Where is home for the missionary kid?

Claudia Chan

‘You’re a TCK!’ ‘A… what?’ ‘A TCK – third culture kid…’

When I was growing up, our family moved to a new country every couple of years. My father worked in the oil industry and so we moved where his work took us. We lived in Hong Kong, the UK, Australia, Pakistan and the Netherlands. I knew that this wasn't everyone’s experience but I didn’t know any different. This was normal for me. I had no idea what a ‘third culture kid’ was.

One definition says, ‘A third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any … The sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.’*

I once found myself at a TCK conference with a Norwegian who grew up in Thailand, an American who grew up in Brazil, a British girl who grew up in Burkina Faso, a Chinese girl who grew up in Paraguay and many more. We clicked, we understood each other, we laughed until we cried. We shared a sense of belonging.

It can be shown in a diagram like this:

Children of Crosslinks mission partners often resonate with this. They have a British passport, may have been born in the UK and their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live here. But they have spent much of their lives away from this country. Home for them is the compound where their parents teach at a bible college or the neighbourhood where they've planted a new church. Home for them may include homeschooling with their brothers and sisters or going to a local school where they speak a different language to what they speak with their parents. Home could mean playing in dusty streets with local children or growing groundnuts and avocados in the garden.

For children of mission partners, their host culture feels like home but not in the same way it does to the locals. They look and sound different so there are constant reminders that they don’t belong. It takes time to integrate and the settling-in period can be especially hard. Going to a new school is nerve-racking enough in your own country but imagine doing it in a country where you don’t understand what the other children or teachers are saying. 

Then there are the constant goodbyes. Many children of mission partners tell me how they love their visits to the UK – grandparents, castles, bacon and lots of other things that they don’t get to enjoy overseas. But they also tell me how much they miss their friends, neighbours and classmates. The excitement of ‘hellos’ are always accompanied by the sadness of ‘goodbyes’. It is a common human experience but mission partner children go through these transitions much more frequently.

Anthropologist and missiologist Dr. Miriam Adeney writes of people who have lived cross-culturally, ‘You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.’ 

My prayer for these children is that they will find their true home in God so that they can say with Moses, ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations.’ (Psalm 90:1)

*David C Pollock & Ruth E Van Reken, Growing up among worlds

Find out how Crosslinks supports mission partner children

We understand moving overseas can be difficult so are committed to supporting the children of mission partners as they prepare to go. 

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Claudia Chan

Claudia was part of the Crosslinks staff team from 2013 – 2021. Claudia's role included caring for mission partner children – helping them prepare for a move overseas and supporting them as they lived cross-culturally. Claudia was born in Hong Kong but has lived in six different countries.