The children of our mission partners have no say, when they are small, about the hard places their parents take them to. Yet time and again they turn out as exceptional adults who do well in life and often venture out to serve overseas themselves. So this article is not aimed at the parents of Third Culture Kids, but more to help supporters at home understand the challenges…
“No matter how much preparation is done for the ministry, there can always be a chink in the armour,” writes Tim Herbert of Syzygy. “For many mission workers, their Achilles’ heel is their children. We’ve all come across TCKs completely messed up by being brought up abroad and struggling to fit in. Some have even lost their faith as a result. That’s a tragedy.”
Blogger Michèle Phoenix writes of meeting ‘Laura’, “well-spoken, insightful and witty— everything you’d expect her to be, having grown up multi-culturally, steeped in the values of a family devoted to serving.” But she’s turned her back on God. Focus on God had saturated Laura’s life from earliest memory. She knows all the stories, but as she grew up observing the missionary world, the character of God left her confused. He “made her family move” six times in seven years and her father had to seek medical help for work-related exhaustion twice. Entertainment, friends or aspirations — only God-focused ones were allowed.
Unwittingly, Laura’s parents led her to dislike the one they served. Missionary parents’ relationship with Jesus informs their children’s faith,” says Phoenix, “— not the work they do or the sacrifices they make.
“Show them who God is. Let them hunger for what they see in you … your children are watching.”
Herbert says we need to be aware of the potential impact of distracted or stress-strangled parenting on the kids, and take steps to remedy it. Mission workers, agencies, churches and family all have a part to play in this. Support the kids in prayer for their health, happiness, education, sense of identity, safety and most of all their own personal, genuine walk with God. Think of simple things like remembering birthdays and Christmas. With appropriate care and support, they can thrive.
There are countless outstanding and exemplary parents serving God. “Of all the MKs I’ve known,” says Phoenix, “those who have thrived personally, spiritually and relationally have had one thing in common: they have never for a moment doubted their parents’ commitment to them. They have felt sought-out, heard, seen, cherished, protected and celebrated.” Parenting isn’t easier in ministry — it’s harder.
For a suggested list of ways to pray for mission parents, click here.