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Please, Don't Try to "Keep Your Children American" (Response to an Expat Podcast)


  I was listening to an expat podcast the other day about raising children overseas. The host was answering questions that had been sent in to her by parents living abroad. A mom wrote in and asked, "What can I do to make sure that my kids stay American while we're living in Europe?" She went on to say that she and her husband wanted their children to not feel "different" when they move back to the USA in a couple of years and thus, want to be sure to keep them from adapting to European culture.

The host provided a myriad of ways that they could "keep their children American." The ideas included making sure to celebrate all American holidays, spending time only with American friends, and not allowing them to learn the local language.

It's a good thing that this was a pre-recorded podcast because if not, I probably would have called in very emphatically to offer a quite different perspective. My response would go something like this:

1. You cannot prevent your children from becoming TCKs. By choosing to live overseas, you have chosen for them to no longer be solely American. No matter how hard you try to "keep" them American, they will still soak up parts of the culture that you are now living in. Because you are living overseas during their developmental years, this is not preventable. Trying to counteract this natural process will only create problems.

2. Trying to keep your children from becoming a part of the culture they are living in is unhealthy. By trying to keep them American, you are teaching them that there is only one right way to do things; that the American way is the best way and any other way of living life is wrong. This leads to a very ethnocentric mindset and definitely doesn't promote a love and appreciation for diversity.

3. Why would you want to? Living overseas is an incredible experience with a multitude of benefits for children. By trying to keep your children from adapting to the culture, learning the language, and spending time with the locals you are limiting those benefits. Yes, absolutely teach them about their American roots. Celebrate American holidays and follow the news. But, also give them permission to grow new roots in this new country. Yes, they will be different than their peers in America. They will have a unique perspective, a keen ability to adapt to new cultures, and an expanded worldview. They may even have challenges to work through because of their overseas upbringing, but attempting to keep them American while living overseas will not eliminate those challenges nor will it offer them the amazing benefits that can come with being a TCK.

So please, don't deprive your children of the immense benefits of being a Third Culture Kid. Please, don't try to "keep your children American."

Are you raising children overseas? If so, what would your response be to this parent?

Why We Shouldn't Call them "Little Missionaries"



Missionary kids are often referred to as “little missionaries.”  The term makes me cringe and here’s why:

1.We need to let kids be kids. Missionary kids are often held on a pedestal. They are presented to the world on the stages of churches and in monthly newsletters. They know that their job is to look and act the part of the good missionary kid so that people support their parent's ministry. There is immense pressure on missionary parents to have perfect kids and immense pressure on the kids to play that role. We need to give them permission to just be kids. Yes, let’s encourage them to share the gospel, but let’s not make sharing the gospel part of the requirement of playing the “perfect missionary kid” role.

2. Sharing the gospel should be more than an occupation. We learned in Sunday School before we could walk that we need to “preach the gospel to all of creation” (Mark 16:15) and I absolutely believe that this is true. However, missionary kids are at risk for seeing Christianity as an occupation. When you refer to them as “little missionaries” or ask, “Are you going to be a missionary when you grow up, too?” it is kind of like calling the lawyer’s kids, “little lawyers” and asking, “Are you going to be a lawyer when you grow up?” Sharing the gospel can be done in the jungles of South America or as a bus driver in California or any other occupation anywhere else.

I was (and still am) often asked if I am going to be a missionary like my parents. For a long time, this question made me stutter and break out in a sweat because I felt like if I said “no,” I would be seen as less Christian. When I did answer, “no,” I felt obligated to go on to explain all of the ways I was involved in ministry here in the US and add on that maybe one day I would be a missionary overseas if God called me to that.

God may call some missionary kids to live as missionaries overseas when they grow up, but He may also call them to a different occupation and neither option should affect their validity or confidence in sharing the gospel.

3. Allow autonomy. Allow missionary kids to choose to follow Jesus Christ for themselves. It is hard as parents to give our children autonomy in this area, and especially so when you are missionaries and have so many eyes watching you and your children. But, when children feel like Christianity is a requirement, they are more prone to rejecting it, especially in teenage years. This is particularly true for missionary kids and other kids whose parents work in ministry. If children grow up being pigeonholed into the “little missionary” role, they are likely to resent that role and unfortunately may resent the Christian label that comes with it. We absolutely should “train up our children in the way they should go”(Proverbs 22:6) and instill Christian values and beliefs, but we need to be careful to not make Christianity a requirement rather than a choice. Our hope and prayer as parents is that our children will choose to follow the Lord and desire to share the gospel; not to do either out of obligation.

4. No one should be a “little” missionary. God has given us all the ability to share the gospel no matter what age we are. Sometimes children can minister even more effectively than adults can. The term “little missionary” can come across as a bit demeaning and condescending. While I’m sure no one means it that way, it can sound like they are telling the child that they are not old enough to qualify as a “real” missionary. No one, even children, like to feel like they’re not taken seriously and we want to be very careful that we don’t imply that, especially in the context of sharing the gospel.

Calling them “little missionaries” is a quick way to close the door on conversation,  so here is better way to get to know missionary kids:

If you genuinely want to know what the child wants to be when they grow up, ask them. Don’t imply that “missionary” is the correct answer.

If you want to know if they have been able to share the gospel with anyone, ask them. They may have some amazing stories!

If you want to know about their relationship with Jesus Christ, ask them.

Take them seriously, ask questions, don’t assume, and please don’t call them “little missionaries.”

Let's Think Outside the American Box - A TCK's Approach to Politics


I have been deliberating on this post for quite some time, not wanting to add another article to the political clutter invading the media world these days. I almost left the word "politics" out of the title, so no one rolls their eyes thinking, "really, you too?" But, I hope that no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, this will be refreshing and, more importantly, will challenge you to think outside the American box. When I talk to parents of TCKs, I emphasize the benefits of being a TCK; for example, growing up in a different culture yields a unique perspective and a broad worldview. I was recently talking with a mom of TCKs and was asked, "Do you think that being a TCK impacts the way you look at politics?" Without a second thought I answered, "Absolutely."

In talking with other TCKs about how and why our experience impacts our political perspective, I was surprised to find that while our views vary widely, there are specific similarities that influence those views that are worth exploring.

We see faces. Topics of refugees, immigration, and travel bans come up and we see faces. One TCK told me that she cried when she heard that Libya was on the travel ban list because that may directly impact close friends of hers. Another TCK knew people who were stranded at the airport entirely unsure of their future. We don't see them as impersonal populations we see them as part of our multicultural family. While we may have varying opinions on political solutions, the role of the government, or our role as Christians or American passport holders, our perspective is shaped by the fact that we don't live with an "us" vs. "them" mentality. Those people are friends, or are like our friends, and the solutions change significantly when instead of seeing intimidating, different, unknown, unapproachable people groups, you see familiar faces.

We know what it's like to be the foreigner. We have lived in countries where we were the minority. We understand what it is like to be discriminated against and exploited because of our race and skin color, and that directly impacts the way we interact with the minority populations in this country. We also know what it is like to be accepted into a culture despite our skin color, passport, and race. We remember the times when someone took the time to help us with language or showed us how to navigate the market or post office. As foreigners, we were accountable to integrate and respect the culture we were in, and were overjoyed when, though we were foreigners, we were treated like insiders. I desire to treat foreigners in America with the respect, dignity, generosity, and love that many extended to  me when I lived in Africa.

We value different perspectives. Many Americans seem to have a false illusion that we are the "bees knees" at pretty much everything and thus, we rarely look outside our borders for political brilliance. We can learn so much from other countries around the world and it would do America good to humbly seek wisdom and counsel from political leaders all over the world. For this reason, I believe we would do well to put more TCKs in political offices!

We cling to our eternal citizenship, rather than our temporal status. For a long time, I struggled with the fact that I didn't seem to belong anywhere. I held an American passport, but felt like a foreigner in America, yet I felt most comfortable in Tanzania where I neither looked like I belonged nor legally was anything more than a temporary resident. I vividly remember a day during my Sophomore year in high school when I read Philippians 3:20: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." I finally found a sense of belonging.

I think that TCKs have an advantage in understanding deeply the concept that our citizenship is not on this earth. Yes, I hold an American passport, and I do care about what is going on in this country, but when things aren't going well, it does not rattle my soul. I know that ultimately, this is not where I belong. I am not so deeply rooted in this country that I feel personally attacked or affirmed by political decisions, because I am striving to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” rather than worrying about the kingdoms of this world and their actions (Matthew 6:33).

If you've been feeling unsettled by the political rhetoric, unilateral decisions, and inflammatory speech that surrounds us these days, I hope you will find the same solace in these words that I have, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16).