Alan Hewerdine on how missionary kids can enhance churches and Christian Unions
The 3D science-fiction movie Gravity won seven Oscars at this year’s awards ceremony.
I had my first experience of 3D cinema, when I went to see The Life of Pi. It’s amazing how 3D adds to the already breathtaking CGI that brings the animals to life. This extra dimension greatly adds to the experience.
This got me thinking. Is there a ‘third dimension’ that could make a good CU or church even better? I suggest that there is.
TCKs stands for ‘Third Culture Kids’ or, more accurately, ‘Trans-Cultural Kids’ and refers to children whose parents live and work in a country other than their country of origin, often referred to as their ‘passport country’. Large numbers of TCKs are the children of missionaries and were previously known as MKs (Missionary Kids).
For many TCKs, unlike their parents, their ‘passport country’ may be a place where they have lived for only a very small part of their lives. More familiar to them is the country in which their parents have been engaged in mission work – in Africa, Asia, South America or wherever.
TCKs often find that there is another place which feels like home and that is their school – often a mission-run boarding school full of other TCKs like them. Their schoolmates not only have parents working in several different countries, but they also come from a whole range of ‘passport countries’. Such schools can be incredibly culturally diverse, but with a deep strand of Christian love and care permeating the whole, resulting in a challenging but enriching educational experience.
‘One of the best things…’
One TCK described it like this: ‘[The mission school] was one of the best things that happened in my life. I loved it all the while I was there and then once I left and went out into the “real world” it made me love it all the more. It wasn’t perfect, and never will be, but it was an experience that really moulded and guided me along God’s path. My only regrets were that I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities there and of the wonderful God-fearing people that worked and studied while I was there… I found that some of my peers resented the fact that their parents had ‘dragged’ them out to Africa – something that never even crossed my mind. I love Africa. I am so grateful for the decision that my parents made to come to Africa 20 years ago, and in doing so, giving me the best education (in its broadest sense) imaginable. My hope and prayer is that God’s plans for my life will include Africa in the future’.
To a ‘home’ that’s not home
Then something else happens. A significant number of these Christian TCKs, steeped in a first-hand experience of cross-cultural mission, nurtured in a Christian faith which is far removed from the cosy, evan-jelly-mould Christianity of the West, arrive at university in the UK. And then it hits – culture-shock in their ‘own’ country; because it isn’t their ‘own’. It’s an alien land; one which they’ve only previously visited on holiday, more like tourists than people coming ‘home’. But this is going to be ‘home’ for the next three, four or more years.
Quite naturally they seek out the Christian Union and a local church, where they will find people who share their faith and make them feel welcome. Or will they? Therein lies the problem. How does a CU or church that is used to a two-dimensional world – British or international – embrace the third dimension of the TCK world?
A TCK’s passport may say ‘British Citizen’, but they are no more familiar with the UK than an international student. But it is precisely their experience of cross-cultural mission outside the UK which means that they are better placed than most British Christians to reach out, especially to international students. After all, that is what they really are.
Where are you from?
But first, they need to find themselves welcomed, accepted, integrated and cared for within the CU or church itself. Not an easy task. On the surface they look like and possibly sound like any other UK student – though accents can sometimes be a little strange. But they’re not quite like other UK students. The question, ‘Where are you from?’ can be a hard one to answer in just a couple of words.
Starting at Uni
So what’s it like to be a TCK coming to uni in the UK and how can they add this ‘third dimension’ to CU or church life and witness?
Let one of them answer that question in his own words: ‘Many students at my university arrived already accustomed to drinking and partying on weekends and now relished the freedom to do so every night. This culture shocked and offended me and it was a challenge not to judge everyone I met. During my final two years at (a mission-run school) my confidence had grown rapidly, but this all deserted me when I moved to England. I was completely unprepared for this – I had thought that I was well-equipped to deal with the challenges I would face. My points of reference disappeared. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or how to interact with people. I even struggled to make friends within the Christian Union. The other members seemed to have similar backgrounds and immediately clicked with each other, while I, with my confidence in tatters, barely talked to anyone.
‘Luckily I shared a corridor with a number of international students and it was here that I started making friends. I discovered that one of them, a Chinese Malaysian named Jed, was also a Christian. He, too, found it hard to relate to the British Christians at university and we soon became good friends. He has been a great support to me. I have also been blessed to have an amazing church.
‘Older Christians were quick to take me under their wing, and their support, along with the home-cooked meals, was invaluable in making my first year bearable. I have to say that first year was by far the hardest time. I have heard the same from many other MKs. First year is when everyone wants to give up; but if you keep going things improve enormously. This past year (my second) has been great.
‘University is a time of challenges, but it is also an opportunity for great growth, because challenges are chances for God to teach you to rely on him’.
The Third Dimension
I believe that TCKs are an untapped resource that could seriously enrich CU and church life and bring an understanding of cross-cultural mission that is often lacking. They can also open our eyes to the world of mission beyond the UK.
A relative of mine also went to see The Life of Pi around the same time as me. Not fully understanding the significance of the question, when asked if she wanted 3D glasses to watch the film, she declined. She then proceeded to watch a 3D film without them. Not the greatest experience.
I wonder; is your CU or church looking at the mission field of your campus or local community through 2D lenses when you could be seeing it in 3D with the help of TCKs? But first, they may need your help to feel ‘at home’.
Alan Hewerdine ,
Supporter Relations & Communications Manager for AIM International