Updated: Nov 17, 2022
by Roni Lacuesta
"...but it's unbearable to think that I may never again see my home or closest friends or the country that I love so much...What is a home? A house? A country? A feeling? Sometimes I wonder if my strong desire to be a missionary is really God's call or just my way to cope with leaving. I only know that my small hope of returning is the only thing that dulls my pain today."
Ruth E. Van Reken
Letters Never Sent
(excerpt pg. 31 May 1958)
These words by Ruth Van Reken resonated with me as a missionary and a Cross-Cultural Kid. I am sure the majority of the 20 million Third Culture Kids could identify with these words that cut deep to the very heart of this people group. When I read this excerpt to the kids who attended the Reentry Seminar last July and August, you could hear a pin drop and the atmosphere change to dreadful anticipation. I call this place "No Man's Land," where the grief of loss seems to reside. Many fall into this ambiguity so scary to most that many try to avoid it as much as possible. There is the fear of sinking and never returning or the risk of allowing yourself to feel, but no one might be there for you. This feeling is called GRIEF, which is what most Third-Culture Kids feel.
Third Culture Kids are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years. TCK's, as they are known, are divided into four sub-culture groups: Missionary kids, Diplomat kids, International Business kids, Military kids. Although they have different dynamics, they share some essential traits that unify all four subcultures: high mobility, rootlessness, feeling of not belonging to any culture, and feelings of loss. Every year we accompany our ministry partner, Interaction International, which hosts Reentry Seminars for American middle schoolers and High Schoolers residing outside of the United States. These kids are either planning to return for a short time or for good. In this seminar, we create a safe environment for them to process their journey and get oriented into the American culture. But one of the main areas we deal with, which always brings up the feeling of dread, is the area of grieving losses.
The reality is that many of these kids did not choose to go overseas; they got drafted into their parent's mission. These kids' experiences differ depending on their families' coping skills, mental and emotional health, communication skills, closeness, or lack thereof during crises. But one thing all these families do share in common is the grief of loss. An article once said that a 16-year-old Missionary kid would have experienced the same number of losses that an average American adult at the age of 60 would experience in his lifetime. We have come a long way from sending out missionary families in the early days. Most sending agencies now have a member care department with mental health workers watching out for the overall health of their missionaries. There now exists organizations like Compass Ministries, which are known as, open-source Missionary Care Organizations. We are not tied to single agencies or churches but serve all of them. Churches are getting more educated in caring for their missionaries rather than just supporting them financially. We, as Christian senders, had made strides in this area of caring for the missionary families. But we still have a long way to go, especially in preparing missionaries for their mental and emotional health and better support for their children.
Questions that many missionaries overlook at times in the middle of the flurry of fundraising activities and ministry training would be: Have you made contingencies for unforeseen incidents? What are your plans for returning? How will your children be educated? How would you deal with the losses that you and your children will experience in the future? How will you rest daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly? Do you have an exit plan in case of a change of condition? What would life look like after the mission? What would it look like when your kids come back to the United States, and you stay in the mission field? How will you prepare your kids for life in the United States while living abroad?
So many questions that it's overwhelming to even think about them. But at the heart of these questions are the missionary kids. For both churches and missionary families, a couple of essential skills they need to acquire and teach; are managing expectations and the grieving process. It is a given missionary families will experience many losses in their lives; however, they encounter such losses in a short time. The process of grieving, in all actuality, is God's gift to us to bring closure, healing, and moving forward. When children are trained not to be afraid of loss but; to be able to articulate their pain and hurt due to transition and loss, their chances of their souls being healthy and integrating into American culture would be drastically higher. When churches understand and allow this part of missionary life, missionaries will be better supported and can facilitate an even better homecoming for their global workers.
To know more about missionary care and how you can be involved, or if you are a church and would like training in missionary care, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 374-3915.