As promised, in the next few weeks (while I’m adjusting in THAILAND!!!) I’m going to tell you a bit about what I learned from the interviews I held over the past semester. I group-interviewed 4 missionary kids, and then I held personal interviews with 5 separate college-age missionary kids (MKs). Four of the MKs spent much of their time traveling between Asia (Philippines, China, Japan, and Thailand) and the US. One of the MKs spent much of her time between Mexico and the US.
What I wanted to reflect on this first post is the surprising level of gratitude. Every missionary kid I interviewed expressed such gratitude to have the experiences that they did. There wasn’t a single person I talked with who regretted their Third Culture Experience. I heard the expression “I wouldn’t change it for anything!” more than once…even when the person saying it would later express times of extreme stress, depression, or other struggles.
Now, I think there is a genuine attitude of gratitude (that’s fun to say!) for these TCKs. I am also thankful for my experience as a missionary kid. BUT, part of my question-asking nature causes to question the source or sources of that attitude of gratitude (seriously, say that 10x fast!). Here is what I’m wondering…
Some missionary kids may feel pressured to only express gratitude in case expressions of regret or displeasure reveals a supposed lack of faith in God.
These are missionary kids. As a missionary kid, I was raised to be thankful in every situation. I wrongly held the belief for a long time that any expression of anxiety meant that I was not trusting God, and that any expression of displeasure in my current situation meant that I was being ungrateful to God. And as a missionary kid, you get a LOT of pressure to maintain your Christian faith. Maybe I’ll talk about that pressure in another post, but for now… As I said, these beliefs were misunderstandings. Even Jesus expressed misery while on Earth. Luke 22:42 for example. “Father, if it’s your will, please take this cup from me.” I mean, who wouldn’t feel anxious or upset about being crucified? Though even in his anxiety, Jesus was strong in his relationship with God, and those times of anxiety were only pieces of a much larger and more beautiful story.
It’s not a sin to be anxious, or to express that your life isn’t full of flowers and butterflies ALL the time. In fact, it is SO dangerous to conceal your anxiety and put on a happy facade (even if you believe the facade more than anyone). When I went to a private Christian College, I met many other Christian students who held the same belief, and that includes myself. I didn’t learn that I could be close with God AND express anxiety or anger until I was 2-years into college. I struggled with depression for a year because whenever people would confront me to ask how I was doing, I would chase them away with short answers of “I’m fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” and then I would pat myself on the back for not giving in to my “sinful” desire to express that anxiety. It wasn’t until I learned to express that anxiety, not only to friends and family, but to God, that I felt God’s peace.
Disclaimer: I am by NO means saying that all Missionary Kids put on a facade of peace and joy in every situation, and I am not saying that Missionary Kids are not genuinely grateful for their experiences as TCKs. In fact, I think that MKs have an advantage in that they are taught from a very young age that they can find peace in God. …..What I AM saying is that there could easily be a miscount as to how many Missionary Kids are actually thankful for their experience.
So what do we do?
- Future interviews of missionary kids should be held with this understanding in mind…that missionary kids may feel internal pressure to reveal only the most grateful attitude. Perhaps further studies and conversations with MKs can lead to a better understanding of what that pressure is like so that it can be more accurately measured. I mean, if I want to help a missionary organization care for their missionary kids, I need a way to make sure that I am hearing the TRUE emotions of those missionary kids, and not their attempts to put on a “good Christian face”
- More importantly, one way to help missionary kids is to ensure that they have a healthy and truthful mindset of how to have faith and still feel comfortable expressing sadness, anger, or regret. Part of this involves making role models available to the MKs. Another part is ensuring that there is someone to walk with that Missionary Kid at their own pace, and then to be available when they are ready to express their emotions. This can be tough, especially when each missionary kid comes from a variety of cultures with different beliefs. For example, American kids learn pretty quickly that they have the right of free speech. However, many strict Asian cultures learn that messages should be communicated to represent a group, not an individual, and that you need to be careful of your actions because it reflects on the image of the group as a whole. We need to be sensitive to what cultural beliefs that MK has accepted.
Now, there are many other reasons for such strong gratitude. Another aspect may be due to various cultural beliefs about expressing gratitude or anxiety. Another aspect may be pressure to make the TCK life look good. Another aspect, which I think is equally likely, is genuinely 100% gratitude, no strings attached.
What do you think readers? Do you think these are valid explanations?
Have you seen missionary kids struggle with expressing negative emotions like sadness or anger?
Do you know any missionary kids or other TCKs who were not grateful for their experience?
Next Week: more reflections on these TCK interviews