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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Missionary Kid

You've heard stories about missionaries suffering through difficult living conditions. You know that nearly all of them struggle through the processes of language learning and culture shock. Some have been ridiculed for their nationality, others have are persecuted for what they believe. Few would complain about these trials; after all, they signed up for this job, right?

You know who didn't sign up for the job? The children of missionaries. Missionary kids go through everything their parents do (and usually more), but they don't always have the choice of opting out of "suffering for Jesus." Their parents may do it all the time, but nobody takes MKs seriously when they play the "It's God's will" card.

Many missionary kids go to sub-standard schools where they are teased and humiliated in languages that they don't understand. They have a hard time relating to their peers and many end up being socially inept as the result. They are emotionally traumatized by ongoing identity crises and constantly feeling like they don't belong. More than we'd like to admit end up resenting their parents and the God who called them to the field.

Is it okay that a missionary's children suffer for the sake of his calling? I don't know.

I believe that if God calls a person to missions, He will also, in some fashion, call their spouse and children. I'm not sure how it all works, but I figure that God knew when He called me what sort of family I would one day have.

MKs are amazing. They are almost always mature for their age, and wiser than they should be. Most know the reality of the unseen spiritual activity all around them, and are therefore more spiritually aware than "normal" folks would be. They, being constant outsiders, develop compassion for outsiders and a servant's attitude for those in need. MKs usually grow up to be great missionaries. I think we should talk about them more than we do.


cafeaddict said...

the whole mk issue was a major factor for us in even deciding if we were going to have kids. having been overseas for a couple of years, we honestly hadn't met ANY well adjusted mks. the testimony of most of our fellow workers who were empty nesters wasn't good either. their kids weren't walking with God or were suffering serious effects of their time on the field. it scared the you know what out of us. BUT then we met a family that had cool kids. the parents were cool and the kids were mature, well-adjusted, socially functional and engaging. we began to have hope and as a result, we procreated.

all that to say this, my guess is that the home life of a mk has more to do with how they turn out than the culture around them. i hate to say it, but kids turn out a lot like their parents. where we saw bizarre social skills in kids, we saw it in their parents too. now i know there are always exceptions, but i think in general if we concentrate on making the home a functional place then our kids will reflect that regardless of the types of junk they encounter in the world around them.

and i agree, stepchild, we need to be talking a lot more about it.

mountainmama said...

Thank you for bringing up our MKs. I count it a privilege that our children can grow up multicultural and have broader world views than if they were raised in their home culture. I've heard some people say that they are very sad their children are "missing out" on certain things they experienced as kids. I don't think our children are missing out on anything. In fact, I believe they have a richer, and deeper understanding of people and the Lord.

I do agree with cafeaddict that the home environmnet makes the difference in our kids, not the environment outside, be that wherever you live. If Mom and Dad are stable, have a good marriage, have healthy boundaries, and lovingly nurture their kids, then they will most likely (not always) emulate that.

Being a mother of teenagers and having had my children grow-up on the field I can say that they have struggled more than they would have if we were in the states (because of being "different" and for being from the US). But it has and is making them who they are today, and, for that, I am grateful. Their character is being built in ways that otherwise couldn't have been. They are wiser for their age, in some ways, and I know the Lord will use that for His Kingdom and glory. That is my prayer.

Thanks for talking about our precious MKs. I always love to talk about them. They are a special breed.

Paul Burleson said...


I've been lax in commenting but not in praying for you. It continues.

Good post and a couple of good comments. I'm just glad that sometimes our kids exceed their parents in more ways than I can count. At least that's been Paul and Mary Burleson's experience in our 48 years of marriage...being celebrated tomorrow.

Publius said...

When I was struggling with a call to missions, and worried in particular about the effect such a move would have on my wife and two young kids, I was greatly encouraged by a week spent with some M families in CEE (and a later experience with M families in NAME). The kids I met, of every age, were for the most part mature, well-adjusted, and more spiritually aware than just about anyone I knew here in the states.

More than anything, I saw that being an MK, while having some disadvantages, also provides some opportunities they would never have here. Besides, it's not like growing up in the states is any guarantee of safety, or well-being, or maturity. Lots of really messed up kids coming out of Christian homes on this side of th pond...

Karen said...

As a (now grown-up) ex-MK, I have to say that I don't feel that I missed out or suffered much while my parents were on the mission field. I saw my parents living out their faith in a most extraordinary way, and met many other faithful Christian people.

My suffering came when we returned to my parents' home country. That was when I felt the pain of being different. Even at church I felt excluded. It's still hard to accept that I am different in the way I think and behave because of a choice my parents made.

Having said all that, I don't know that I'm really any worse off than any other person around me. Ultimately, I praise God that he has revealed himself to me, and that I can understand that what my parents did by serving God overseas was a great and godly thing.

For those missionaries out there with children, by all means try to provide your children with a functional home, but remember that there could be times when you may not be coping yourselves, and so can't provide adequate support for your children (like when you return to your home country permanently and are going through culture shock all over again). Ultimately, you need to entrust your children to God, pray for their salvation, and pray that God will work in their lives through/despite what you do in serving Him. He has called you to this work and will provide your every need, including those of your children.

Anonymous said...

I have to second Publius' comments about MKs. After a number of exposures to MKs on/off the field, I have but one perspective - they are incredible.

I even had the opportunity of being exposed to a boatload of MKs and one CK (church kid?)on a trip.

Guess which of all those kids needed an hourly elbow-drop?

I'm speaking from a quite narrow perspective, but I believe one of the greatest thing that might happen to your kids is that they be exposed to their parents' beliefs and God's actions in juxtaposition with an obviously sinful population versus the vague differences we see over here.

mhkingsley said...

It's great to hear somone taking time to bring up issues relating to MKs. As an MK myself and now working with a missions agency in ministering to MKs all over Europe, I can't tell you how encouraging it is. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

my parents left to go on the field when i was 11 years old. they very much included me in the process of going overseas and in a way they gave me a choice. for me, there was no question as to whether or not we should go. i recognized the need of the people amongst whom we were going to serve and even saw the potential benefits of living in a different culture. until last year, i only saw the benefits and could not imagine spending my entire life in the states. i had never allowed myself to admit the difficult time that I had adjusting to a new culture and new languages in the 6th grade. i say all of this to say that i think that we shouldn't just have an either/or approach to the benefits and disadvantages. It seems more healthy to me to recognize both the struggles and AND the benefits and opportunities afforded by the cross-cultural experience AND count both of them as such.

i do want to encourage those who are struggling with children who are not following the lord. growing up, i had the opportunity to meet a lot of mks around the world. some failed to become a part of the culture in which they lived never acquiring a great linguistic or cultural proficiency. however, many i knew would fully assimilate to the culture in which they lived. sometimes this meant that they would end up falling in to the sin that surrounded them. just last month, i heard that one of my mk friends at the age of 25 got saved and fully committed her life to Christ. she was one of those who conformed to her surroundings and was a very large part of the party scene in the country where we lived. while i know that no parent wishes that his/her child live apart from God, salvation is ultimately from the Lord.

mk from na

stepchild said...

MK from NA,
Thanks for your comments here. I appreciate hearing first-hand accounts of MK life.

I don't think anyone is thinking in terms of "either/or" here. I'm curious what you mean by that. I think that we tend to under-emphasize the difficulties that MKs face (both in adjusting to life on the field and in re-entry into the home culture of their parents). But that doesn't mean that MKs are at all necessarily worse off. Most of them avoid the materialism, ethnocentrism, and superficiality that kids raised in America often fall into.

MKs are amazing people. I thank God that He gives missionary families all that they need to prosper on the field.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...


i apologize. while no one here had that type of mentality, i think that it is a type of thinking that could occur. i mean people have left the field citing that as the reason. i guess i just read past experience into some of the comments. that was wrong of me. i am really passionate about mk's. i forgot to mention that i really enjoyed reading your thoughts. i just found your blog today. thank you for caring.

mk from na

Aaron said...

One of the most difficult things about being an MK is that whenever I meet someone and they find out I'm an MK, immediately they have all sorts of ideas about who I am....
For example, I'm an MK so I must be:
"mature for my age", "spiritually aware", "special", obviously "not normal", "socially inept", "traumatized", "incredible" etc.....
Everyone want's to talk about MK's and their issues these days... Nice, more observations, opinions, and theories from well meaning people (some parents of MK's) that I have to live with every time I tell someone, "I'm an MK".
It would be nice if people talked less about me and more to me..... You know, I'm and MK, and no matter how many books you have read about MK's and no matter how many MK's you may have raised yourself, and no matter how many MK's you may have met, and no matter how much you talk about MK's... Well they aren't me. And don't think that you know who I am and understand my "issues". I am unique, I like to think God made me that way, and until you talk with me and have a relationship with me, you don't know me and you certainly don't understand my "issues". So do MK's a favour and leave your stereotypes behind when you meet us. I don't like the fact that everytime I meet someone I feel that I have to live up to the expectations of complete strangers, positive or negative...

An MK from West Africa,
now in South Asia

stepchild said...

MK from WA/SA,
Thanks for your comment. For the record, I don't presume to know you or what your life is like. My post here was based on my experience with MKs on the field and was meant to invite discussion about the needs of people who rarely factor into the usual discussion of missions.

I do know what it's like to have people stereotype me and assume they know something about me based on the label I've been given. It's no fun.

I guess it's that way for lots of people. Missionaries, pastors, artists, and politicians,(and their kids) have to live with being pigeonholed.

I think the best you can do is be sure you aren't perpetuating the stereotype.