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, my father worked in the oil industry. For his work, our family moved to a new country every one or two years. We lived in Hong Kong, England, Australia, Pakistan and Holland. I knew that wasn't everyone’s experience but I didn’t know any different. That 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, were born in the UK (in most cases), 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 daddy teaches at the bible college, or the neighbourhood where mum and dad have planted a new church. Home is where they play with their African neighbours and where home-schooling involves growing ground nuts and avocados in the garden. Or where they go to the local school where they speak a different language to what they speak at home, and their closest friends are their siblings. 

For the 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, whilst they feel at home, there are constant reminders that they don’t belong in the same way. It also 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 Crosslinks mission partners tell me how they love their visits to the UK – grandparents, presents, 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’ – ‘goodbyes’ to special people and special places. 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

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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.