Helping missionaries return well
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The year was 2003, and a young couple was…
Blogging live from Oklahoma City
“Where are you from?”
For Third Culture Kids, that’s a tough question to answer.
That’s what Cherry Hart told me yesterday during an interview here on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. Hart and her husband, Clay, are hosting a camp called Global Reunion through Sunday. About 70 campers are here now — representing Chile, the Philippines, Brazil, Chad and even Bosnia. Most are the children of missionaries and were born, or raised, on foreign soil.
Well, to us it’s foreign soil anyway. To them, it’s home.
Third Culture Kids, or TCKs (a term coined by a sociologist in the 1960s), often have a tough time adjusting to a new culture when their parents return from the mission field.
TCKs were the subject of a story I wrote for The Christian Chronicle , way back in 2001. It was my first month on the job, and Heidi Hartman was my very first face-to-face interview. I still had empty shelves in my brand-new office when she stopped by.
It was Sept. 11, 2001, and both of us were stunned by the events of the morning. It seemed weird to even be discussing anything else. But it also was somewhat therapeutic to take a break from staring, dumbfounded, at the TV.
Here’s an excerpt from that story:
At age 19, Heidi Hartman found herself in a foreign country.
The daughter of missionaries, she had a hard time adjusting to her new setting — where they spoke the same language, but used different phrases, had different mannerisms and expressed feelings differently.
Hartman felt like an outsider in her new home — the United States, the country where she was born.
“People are assuming I came from a foreign country. THIS is a foreign country,” said Hartman, whose accent teeters between Australian and slight Southern twang.
Her parents moved to a suburb of Sydney when she was 3 years old to work with a congregation in Campbelltown, now one of the largest churches of Christ in Australia. Hartman returned to the States in 1998 to attend Oklahoma Christian University.
“Some people don’t see you as a person. They see you as Australian,” she said.
A few years later, Heidi married Adam Picker and the couple served a two-year mission apprenticeship in New Zealand. Today they attend the Memorial Road Church of Christ here in Oklahoma City. Our daughters are in the same Bible class.
Cherry Hart also is a TCK. She was born in Mbeya, Tanzania. Her father, Eldred Echols, a well-known Church of Christ missionary in southern Africa, died in 2003. Cherry went to school in South Africa and then moved to the U.S. to attend Michigan Christian College (now Rochester College) and Abilene Christian University, where she met her future husband. Together, they moved to Durban, South Africa, and served as missionaries there for 20 years. Their three children are TCKs as well. Now they live in the Dallas metro area.
TCKs often have trouble making friends and fitting in when they move to the U.S., Cherry told me. They face other adjustment challenges as well. At the same time, they bring to their friendships a broad range of experiences and cultures. Often, TCKs become missionaries themselves. They also feel a strong bond with other TCKs, even if they come from opposite ends of the earth.
Hence the name, “Global Reunion.”
Are you a Third Culture Kid, or the parent of one? What is the biggest challenge you face when adapting to a new culture? What can churches do to help in the transition?
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