Making home an emotional oasis for your TCKs

by Tanya Crossman

I receive a lot of questions as I travel and speak about TCKs, but the question people most often ask is this: “If there was one thing you would recommend parents do to help their TCKs, what would it be?”

My short answer? Make your home an emotional oasis for your TCKs.

By that I mean creating a safe space for your TCKs to express the whole range of feelings and preferences stemming from their varied collections of cultural influences.

One reason the family unit can provide this space is that most families travel together. Home can therefore be a place where all the sources of an individual TCK’s linguistic and cultural adaptations are known.

An example of this is the phenomenon of sibling languages. 40% of TCKs born after 1985* reported sharing a unique dialect with their siblings, made up from the mix of different languages they had been exposed to. For one family, it was a mix of their native Finnish, the English they spoke at school, and the local language of the country they lived in. For others, it was favourite phrases picked up in five or more countries that peppered their speech.

The one place these TCKs could speak freely, knowing their words would be accepted and understood without question, was with their siblings.

 

A place to simply be themselves – and learn who that is

Daily life for most TCKs involves navigating two, three or even more different sets of cultural expectations as they move between home, school, and their host country. That’s in addition to any picked up in other locations. This means many TCKs grow up learning to adopt different cultural identities in different situations, shifting between them effortlessly as a natural life skill.

There are many advantages to this! A downside is identity confusion. Am I all of these pieces? One of them? Something completely separate? A 19 year old TCK from France explained it this way:*

“Because I always had to control what I said and what I talked about so I’d be accepted by kids my age, I still struggle to understand who I am. I have no clue what my true personality is and what is a habit I learned to fit in…I’m not sure how to untangle myself from years of camouflage, because I don’t have a clue where I end and the fake begins.”

Making your home an emotional oasis is about recognising this struggle, and creating a space in which your TCKs can remove their camouflage. It is about working to give them a place in which to work out who they are without it.

 

A place they can say anything

Almost everywhere TCKs go, there are opinions they can’t voice, languages they can’t speak, loves they can’t share. Making your home an emotional oasis means creating one safe place in which your TCKs can say all the things they must hold back elsewhere. It means letting them know that you, of all people in the world, will hear what their hearts are saying.

Making your home an emotional oasis means making a commitment to see life through your child’s eyes. To hear what they say, and ask questions about where they’re coming from.

To hear not “I hate this country” but rather “life here is hard for me”.

Not “I don’t like your language” but rather “I can’t express my whole self in any one language”.

Not “This move was a mistake” but rather “I am grieving what I have lost”.

Making your home an emotional oasis does not mean you can never gently correct a child’s negative attitude. It does not mean a child should be permitted to speak with wanton disrespect. But it does mean making your starting place an assumption that the difficult things your child says are meaningful, once you uncover the emotion behind them.

For one family I spent time with, this meant recognising their daughter’s uncharacteristic outbursts of anger as an expression of grief, as she struggled to adapt to life in a “homeland” she had no memories of. For these parents, creating safe space meant telling their daughter she was free to speak whatever language she wanted at home – in this case, the English she was more familiar with – rather than trying to help her practise the “mother tongue” she stumbled over everywhere else.

 

Now for the bad news…

While this sounds lovely, reality can be a challenge. This is because a true emotional oasis needs freedom.

Freedom to speak different languages.

Freedom to express opinions about different countries – both positive and negative.

Freedom to share emotional reactions to various events – or have no emotional reaction.

What if your child says they prefer the way things are done in your host country to your passport country? What if they prefer the language they speak at school to the language that is most familiar to you? What if they don’t enjoy your comfort foods and places? What if they don’t seem to appreciate the cultural values you grew up with? An 18 year old TCK from Zambia explained this struggle, saying:*

“I feel my passport country is my parents’ country, not mine. I refer to it as the ‘motherland’, not my homeland. My parents tried to make me eat traditional food and expected me to know the language, but it’s really hard.”

The cost of making your home an emotional oasis is that your children might use that freedom to say things you don’t like, things that highlight the gap between their experience of the world and your own. Even when parents are deeply committed to making safe space for their children, this can be hard. There’s a sacrifice involved. It’s painful.

It’s okay to be sad that your child doesn’t feel what you feel, that you can’t share everything with them. In fact, it’s really important to recognise that sadness. There’s a grief in not being able to share all your emotional connections to “home” with your children.

For one mother I know, this meant slowly coming to terms with this grief as one of the consequences of an international life. She realised that it wasn’t that her children “didn’t care” about her home country and home town, but that they didn’t have the same emotional attachments she did. She learned to allow herself to feel sad for their lack of shared connection, without trying to force her children to act out something they didn’t feel.

 

The reward?

Making your home an emotional oasis means providing a space for your children to truly be themselves. When you as a parent are the one providing this space, it means you will get to know your children in a deeper and truer way than many people in their lives. This is a precious mutual gift – one you give to them, and one you receive from them.

 

* Statistics and quotes come from Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and occasionally at her website.

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.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Is Calling in our DNA?

DNA Strands

“So” said the kindly woman at the Baptist church. “You must want to be a missionary too when you grow up! Do you think God will call you too?” 

I recoiled. I hoped she wouldn’t see the visible distress on my face. She was so kind. She was so excited about my potential. How could I disappoint?

But NO, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a missionary when I grew up. I didn’t want to raise support. I didn’t want to go from church to church in small New England towns. I did not want prayer letters or ‘deputation’. No. No. No. 

I was 18 years old. I wanted college and boyfriends and travel and stamps in my passport. And then down the road? Down the road of course I would go overseas again – because that was home! But I didn’t even think about being a missionary. 

There are a couple of things that can be huge burdens to missionary kids and their parents.

One is behavior. Missionary kids have just as many reasons to rebel as any other kid. Some might argue, more. Our world contains pitfalls that can catch and take us down. I know. I was one who found marijuana growing in the back of Holy Trinity church, that noble and historic church in the town of Murree that the entire missionary community would attend every summer. It’s easy for us to use excuses of belonging and identity to rebel. And then it’s easy for a parent to feel guilt “if we hadn’t brought our kids half way around the world etc. this wouldn’t have happened…” while the reality is that when a kid is bent on bending rules it’s going to happen anywhere.

The second burden is ‘calling’. Because calling is a word loaded with question marks and misunderstanding.

It was a few years later that I began to really wrestle with this word and idea. I had seen the good, bad, and ugly related to call and calling.  I had seen the good that comes from faith and understanding God’s big story. I had seen a kid on the brink of death because a father was so committed to a call that he forgot the call included caring for his children. I had become acquainted with ugly legalism that forgets the beautiful story and call to redemption, reducing it to choking rules and regulations. 

In my wrestling, I  realized that the kind woman at that Baptist church was partially correct. My parents were called. But their first call was to God Himself. After that, their journey took them places where all was initially unfamiliar. Food, clothing, housing, plumbing, language, faith expression — all of it was new. It had to be learned and learned with humility and willingness to admit mistakes.

Along the way they had babies. And sometimes more babies. And what was unfamiliar to them was home to us, their children. We first heard words and phrases in English, Urdu, and Sindhi. Curry was a staple, the call to prayer the first alarm clock. None of this spelled strange, it was all familiar. Home was 18-hour train rides from the desert of Sindh to the lush Punjab; home was a boarding school community with all the good and the hard of dormitory living away from parents; home was plane trips and passports, learning how to negotiate cross-culturally at young ages. This was home.

So pressure that this life overseas would be a ‘calling’ simply because we were the children of missionaries was uncomfortable and so foreign. 

On the one hand it seemed to make sense, like a family business where one by one the kids take their place behind the counter talking to customers and learning how to negotiate transactions. But how many kids actually end up in the family business?  How many children of nurses, teachers, and mechanics become nurses, teachers, mechanics? Some do. But others follow another path, walk a different journey.

Ultimately the call of God isn’t a business, it isn’t an occupation. The call of God is heard in the heart and obeyed with the mind and body. It is a word, the Word, that is planted and watered until it grows into an active, living, breathing faith. It is a call to God himself. 

Missionary kids are called. But they are called to God Himself. After that – it’s anyone’s guess. After that it could be to a small town in England, a large city in North America, an international consulting business based in Holland, a law office in Seattle, a position in an international business degree program, a tenured professorship at a university, a foreign service position with the state department.

Rarely does it look the same as the parents. Our journey may begin through the faith and calling of our parents, but those roots are transplanted and sustained through our own decisions of faith. 

So is calling in our DNA?

Threaded through each strand of our DNA is indeed a Call. A Call described best by the ever-challenging words of St. Augustine to “Love God and enjoy Him forever”.  Only that Call is carefully entwined in our spiritual genetic code from head to toe, from heart to soul.

And after that it’s anyone’s guess.

This post has been adapted from an older version originally written in 2012 for Community Across Boundaries. 

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider

My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically

 

1. Living Well Abroad: Theologically
How we think about God matters. Of course it does. You already know that. But we sometimes forget that our theology also plays a vital role in how well we fare on the field.

First, we must remember that productivity does NOT equal fruitfulness. Indeed, our aim is not even to be fruitful, but to stay attached to the Vine from which all fruit comes. Our aim is to know him and his heart, to “remain in him.” Staying attached to the Source, hearing his heartbeat, is the only way we will be able to do “the will of him who sent us.”

There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all. Let me repeat: There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all.

He does not expect you to kill yourself in his service. Now, you might die in his service, of course, but it should not be because you’re a workaholic.

If you want to thrive abroad, you can’t try to meet your deep insecurities through making someone (a missions boss, a sending church, God) happy. No amount of productivity will heal the wounds in your soul.

In fact, trying to meet your own deep emotional or psychological needs through missions will tear you up. And it won’t be good for those close to you either.

Resources:
Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please stop running
The Idolatry of Missions

 

1.a. Simple prayers are your friend. 
For me, after we’d gone through a really rough patch (misdiagnosed typhoid fever, culture stripping, bad news from home, etc.), I clung to one simple cry-prayer: “I will worship the Lord my God; I will serve only him.” It’s a declaration from Jesus at the peak of his temptation. It’s what Jesus fell back on at the very end. So I did too. And honestly, for a while, it was the only prayer I prayed.

That being said, in Matthew 4, when Jesus made that declaration, Satan left him and angels came and ministered to him. I’m not a businessman, but that seems like a pretty good trade.

Speaking of Satan…

 

1.b. Your theology of Satan matters. A lot. 
Don’t give Satan more credit than he’s due. Don’t blame him for everything.

Why not? Well, it’ll keep you from taking responsibility for your own stuff, and it’ll keep you from doing the hard interpersonal and INNER personal work that you need to do.

Here’s my general rule: don’t blame Satan for things that are reasonably foreseeable.

If it was reasonably foreseeable that eating that street food would give you giardia, don’t blame the devil when you get sick and can’t leave the bathroom! I’ll be really sorry you’re sick, but you don’t need to bring the devil into it to garner my compassion and prayers.

If you ignore Sabbath and run yourself ragged, don’t blame Satan when you feel depressed and burned out. Don’t blame the natural result of your workaholism on “the darkness.” [Note: I am NOT saying that depression and burnout always result from a missionary’s failure to Rest. But if a person has been burning the candle at both ends and then starts to feel the flame, it’s not fair to blame the devil.]

Proverbs 7:6-9 provides a noteworthy example of reasonable foreseeability:

“While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain, I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell.”

The wisdom literature doesn’t blame some massive evil scheme for this guy’s sin. Its lesson for us? Do the hard work of not being naive. Do the hard work of getting some common sense. And don’t open your computer at night or visit the red light district when you’re lonely and it’s dark.

Resources:
Before You Cry “Demon!”

 

1.c. You need a robust theology of Heaven. 
You want to live and thrive abroad long-term? You’re going to have to have a pretty good grasp of Heaven. I’m not talking about end-times theology, I’m talking about the reality of eternity, for the saved and the lost.

Resources:
Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
When you just want to go home
The Gift of Grief

 

 

2. Living Well Abroad: Spiritually
There are two powerful words we need to understand deeply. Those words are “Yes” and “No,” and they are sacred words indeed.

Initially, when you move abroad, you don’t know anyone and you’re probably in language school, so you can say yes to everyone and pretty much everything. But watch out, because your ratio of yeses to nos will have to change. If you want to stay healthy, you will have to start saying no to more and more things. And if you don’t make that transition well, if you don’t learn to say no, you will end up saying yes to all the wrong things.

Recently, I heard a preacher boldly state: “Satan is always trying to get your yes.” Indeed, from the beginning, the Liar has been getting people to say yes to stuff that will make them say No to the Father. And it continues.

Balancing our yeses and nos can get tricky, triggering our Fear of Missing Out or our fear of being completely overwhelmed, which is why I love that Justin Rizzo, a musician at the International House of Prayer, sings about “the beautiful line to walk between faith and wisdom.”

Learning when to say yes and when to say no requires both faith and wisdom. After all, it is possible to say yes to too much because of our “faith,” and it is possible to say no to too much because of our “wisdom.”

Again, this is precisely why we need to spend time connected to the Vine. We must remind ourselves often of this truth: The most fruitful thing I can do today is connect with the heart of Jesus.

May God give us the grace to serve with both faith and wisdom. Not as opposite ideas, fighting for domination, but as buffers and guardrails, keeping us from veering too far to one side. Or the other.

 

3. Living Well Abroad: Relationally
Life abroad can be bone-jarringly lonely, so connecting with friends is vitally important. Those friendships might surprise you; they might be with expats and nationals and folks you first found strange. But whatever the case, deep connection with other human beings IRL (in real life) is crucial to whether or not you “live well” abroad.

Resources:
Velvet Ashes (this links to their articles tagged “friendship”)
10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships

 

3.a Marriage
I’ve been living with my best friend for nearly 17 years. And frankly, we’d like to stay friends. If you’re married, I’d like for you to stay friends with your spouse too. Here are some ideas that have helped us…

– Google “First date questions” and screen capture the results. Next time you’re out on a date or alone together, whip out your phone and get to know each other again.

– Be a tourist for a night. Pretend you don’t speak the language and go where the tourists go. (I realize this might not apply to everyone, but I know it’ll apply to some.)

– If you have kids, try to get away for 24 hours. Because even 24 hours away can feel like forever. And when you’re away, don’t talk about work or the kids. (And if you don’t have anything to talk about besides work and the kids, take that as a sign that you need to get away more often!)

– Read a book about marriage. I’m continually amazed at how little effort we put into the one relationship that we want to be the deepest and longest and best.

– If a book is too much, check out The Gottman Institute on Facebook. Follow them and read an occasional article. 

Dudes, remember this: your wife lives here too. If you’re doing great but she’s really struggling, you gotta push pause and figure it out. Are you both thriving?

And when it comes to arguing, remember the age-old adage our marriage therapist said over and over and over: “If one person wins, the couple loses.”  : ) 

Resources:
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Marriage is the Beautiful Hard
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

 

3.b. Parenthood
We moved to Asia when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three. And the loss of how I used to parent nearly killed me. Really. Most Saturdays, I’d get depressed and overwhelmed by all the good we had left behind. Here’s a snapshot of what helped me…

Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already, so ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

Remember, use other parents and their ideas, but don’t judge yourself by other parents and their ideas. Some ideas will work for others that will not work for you. Figure out what’ll work for your family. Then do those things.

Be Crazy.The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. We have a badminton court on our roof and a ping pong table in our garage. And we use our moto as a jet ski during rainy season. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed.

Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it.

Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question destroys kids.

 

Resources:
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

 

4. Living Well Abroad: Psychologically
At various points in our overseas journey, Elizabeth and I have needed debriefing, coaching, and counseling. In fact, so many of the good things in our life and ministry have been directly influenced by specific psychological help.

One area that’s so simple (and important) to talk about is meta-emotions. Simply put, meta-emotions are what you feel about feelings.

Don’t freak out on me just yet. I know this sounds like a Pixar movie.

But honestly, a healthy question that we need to ask much more often is this: How do I feel about what I’m feeling?

For example, if you feel angry at your host country and then feel GUILTY for feeling angry, your feelings of guilt will actually block you from dealing with the root of your anger. Does your anger make you feel like a bad person? A bad Christian? Like you’re a failure because you don’t even like the people you came to serve?

You see, how you feel about your feelings will make a huge difference with how you handle them. Do you keep talking to God about your feelings? If you’re ashamed of your feelings or believe that you shouldn’t have them, chances are your praying will cease forthwith. And that’s not cool.

An illuminating question in all of this is, “How were emotions handled in my family of origin? Did I grow up in an emotion coaching home, where emotions were safe and expression was easy? Was I taught how to feel and name and share my feelings?”

If so, that’s awesome. It’s also pretty rare.

Did you grow up in an emotion dismissing home? Were emotions anything but safe? Did you hear, “Don’t be sad/angry/whatever”?

In your family, did emotions hurt people? If so, I’m sorry. The first step is to acknowledge that this is the case, and maybe see a counselor.

Why does this matter? Because meta-emotions will massively impact what you do with your feelings, and what you do with your feelings will massively impact how you do with life abroad. 

 

Resources:
Meta-Emotion: How you feel about feelings
A Life Overseas Resource Page
Here’s an 11 minute video outlining a tool I use with about 90% of my pastoral counseling clients:

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This material was originally presented at an international church here in Phnom Penh. If you’d like to see the handouts and/or listen to the audio of that presentation, click here. The message is also available as a podcast. Just search iTunes for “trotters41” or click here.

Don’t Ask Me About My Christmas Traditions

beach-2

My first Christmas on African soil was when I had just turned six years old.  We had arrived in Liberia only three weeks earlier, and my mom was in the throes of major culture shock.  My parents had shipped over a few presents, but nothing else for Christmas.  My mom managed to find a two-foot plastic tree at a store, and decorated it with tiny candy canes wrapped in cellophane.  After just a few days, the candy canes turned into puddles inside their wrappers.  My mom says it was the most depressing Christmas she’s ever had. 

liberia-1
Our first Liberian Christmas: My brother and I with our punching balloons, and my sad Mama.

I remember that Christmas, but the funny thing is, I thought it was great.  I remember being concerned how Santa would get into our house without a chimney, but my parents assured me they would leave the door unlocked.  We had a tree, we were together, and it was Christmas.  I was happy.

Fast forward 25 years to when I started raising my own TCKs in tropical Africa.  I was a young mother around the time when social media was really taking off, and I felt suffocated under the expectations of creating a magical Christmas for my children, complete with handmade crafts and meaningful traditions. Not only that, but I was quite literally suffocating in a southern hemisphere tropical climate.  There weren’t going to be any pine trees or snuggling up in pajamas while going out to see Christmas lights.  In fact, the only festivity to be found in our city was a five-foot high, mechanical, singing Santa in our grocery store that terrified my two-year-old and made her run away screaming.

We can tell ourselves that “Jesus is the reason for the season”—and even believe it—but we all know that we have expectations for Christmas to be more than that.  The traditions, the parties, the “magic,” even the cold weather, all are wrapped up in what we dream Christmas is “supposed” to be.

Which is why my first few Christmases as an adult in Tanzania were hard.  I missed my family.  And I missed the smell of wood fires in the air, wearing hats and scarves, and Christmas carols by candlelight.  I mourned over what my children were lacking.   But then I remembered that first Christmas in Liberia, and how I really didn’t care about the absence of icicle lights or pumpkin pie.  I remembered other childhood Christmases in Africa, like when our neighbors from Arizona taught us the Mexican tradition of luminarias—paper bag lanterns that lined the road on Christmas eve.  Or how our British friends introduced us to Christmas crackers, or the time a German guest stuck sparklers in the turkey.  I remembered being thrilled with the goofy, cheaply made presents found at the open-air market.  Or that year in Ethiopia when the Christmas tree was just a green-painted broomstick with branches stuck in it.

Just as TCKs dread the question, “Where are you from?” as a child I also dreaded the question, “What are your family’s Christmas traditions?”  Because growing up, we didn’t have traditions.  Every year was different because we absorbed the traditions of the people around us.  We had a tree, we had each other, and we had joy.  That was enough.

I’ve learned to relax about trying to create traditions or give my children a magical Christmas.  I’ve learned to be happy with our green, warm Christmases in Tanzania, even if it means I need to delete the “winter” songs out of my holiday playlist in order to be content.  My kids don’t need Hershey’s kisses, black-and-gold velvet dresses, or Toys R Us catalogs to be happy.  It’s often refreshing to be away from the commercialism and the psychotic busyness of the States at this time of year.  In fact, sometimes the untraditional, lonely, sparse aspects of an overseas Christmas help us to identify with the Incarnation just a little bit better.

And as for our traditions in Tanzania, they have sprung up naturally, with little effort on my part.  We close the windows and splurge on air conditioning in the living room for two weeks in December.  We have a water balloon fight.  I love to bake, so we make gingerbread houses from scratch.  But even these traditions I hold loosely, knowing that every year will vary by country or climate or what’s available at the grocery store. 

If you are one of those amazing moms who manages to build traditions that transcend country and climate, go for it.  Share your ideas with us.  But if you can’t, or won’t, or the mere thought of it stresses you out, then take a lesson from my childhood and don’t worry about it so much.  If you have a tree—even if it’s two feet tall or made from a broomstick–if you are together, and if you have joy, that’s all you really need.

liberia

The Balancing Act of MK Education

pencils 2

 

I can still picture them:  Miss Eager, Mrs. Sacra, Miss Davis, and many more.  They gave up a good salary and a steady career to teach missionary kids in an unstable African country.  And I was in their classrooms.

It was the investment of teachers like these who inspired me to pursue education as a career, specifically MK education.  And that’s exactly the path God has taken me.

My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right)
My 7th grade class at ELWA Academy in Liberia, 1988 (I am front right in pink)

As a child living overseas, I experienced both MK school and boarding school.  As an adult, I’ve been involved in MK/TCK education for 12 years.  I’m passionate about MK education, and over the years have spoken to many missionaries about schooling decisions for their children.  Here is what I’ve learned.

 

First, what are the choices?  Some parents have many to choose from, others have only one.  Each has their own advantages and disadvantages to overseas life.

Homeschool:  Maybe you are called to it, no matter where you are living.  Or maybe it’s really the only option available to you.

Pros:  Homeschooling gives you complete control of your kids’ education, and gives the family a lot of flexibility.  It can make travel and transition easier, and it can be a great way to get the kids into the community and include them in your ministry.

Cons:  Homeschooling overseas tends to be more isolating than in your passport country, where there are lots of groups to join.  It also can be challenging for the homeschooling parent to get into the language and culture; and it limits external ministry options for that parent.

 

Missionary school (or Christian international school):  MK schools are not available for many missionaries, but it’s great when they are, because they are specially created to meet the needs of your kids.

Pros:  MK schools can be a great “bridge between worlds” for your kids, especially if the school includes local children.  Usually, MK schools provide good academic and social preparation for returning to your passport country and a safe, nurturing environment that doesn’t require a lot of cultural transition for your kids.

Cons:  Sometimes MK schools create a missionary “bubble” that keeps the children (or even the family) separated from the local culture and language.

 

Boarding school:  Even though boarding school sometimes gets a bad reputation, many wonderful boarding schools exist, and there are good reasons why it is the best option for some families.  I’ve known many families who said they would never send their kids to boarding school, but relented in the end because they could clearly see it was the best option for their kids.  And their kids thrived.

Pros:  For families in cultural settings where kids don’t get to experience any of western life, or if the culture doesn’t allow them to make peer friendships, boarding schools are a wonderful blessing.

Cons:  Pretty obvious:  Being apart stinks.  But often it’s worse for the parents than the kids.

 

Local school:  This is a diverse category!  There are local government schools or private schools, both in English or the local language.  These type of schools have a huge range in cost, resources, academic options, language, discipline style and social dynamics.

Pros:  Local schools can be an amazing way for a family to get into a community.  They are also one of the easiest ways for kids to learn another language and make local friends.

Cons:  These schools are often very different than western schools in culture, language, and teaching/discipline styles.  They can put kids on a huge learning curve, and parents will need to work closely with their children to know how far to push them and how much to support them.  Many times, parents will need to supplement their kids’ academics to make sure they will be ready to eventually assimilate into their home culture.

 

Some considerations when choosing:

  1. Know yourself and know your kids. 

You know yourself and your kids better than anyone else.  Regarding yourself, you need to ask:  Given my ministry calling, language learning requirements, and my own wiring, how much time and energy can I devote to my kids’ education?  Unless your kids are at an effective MK school or boarding school, you will likely need to be highly engaged with your kids’ learning.  More parents can effectively homeschool or supplement their kids’ education than they might realize, but it is important to consider how your kids’ schooling will balance with your ministry.

Regarding your kids, you need to ask:  How adaptable are my children?  Would they be able to handle school “cold turkey” in a new language?  How far can I push my kids in a hard situation without breaking their spirits?  How many transitions have they already gone through?   How will this type of education affect my child’s ability to make friends?

You might not always have the right answers, and even the right answers might change from year to year or kid to kid.  Every year and each child is different, and it is totally okay for each child to do school a different way.

As a side note, let’s remember that this is true for every family, so let’s make sure to support other family’s educational choices, even if they are different from our own.

 

  1. Remember that you are always your child’s most important teacher.

You, Mom and Dad, are the most important teachers in your children’s lives, whether or not you homeschool them.  Keep this in mind when considering their education.  Does your child’s school ignore the history of your passport country?  Then make the effort to teach it to them yourself during the summer months.  Is your child going to school in a different language?  Then you need to supplement their education with your own English lessons.  Is your child being indoctrinated by a secular worldview?  Then make sure you are actively and intentionally training them in a biblical one.  Don’t just sit by and fret about the gaps in your child’s education.  These days, there are a plethora of resources available to parents; take advantage of them.

 

  1. Don’t worry so much.

I attended seven schools growing up.  So much change was hard at times, but each school played a part in making me who I am today, and I’m thankful for those experiences.  A missionary friend told me how both her girls were held back a grade due to so many transitions, but eventually both graduated from college with honors.  As a teacher who is now raising her own kids, I am far more concerned about my kids’ social and spiritual progress than I am about their academic grades.  I know that the academics will come; the other stuff is a lot more important.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry at all.  Your kids’ education is a big deal, and you need to take it seriously.  But if they lose three months of school because of a move, or the homeschooling shipment doesn’t make it on time, or your kids’ MK school has a substandard substitute for six months, don’t panic.  In the older grades, it does get more complicated, but especially when they are young, your kids will recover.  As long as your kids are at least average learners, they will catch up.  It will be okay.

There is an exception:  If your child has a diagnosed learning disability, or if you have any suspicion he or she might have one, then you must take it very seriously.  Some learning disabilities absolutely require early intervention to have the best results.  So find a specialist to Skype with, and don’t put off getting help quickly.

 

  1. There’s never going to be a perfect situation, so trusting God is important.

Perhaps the best question to ask yourself is:  How can I best balance the needs of my children with the ministry God has called us to?  At times, you might feel like that balance is like standing precariously on the top of a sharpened pencil.

No matter what educational road you go down, there are going to be bumps.  There are going to be things your kids miss out on, there are going to be many transitions, and you will probably make the wrong decision sometimes.  Thankfully, God is holding our children, He knows what is best for them; and He can redeem even the hard circumstances of our kids’ lives.

 

This is a big issue; really too much for one blog post!  So let’s get the conversation started.  This is a great place to ask questions or share your advice.  What works for your family?  How about we hear from some MK’s themselves?  And if we broaden this discussion to non-missionary TCK’s, we can bring in other types of schooling as well.  How can you add to the discussion?  Lots of people want to hear! 

An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

13296061_10207991468477588_1266790338_na

By Danica Newton

Dear Parents of MKs,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked

10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked.jpg

Most MKs are asked hundreds of questions during their families’ home assignments. Ironically, many of us leave our passport countries feeling unknown. In all honesty, we usually don’t answer questions well. Our fumbling answers can create distance.  Many times we feel as though these questions are asked politely, without time or desire to listen to our answers. In order to avoid awkwardness or unintentional hurt, MKs can detach and dispel memorized responses.

This makes it difficult for those who truly want to connect. Have you ever longed to know an MK, but don’t know how to reach his or her heart?  Have you sensed that we struggle to respond to your questions, but don’t know what else to ask? As an MK, I’ve learned that certain questions can unlock the heart.

Here are ten questions MKs would love to be asked. There are two different types of questions for two different locations: church-lobby questions and coffee-shop questions.

CHURCH-LOBBY QUESTIONS

Ask these questions when you want make a friendly connection with an MK. Stop. Look the MK in the eye. And listen. Since we are asked so many questions, we usually gauge our response based on the question-asker’s body language.

Question #1 What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you overseas?

Like most MKs, I’ve made enough cultural blunders to fill a book.  Most of these mess-ups include public bathing, getting lost, and/or eating unique cuisine during my family’s travels.

I love sharing these humorous memories. I can easily tell pieces of my story and describe my life as an MK. A side note: Prepare to laugh. (We tend to regularly embarrass ourselves cross-culturally.)

 

Question #2 What do you miss about your host country?

“You must be thrilled to be back!” and “You must miss the US terribly!” and “I don’t know how you live over there!”

While on home assignment, I struggle with these frequent, well-intended assumptions. Most people don’t realize I miss Japan (my host country) every day. “How could you miss a country that you don’t technically belong to?” People wonder. Sometimes I feel as though these longings are misunderstood or unrecognized.

 

Question #3 Can you describe a regular day in your life?

This is my favorite question. In reality, my daily life doesn’t look that different from any other normal teenager: breakfast. School. Homework. Church. But that’s not the point.

I love this question because it indicates genuine curiosity and desire to know the details of my life. Not my parent’s life. Not details of our ministry or the culture I live in. But my life.

 

Question #4 Where’s your favorite place to go in your host country?

This is an easy question for MKs, instantly relieving stress. My answer would be the sushi bar ten minutes from my home in Hiroshima. Sushi is my ultimate comfort food.

This question and the pursuing conversation recognize our love for our host countries that have become a significant part of who we are.

 

Question #5 Which places do you feel most at home?

When I visit the United States, many people tell me, “You must be so glad to be home!” They don’t realize that I left home to return home.  I have many homes, not just one.

“Home” is an ambiguous term for MKs. To answer this question, we might even name a place where we’ve never actually lived. Once, my sister told a church member she felt most at home in Thailand (with other MKs). Sometimes it’s the people, not the place, which creates this sense of belonging.

 

COFFEE-SHOP QUESTIONS

These questions aren’t supposed to be asked in a church lobby.  Ask these questions when you are intentionally investing time and energy into the life of a specific MK.

Coffee Shop Questions

Question #6 What’s the hardest and best thing about being missionary kid?

I would never trade my MK experience. But some people unintentionally dismiss the hardships of life abroad: “You are so lucky!” They exclaim, “You have such great experiences!”

I agree whole-heartedly. But good is always intertwined with struggles. MKs need permission and a safe place to talk about them, without fear of judgement or a quick beckoning to focus, instead, on the positive.

 

Question #7 What characteristics of your host country’s culture have become a part of you?

Many MKs look like one country and act like another.

If you scroll down and look at the picture next to my bio, you might not realize that I’m part Asian. Outwardly, I have blonde hair and blue eyes. Inwardly, I have Asian mannerisms, though-processes, and cultural tendencies. Sometimes I receive strange looks from people who don’t understand the “Asian” side of me. This question conveys positivity and curiosity of the ways my host country has changed me.

 

Question #8  What scares you most about visiting/returning to your passport country?

Visiting the US scares me. This seems ironic, since I was born in the US and am American. But I don’t know how to live life in the US anymore. While in Japan, I am accepted as the foreigner. But in the US, I feel like a foreigner who is expected to fit in.

By asking this question, you will help us process these fears, which is key to a healthy adjustment.

 

Question #9 What are some of your deepest losses as a missionary kid?

When I became an MK at nine-years-old, my entire world “died.” We left family, comfort, and literacy. My family and I had to create a new world in Japan while learning to read, speak, listen, and write.  Even going simple places (like the grocery store) seemed stressful. This significantly impacted my sense of identity.

Most MKs also lose a grounded understanding of their passport countries. Change is a constant in an MK’s life. And with this comes overwhelming, accumulating losses.

 

Question #10  How can I pray for you?

One time, my parents were presenting to a small group in Ohio. A lady came up to me after the presentation. With a kind smile, she asked me how she could pray. I started rehearsing my memorized response, “Please pray for the ministry…” She stopped me mid-sentence. “No, no, no. Your parents already covered that, and I will definitely be praying. But how can I pray for you?

I stared at her. Tears welled. This was the first time anyone had asked for a prayer request from me, personally.

*******

These are the top ten questions that resonate with me. One of my MK friends recently told me that during home assignment, she wanted to be asked “any meaningful question by someone who was truly interested in knowing the answer.” The questions themselves are not as important as the spirit of those who ask them. Ask specific questions. Ask sincerely. Ask with your whole heart and with your full attention. This is what truly matters most to MKs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Head Shot-- Taylor Joy MurrayTaylor Joy Murray, a 17-year-old Third Culture Kid, is passionate about supporting the globally mobile through her writing. She wrote Hidden in My Heart: A TCK’s Journey Through Cultural Transition when she was 13 years old. The book shows the pain and raw emotions during cross-cultural transition. She currently writes from her own struggles to answer TCK questions on her blog, www.taylorjoymurray.com.

What Being a TCK is Really All About

hand-1008103_960_720a

We were sitting in a coffee shop having yet another one of those random conversations in which we could go from our favorite ramen noodle flavors to deep thoughts about our lives as TCKs.

My friend was explaining how blissful and easy her life had been before moving from Canada to Cambodia a year earlier. How her main ambitions had seemed so within her reach. How she had taken everything completely for granted. And then, how her family had suddenly moved to Asia.

I just sat and listened. As a TCK who had lived in Asia my whole life, it broke my heart to think about how she must have felt coming to Cambodia. And in that moment, my heart broke for all the third-culture-people out there, for all the confusion and heartbreak and loss they would feel in their lives. My heart broke for the tears they would shed and the pain that would come with every confusing moment, every tearful goodbye.

I didn’t really know what to say.

Then I realized something. “You’re never going to be normal, you know,” I said.

My friend gave one of her characteristic short laughs. “Yeah. I’m never going to be normal.”

*********

Third Culture Kids are never going to be normal.

Our life in Cambodia is far from normal. It is sweaty, smelly, and colorful. We’re always a hot mess. (And not in a cute way. At all.) Here, the classic four seasons are reduced to three: hot, very hot, and hot-and-raining. To have an amoeba is totally normal. And having Dengue fever more than once is not uncommon. Items on our bucket lists include tasting grilled dog meat and swimming across a polluted river.

Life is always an adventure. And life is hard sometimes.

There are hellos and goodbyes, which confront us almost on a monthly basis. “Home” is impossible to define. And figuring out who we are is even harder.

*********

“God doesn’t make mistakes, and He’s planned all along for us to live overseas.” We hear that a lot. Many people tell us that “our experiences will enrich us” or “we will gain so much from our cultural encounters.” We’ve even been told on numerous occasions that “it’ll be easier to get a job because we’ve lived overseas.”

While all of these things are true, and while we do appreciate that encouragement, we also want to say this: We don’t need you to feel sorry for us. We don’t need you to treat us a certain way. Or at least, that’s not the main point.

Sometimes the TCK journey is more about acceptance. There are so many people out there trying to understand us so that they can treat us the “right way” or make us feel better. But the TCK journey is so much more about a personal decision to accept ourselves the way we are. Being a TCK is about knowing we’re different and accepting that as a truly valuable thing.

It’s sort of like doing a puzzle. There comes a time when we struggle with defining “home” and doubt who we really are. We feel like there is only one “piece” that can fill the “home” space in the puzzle and that life is all about finding which piece fits in that gap. We also want to take out certain pieces of our life-picture as an attempt to let go of pain. We want to let go of people. We want to let go of places. We want to be able to replace pieces every time a change happens. But that doesn’t work.

Instead of trying in vain to remove important pieces from our life-puzzle, we need to understand that each piece is important. Essentially, TCK life is more about letting ourselves add pieces to our lives, accepting them equally, and choosing to allow them to live simultaneously with each other. It’s hard and messy and confusing, and we cry a lot. We know that. And it’s totally okay.

We don’t need to be so concerned about the puzzle pieces of our identity not fitting together perfectly. God has called us to find freedom in our true identities in Him. As TCKs, God has called us to experience these struggles for a specific purpose and has chosen to make them a part of who we are.

When we realize our special calling from God as His children (Ephesians 1:5) and find our identity in being his disciples, “the truth will set us free” (John 8:31-32). Our identity in God means that “home” is heaven (Philippians 3:20). We know that there is ultimately a purpose in each hard goodbye (Romans 8:28). We have hope (Ephesians 1:12) and peace (Ephesians 2:14), even when we feel like the future is too unknown or the past is too hard to handle.

Ultimately, the main point of the TCK journey is accepting our not-normal-ness. However hard it may be, it’s not about making the puzzle pieces fit. It’s about adopting a new perspective on our identity.

*****************************************


Sarah has lived her entire 18-year-old life in Southeast Asia. Originally Swiss, she speaks English with an American accent, German in a Swiss accent, and multiple other languages including Swiss-German, French, and Khmer. She loves Jane Austen, coffee, airplanes, and sentimental conversations about TCK life. 


Janelle is an 18-year-old TCK, MK, and PK who grew up in Canada before moving with her family to Asia just over two years ago. She is a lover of photography, passion fruit smoothies, OREOs, mountains, oceans, maxi skirts, and all things “Anne of Green Gables.”

The Radical Spiritual Art of Staying Put

large-copper-177378_640

By Stephanie Ebert

If any group of people has a long and convoluted history with evangelical church traditions, it’s missionary kids. Like pastor’s kids, the emotional baggage around church is piled higher than the lost luggage corner at the Johannesburg airport. We tend to camp out either around the “wounded/bitter/cynical” baggage claim belt, or the one labeled “guilt-ridden/never question anything/just be good.”

But then, of course, since we were missionary kids, we carry more cultural baggage as well. Because unlike our pastor’s kid peers, we were always hyper-aware of the cultural trappings of the “Industrial Church Complex” (as author Sarah Bessey calls it). The difference is while we were “outside” the church enough to criticize it; we weren’t “inside” enough to be a part of making any changes. And besides, the churches paid our bills. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

When people ask me to talk about my church tradition, I have a hard time answering. My “church-culture” story has its foundation in the Zulu church we attended in South Africa, but also has strong threads of the American evangelical Christian sub-culture that came through from my parents, other missionaries, and our trips back to the States.

I grew up going to a Zulu-speaking church where we were the only white people. I could understand most of the songs and smatterings of Zulu, but services were long, hot meetings that ran from morning to well past lunchtime. The world’s best singing and the world’s longest sermons. My friends would whisper translations of the sermon (or whatever they wanted) to me. We met in an old, dusty school building, and our Sunday School curriculum was flannel-graph from 19-something left behind by some other missionaries. My mother spent hours re-coloring Jesus so he wasn’t white. As I got older, I saw church as a place you went to serve not a place you went to ‘get fed.’

When I read things written by people a generation or two ahead of me about their evangelical upbringing, I can relate to so much of it. The time-capsule of life overseas means culture gets preserved. Through hand-me-downs from retiring missionary garage sales I absorbed a lot of pre-1970’s Christian culture. Missionary biographies, books about angelic kids who invite other children to Sunday school, and a handbook on being a good Christian woman (that involved diagrams on how to walk, appropriate hair-styles, and the contents of a good Christian girl’s purse). Our home-world was early 1980’s American Christian culture. Because, you know, that’s when my parents left the States, so that’s what was in our time-capsule. We sang choruses as a family from my parents’ grass-roots “getting back to Acts” church they left behind in Austin, Texas, along Dennis Jernigan, Amy Grant and Second Chapter of Acts (all on tape, of course).

Then every four years we’d go to the States and encounter the American Industrial Church Complex. Our furloughs home were like snapshots of the changes American church culture has gone through in the past two decades:

Fourth grade: Love it. Love it, love it. Anywhere where I can get animal crackers, walk into a brightly colored room smelling of whiteboard markers, earn badges for memorizing Bible verses, and be done in 45 minutes is my kind of church! Dad, why can’t we move to America and go to this church always?

Seventh grade: Hate it. Who invented middle-school Sunday School classes? Torture chambers. Oh, and all our supporting churches are having church splits over music now. What’s their problem–who cares if it’s hymns or a rock band, it’s all in English right? Can’t they all just sing along? And everybody is canning their old sanctuaries for convention centers in the name of seeker sensitivity.

Eleventh grade: Why are these churches building more and more buildings but only sending the youth group on short-term missions trips, and cutting funding for long-term missionaries? Why are there graphic designers employed by churches to make glossy bulletins that everyone just throws away? The high school group serves coffee and bagels, and they go to Florida for Spring break missions-trip-vacations. I call them all “cookie-cutter churches” this year. I enjoy making cutting critiques of it all with my siblings (while smiling and talking about God’s work in South Africa to everyone else, of course).

College: I’m in rural Indiana at a Christian college, and I stumble into an African-American church. Best of all possible worlds. It’s English, but they know how to sing, and they don’t have a massive building fund campaign. It’s long enough that I feel like I’ve “been churched”, but not so long that I’m fainting from hunger. My soul has room to breathe again. For the first time, I go to church not to serve, or because I have to, but because I want to.

When my husband and I move back to South Africa, we attend an English speaking church. All my friends have moved on from the Zulu church I grew up in—and besides, my husband knows less Zulu than I do. The people are very friendly. But the disjunction of going to an English church that caters to white, upper-class families when we’re working in an impoverished community just minutes away sometimes feels as painful as peeling off my skin with a cheese grater. I find myself getting more and more frustrated by so many of the ways we “do church” in western culture, but again I don’t feel like enough of an insider to voice what I think.

We hike El Caminio del Santiago in the north of Spain for a month on our way back to the States for my husband to start a two-year masters program. No church, no responsibility, no commitments, wandering in and out of Catholic mass in Spanish. I don’t even speak Spanish. But we memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and follow along with the Gospel readings in our Bibles. Spring-time in the Basque country. I could live like this.

Now we’re in small-town Texas, where there are 33 Baptist churches in a seven-mile radius, and we’re church hunting once more. And once again I’m asking myself, “Why do we do this?! We’re not missionaries. We don’t have to get these people to like us so they’ll send us money. Can we just opt-out for the next two years? I like Jesus, it’s just churches that drive me nuts.” (Yes, I know these thoughts are dysfunctional, but this is the way I think sometimes).

And then, my husband reminds me that we’re the church. As a TCK, I like wandering, I like putting myself on a pedestal and looking down my nose. I like opting-out. I like sarcasm. That’s easy. That’s my default.

In her chapter on church in her book Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey says she came to realize that, “I didn’t need to pretend allegiance to everything, but I did need to be part of a community…I practiced the radical spiritual art of staying put.”

That’s what we’re focusing on right now. Community. Staying put. We haven’t been in here that long, and knowing we’re on our way out in a few years sometimes makes me question the effort of trying. Small-town Texas is probably the biggest cultural adjustment we’ve ever faced, and church in this context feels just plain crazy at times. I can’t pledge allegiance to the cowboy boots and the gospel of evangelical-political-power that’s preached on Sundays. But maybe I don’t have to. That’s some baggage I don’t need to carry.

But I do still need community. I need the body of Christ no matter how weird I think it is. So we’re attending a Sunday school class but skipping the country music worship service for an online Tim Keller sermon. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. That’s what we’re trying to figure out with church right now: how to give ourselves permission to sort through and let go some of the baggage (after all, we don’t need to pledge allegiance to everything) so that we can practice the radical spiritual art of staying put.

 

square faceStephanie Ebert is a TCK from South Africa and America. Married to a Minnesotan, she and her husband David have spent the past three years working in South Africa for the non-profit iThemba Projects. Right now they are experiencing the cultural shock of moving to a small Texas town for David to complete his masters degree. Steph continues to work for iThemba Projects online. She blogs about social justice, missions, race, and finding hope at bridginghope.wordpress.com

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

mkan1

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

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.