthy people may be hard to find, but they do exist. And without that elusive trust, we can’t have meaningful relationships. When we choose not to trust people, we cut ourselves off from the relationships that can buoy us in times of trouble. When we tuck our weaknesses away where no one can find them or use them against us, we may think we are safe, but in reality we are alone.

If there truly is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then perhaps there should be no pastor or member either, no missionary or sender. Not that there aren’t differing roles and responsibilities in the Church – because there are — but that we are all one in Christ, and all equal in His Church. So let’s accept each other’s weaknesses and respect each other’s stories. Let’s push back against the prevailing church culture that ranks us over and under each other, and love each other as equals.

I’m not saying we can’t be friends with people who’ve had similar life experiences. Those people instinctively understand us, and they can be a refuge for us. What I am saying is that we can be friends with people outside our circles, too. Others in the body of Christ can love us well, too. There are people “outside the tribe” who can accept our entire story, with all its complications and paradoxes. And we can love them in all their glorious complexity, too. Reaching out to people who aren’t exactly like us is what the Church was designed for.

 

I can ruin my parents’ ministry

Of all the lies listed in the Parsonage Heresies book, this one strikes me as the most tragic. It tells children they make their parents credible – or not. It tells children they prove their parents’ worth – or not. It tells children their behavior makes an adult’s ministry successful — or destroys it.

This lie places the burden of an adult’s employment squarely on the shoulders of a child. This is unfair in any profession, and completely out of place among God’s people. Children — loved by God, sought by God, cared for by God — should never feel the pressure to ensure their parents’ wage-earning ability.

Although this statement upset me more than any other lie in this book, I don’t have actual experience with it — probably because I didn’t grow up in a ministry home. But I can imagine it doesn’t feel like a lie. I can imagine having social, emotional, or educational difficulties and being afraid to express them, because taking care of those issues might take my family off the field.

While I’ve never met any parents who held their children responsible for their ministry career, adult PKs and MKs probably have painful stories to back up this belief, and for those stories, I am truly sorry. Whether this pressure came from within your family or externally from church members, or some deadly combination of the two, I am so, so sorry. That’s a heavy burden to carry.

I’d also like to consider the corollary of “I can ruin my parents’ ministry”: “I can ruin my husband’s ministry.” I am much more familiar with this fear. I didn’t originally want to move overseas, but I thought if I refused to go, I’d ruin my husband’s missionary dreams. I am not the only wife who’s ever felt this. Kay Bruner writes in As Soon as I Fell, “All through our training, I had heard how important it was for the wife to ‘be involved in the project.’ People said that if the wife wasn’t involved in the project, the whole thing would go down in flames. I didn’t want to be the reason our project failed.”

That’s a lot of pressure, and I’ve spoken with other wives who feel the same way. We’re afraid we can ruin everything for our husbands. Sometimes that idea is even planted by well-meaning organizations and leaders. Sometimes it comes from inside us. And honestly, I don’t know what to do about this issue.

I don’t even think this pressure is relegated to children and spouses. I think as adults in missions, we fear that our own sin or poor choices might cause us to fail, so we silence our own struggles. Other times we have medical issues that need tending, and we’re faced with the choice to hide or deny them, or to seek help off the field if needed.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to separate the truth from the untruth in these beliefs. I’m not sure how we as the Body of Christ can deconstruct these harmful lies. I hope and pray this pressure to perform for the sake of your parents or spouse is becoming a relic of the past, but I have a feeling this is something we need to talk about more. I don’t have many answers here. I would love it if you shared your hard-won wisdom and experiences in the comments.

 

Have you ever felt different, alone, or unable to trust anyone?

Where have you found safe community? What does safe community look like for you?

What can we do to facilitate safer environments in the Church, and specifically for people in missions and ministry?

Have you ever felt you could destroy your parents’ or spouse’s or even your own ministry career? How can we address this pressure in a healthy, God-honoring way?

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Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us

Part 2: “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

Part 4: “God is Disappointed With Me

Part 5: A Conversation with Timothy Sanford

photo credit

Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised

Living abroad is an amazing adventure, but it comes with some baggage. And sometimes, the baggage fees are hidden, catching you by surprise, costing more than you planned.  You thought you had it all weighed out, you could handle this, squeeze right under the limit.

But then it got heavy.  Your new friends moved away, or your child’s new friend moved away.  Far away.  Like other continents away.   And your kid’s broken heart breaks yours.

Someone died and you didn’t get to say that last, fully present, goodbye.  Family members celebrate a birthday, or the whole family celebrates a holiday, and you’re not there because the Pacific’s really big, and you’re on the wrong side of it.

Or your child can’t remember her cousin’s name, and she doesn’t even know that’s sad. 

And you realize there are just some things Skype cannot fix.http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515

And you grieve, and your kids grieve.  Maybe.  But what if all these things happen again? And again.  You have another round of airport goodbyes, another holiday season with sand. Another Christmas with crying.

What if grieving gets old and annoying and time-consuming and exhausting?  What if it becomes easier to just not grieve?  To not let others grieve?

I’ll tell you what happens: Grief itself gets outlawed and a curse descends.  And everyone learns that some emotions are spiritual and some are forbidden.

Has your grief ever been outlawed?  Have you ever felt that your sadness or grief was “wrong and not very spiritual” and you should “be over this by now”?  If so, I am very sorry.  The prohibition of grief is a terrible, terrible curse.

Sometimes it’s outright, “Don’t cry, it’ll all be ok.”  But oftentimes, it’s more subtle (and spiritual) than that.  It’s the good-hearted person who says, “It’s not really goodbye, it’s see you later” or  “You know, all things work together for good.”

What if your kids miss grandma and McDonald’s and green grass, and someone tells them, “It’s for God,” or “It’ll be ok someday; you’ll look back on this as one of the best things that ever happened to you.” What if you tell them that?

Grief gets banned, and what was meant as a balm becomes a bomb, ticking.  The intended salve starts searing.

When loss happens, why must we minimize it?  Why are we so uncomfortable with letting the sadness sit?  Are we afraid of grief?

We sometimes act as if you can’t have grief and faith at the same time.  Sometimes, shutting down grief seems spiritual.  We tell ourselves and others, “Forget the past and press on.  God’s got a plan.  God is sovereign.”  We use Bible verses.

But banning grief is not biblical, and it’s not spiritual. 

Maybe we feel that grieving a loss of something or someone shows that we don’t have all our treasures in heaven.  Perhaps we delude ourselves with the twisted notion that if we had all of our treasures in heaven, our treasures would be safe, and we’d never experience loss.  And although this is crazy talk, we speak it to ourselves and others.

Does grieving really signal a lack of faith?  Would the truly faithful person simply know the goodness of God and cast themselves on that goodness?  No one would say it, but we sometimes treat the sovereignty of God as an excuse to outlaw grief.  I mean, how could we question the plan of God by crying? 

We may feel that grieving a loss that was caused by someone else (through neglect or abuse) shows a lack of forgiveness.  And although we know it’s not true, we act as if once a person’s truly forgiven an offender, the painful effects and memories disappear forever.

What if the loss was caused by parents or a spouse who decided to become an overseas missionary?  Does the goodness and holiness of their decision negate the grief?  Of course not, but sometimes we feel that the truly spiritual would recognize the godly sacrifice and be grateful.  As if gratefulness and grief are mutually exclusive.  As if a decision has to have 100% positive or 100% negative results.  Gray exists, after all.

Maybe you made the decision to move overseas, and it was a God-thing and your call was sure, but now it’s just really, really hard.  How will you deal with your own grief?  Will it threaten you, or will you courageously allow yourself to feel it?

Remember, grieving isn’t equal to sinning.

Sometimes, outlawed grief goes underground.  It becomes a tectonic plate, storing energy, swaying, resisting movement, and then exploding in unanticipated and unpredictable ways.  A tectonic plate can store a heck of a lot of energy.  Sort of like grief, once outlawed.  It descends below the surface. And sometimes heaving tectonic plates cause destruction far, far away.  Really smart people with even smarter machines have to do smart things to pinpoint the actual location of the destructive shift.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake like this, caused by buried grief?  It might not be obvious at first, but after a little bit of digging, you realize that the pressure and tension had been building for a long, long time.

So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.  Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.

And if you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, please remember that they probably don’t need a lecture, or a Bible verse, or a pithy saying.  But they could maybe use a hug.

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Jonathan Trotter is a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving with the church planting mission Team Expansion.  Before moving to the field with his wife of thirteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years.  In preparing for the field, Jonathan worked as an ER nurse in an urban hospital, where he regularly witnessed trauma, suffering, and death.  His little sister died when he was six, his mother died of breast cancer when he was seventeen, and his father died of brain cancer when he was twenty-five.

For more thoughts on grief (although not specific to missions or third culture kids), check out Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please (and other lessons from the Valley)

Edited and adapted from Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised, August 2013.

Black and white photo by Saca, at http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515