Incipient Third Culture Kids

In preparation for teaching the children of missionaries at Faith Academy Mindanao, I’ve been reading some books about so-called “third culture kids”. The idea expressed by this term is that the children of missionaries identify fully neither with their parents’ birth culture (in our case, the United States and/or Canada), nor with the culture of their host nations (in Naomi’s case, that will be the Philippines, at least at first). Rather, kids, from whatever parental culture and in whatever host culture, share with each other a set of common experiences that constitute a “third culture”. There are many advantages and challenges that come with this status, but if parents and child approach it in faith, it can be a powerful tool for Christ’s kingdom, giving TCK’s a higher and broader perspective, freedom from provincialism, language skills, cultural adaptability, and abilities of empathy that other people may not have gained from a less adventuresome childhood.

The process of disruption that characterizes many missionary kids’ childhoods can be painful, as they form relationships and then have to move on to a new placement, or back on furlough, or back to their host country.

Naomi, being the most social of our children, has experienced this most keenly. Being on deputation right now has meant staying with host families, often pastors of REC or other like-minded churches. Our kids find much in common with kids in these families, and friendships form. Naomi hit it off with Martha, the daughter of one of the pastors of Reformed Covenant Church of Ithaca, NY. We stayed with their family for three days and two nights in June, and Naomi was very sorry to leave. We’ve encouraged her to strike up a penpal relationship with Martha.

On our current week-long trip to Scranton to visit Grace REC and the NEMA Council, we took two days to go up to Ottawa so that Sora could get some documents authenticated by the Canadian government and the Philippines Consulate. On the way back, it occurred to us that Groton, NY was only a little bit off our path south to Scranton, so we called up Pastor Jones and Mary to ask if we could stop by.

We did, and the kids didn’t waste any time resuming their friendship where they had left off in June. Within a few seconds of walking in the door, Malachi and Isaiah were waging a Nerf gun war against Ezekiel. Isaiah was playing board games with his hosts. Hosanna and Naomi were being girly with Martha. And everybody was having a marvelous time.

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This is typical of TCKs: once they enter into friendships, they progress to deeper stages of intimacy more quickly. But there is a cost: the separation from such new friends is painful, and TCKs often develop ways of managing these losses, sometimes avoiding forming relationships which they know will only be severed or made more distant soon. We’ve seen this with Naomi as well, and she is self-aware enough to give voice to it.

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