A visitor to my neck of the woods just recently asked me a very pointed question for global working families. We were talking about missionary kids (MKs) and the transition they often felt when leaving their host culture/country to return back to the United States. Her question was this: What would you consider the most important thing for MKs to do during this departure from host culture to “home culture”? My answer to that question required some thought and reflection on my part. Let me explain why. I am a MK – born and bred. I was born in the jungles of Zaire, Africa where I spent 13 years of my life, where my father lived before me, and where my own grandfather gave his life attempting to rescue fellow global workers during the rebellion in 1964 from Belgian colonial rule. Being a global worker runs through the family line, so it was with little surprise that I found myself serving as a global worker at Rift Valley Academy outside Nairobi, Kenya where I reside today. Rift Valley Academy (RVA) is one my many “homes”. I attended as a student from 1986 to 1989 where, upon graduation, I left for the big, bad world of college in the United States.
What I experienced for the next two years was something akin to a dark night of the soul: depression, angst, and doubts about my faith. I hated Americans and the American culture. I felt like a foreigner in this strange land. I did not know how to act, I didn’t know who I was supposed to be–I felt very different. Culture shock. What I did not know until afterwards was that my experience was normal and was what most MKs experience to one degree or another.
During my freshman year of college, I vividly remember standing in a local Christian bookstore asking the lady behind the counter to give me some resources on what MKs go through when the return to their “home” countries. She could not find anything. I walked out of that bookstore feeling even more estranged. Could anybody please help me understand what I was going through?
That was years ago and there are many more resources (see list below) for the global working family to take advantage of in the search for understanding and preparing for the transition that MK’s must go through when returning to their “home” cultures. And this topic is part of my answer to the question my friend posed above. It is essential, in my opinion, for global working families to be aware of and prepare for transitions that make up the life of the average global working family.
I think the most important transition to be aware of is the one involving one’s child leaving the country they have grown up in to enter a westernized society. This usually involves the MK graduating from a boarding school or day high school in a foreign land and entering college in their parents’ home land. The transition of culture that I am referring to in the life of a MK is key in the formation of their person and will have implications for the rest of their life! How they journey through this transition can impact their person in a way that’s hard to measure.
I know. I went through it.
Families – are you talking about it? Are you aware of the many changes that your child will go through when they leave one land and enter a civilized and westernized world? One’s family can be incredibly instrumental in providing understanding and support through this often difficult time. So talk about it, listen, and try to relate to what your child is experiencing!
- There are many books now that talk about the aspects of transition in the MKs life, what stages to expect, how to get through it.
- The Re-Entry Seminar is also a resource one can take advantage of if it’s offered through a boarding school or day high school. These seminars are great building blocks for understanding before one leaves for another culture.
- If the entire family can plan their furlough around the child’s entrance into this new culture, this can provide some familial stability that’s essential.
- Cross-Cultural Re-entry, by Clyde Austin, Abilene Christian University Press.
- Letters Never Sent, by Ruth Van Reken, PO Box 90084 Indianapolis, IN 46240.
- “Re-entry Stress-The Pain of Coming Home”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, PO Box 749, Wheaton, IL 60189.
- “Welcome Home! Easing the Pain of MK Re-entry“, Evangelical Missions Quarterly.
This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines.