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Making disciples among the unreached
     

Bittersweet: The Beautiful Life of Missionary Kids

Tags: Canada, Story

By Rebecca Frankish, SEND Canada

If there were one word that summed up the experience of being a missionary kid (MK), it would be this one: bittersweet. While it has its challenges and includes many goodbyes and transitions, being an MK is a grand adventure, filled with diverse experiences, friends from around the world and the opportunity to see the world through many lenses.

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I think most MKs would agree that it is an experience that we would not trade for anything. Heartache caused by the many goodbyes. The constant transitions. Finding oneself to be somewhat of a stranger no matter where they currently call home. Pain caused by loss – loss of home, loss of friends, loss of belongings. Living in the spotlight can grow tiresome. Answering questions that seem ignorant, such as, “Do you ride elephants to school?” can make us feel frustrated with people in our passport countries. The struggle of being a “hidden immigrant” in the country to which your passport says you belong.

Incredible Sweetness

Yet there is incredible sweetness– a life filled with adventures, precious friendships that transcend distance and time, a grand worldview curated from world travels and living in multiple cultures. A great appreciation for those that are different – embracing diversity and cultural differences. The sweetness of belonging to a worldwide family with more "aunts" and "uncles" than most people can fathom. No matter where life has taken me, there always seems to be someone from my childhood, someone I’ve called "aunt" or "uncle" regardless of their blood-relation to me, or someone who has lived a similar life and therefore, meeting them comes with an instant understanding and bond. These relationships have made moves easier, assuring me that I’m never alone.

The Sweetest Thing

And the sweetest thing is that over time, the memories of those things that seemed so difficult at the time fade away leaving only the sweetness derived from the missionary kid experience. And now as an adult, it’s the happy memories that remain forefront in my mind.

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Growing up, my family fled two different host nations due to civil war. We have a shell collection — and not the kind of shells you collect at the beach. It’s a bullet shell collection, gathered from our front yard. I lost everything I owned twice before I was 10. And yet, these aren’t the things that I first think of when people ask me about my childhood. I remember my best friend who was Japanese living in Congo. I remember many happy Saturdays spent in the jungle, floating down tributaries of the Congo River. I remember playing with my beautiful German shepherd. I remember the warmth of being a part of a close-knit community that gave me a deep sense of belonging. I remember the adventure of exploring new places, discovering new ways of doing things and being introduced to different perspectives.

Being Raised as an MK

If you’re an MK and the hard times seem to be overwhelming the positive pieces, or you’ve been tempted to pity MKs, consider these benefits of being raised as an MK:

  • MKs are cross-culturally savvy – We talk a lot these days about cross-cultural communication, partnerships and intelligence. There are books about the principles of cross-cultural partnerships. As the world becomes increasingly connected it’s important for people –— from missionaries to business people — to be cross-culturally savvy. Having grown up in at least two countries, many MKs are able to navigate the complexities of cross-cultural interaction with ease.

  • MKs are resilient – While they face tough times and hard goodbyes that seem daunting in their younger years, as adults they will be thankful for the resilience they possess. Hard times are a reality for all — disappointment, discouragement, frustration, distress — but MKs have a special ability to rise above and embrace the good, rather than dwelling on the difficult.

  • MKs are adaptable – Change is never easy, but MKs have the ability to roll with the punches. When your childhood involved having a different best friend every year because you moved or your friend moved, you become adept at befriending anyone and everyone. When it comes to new situations, MKs are particularly good at jumping in with both feet and making the best of the new situation.
Supporting Missionary Kids

So get to know missionary kids. They will give you a glimpse into the brilliant colors of the world. They’ll be empathetic listeners and lifelong friends. They’ll be game for going on new adventures with you. And they need you – they need a tour guide for their passport country, someone to answer questions and give advice on how to navigate life in North America.

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I remember moving back to Canada in high school and being in line with a few friends at the vending machine in the school cafeteria. As my turn arrived, I realized that I’d never actually used a vending machine before. I was so grateful when I admitted this to a friend and, rather than being shocked at the fact that I didn’t know how to use the vending machine and teasing me, they showed me how it worked and recognized that I needed help with some of the very "basic" parts of North American life. As "hidden immigrants," we appreciate people who are willing to show us the ropes without making us feel weird or out-of-place.

Embracing the Bitter-sweetness

If you’re an MK, embrace the bitter-sweetness of the MK life. Remember that the difficult times will grow you as a person, making you stronger, more empathetic and more resilient. Eventually, the things that seem so hard, will be distant memories.

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They won’t seem so big or so challenging. Instead you’ll see them as life experiences that made you a stronger, better person. I have moved a number of times now in my adult life and while saying good-bye never really gets easier, starting life in a new place doesn’t feel so daunting. I know from experience that I can make friends and make a new place feel like home. I can choose to belong anywhere. So, focus on the sweetness and remember that while you might envy your friends who have lived in the same house their whole lives, they probably envy your exotic, globe-trotting childhood. Enjoy the view from your vantage point, because it is like none other. Wear your global citizenship proudly - your MK experience is a precious one.

Listen to Paul Dyck answer “How Can We Support MKs?” on the Global Missions Podcast.

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