Helping TCKs rekonnect

rekonnectThird Culture Kids (TCKs) face many challenges in their young lives.

They don’t really know where they belong, and have a vague feeling that they don’t fit in anywhere.  At the end of each term, some of their friends leave school for good.  Their grandparents are strangers.

Perhaps one of the worst experiences for them is when their parents decide to go ‘home’ for a visit back to the country they came from.  If you’re 10, and you’ve grown up in the country where your parents work, the country they came from certainly isn’t home.  It’s a weird place which is usually cold or wet (often both) where you have to wear lots of clothing you’ve no idea how to do up.  The bananas and pineapples taste disgusting because they’re not freshly picked.  You have to wear a seat belt in the car, or maybe even sit on a special child seat.

Your parents keep dragging you to boring church meetings where people you don’t even know keep asking you if it’s nice to be back home.  Other kids laugh at you because you’re wearing clothes that were bought in a country where fashion looks different.  Nobody explains how things work, and everybody just assumes that you fit in normally.  But you don’t, and you can’t explain why.  You can’t tell your parents because you don’t want them to worry.  So you just cry on the inside and wait till you can go back home again.

So what can be done to help TCKs survive ‘home’ assignment?  In addition to reading our guide on how to make home assignment work for kids, if you’re bringing TCKs to the UK this summer, book them into a rekonnect action holiday.  Run by people experienced at working with TCKs, these camps in rural Derbyshire provide a safe place for kids to talk about their experience, learn about life in the UK and most importantly celebrate the diversity they all share.  Meeting with other TCKs helps kids normalise their experience and realise that they’re not the only people who don’t fit in – in fact they’re just the same as lots of other TCKs who immediately understand what they’re going through.

There are two TCK holidays – one for TCKs aged 13-18 years which runs from 25-29 July, and one for kids aged 6-12 from 8-12 August.  You can find out more by clicking on the links, or going to the rekonnect webpage, or emailing the administrator at rekonnect@gmail.com – but don’t leave it too late, they’ll book up fast!  So do your kids a favour and make ‘home’ assignment a better experience for them.

Helping TCKS use social media wisely

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

A discussion at Global Connections’ TCK Forum last week considered helping TCKs to use social media wisely – a challenge for all of us involved with raising healthy children.  We often remember that Jesus told us to be as innocent as doves in this world where we are like sheep among wolves, but we can so easily forget that he told us to be as wise as serpents too (Matthew 10:16).

In an age when children and teens are spending ever more time on the internet, at a time when we hear daily reports about online gaming, cyberbullying and sexting, how can we take steps to help our young people be safe?  And what is the role of sending agencies and churches in helping parents?

What can churches and agencies do?

  • Include in our orientation programmes information about social media so that parents are equipped to help their children understand internet security, particularly when skyping with grandparents and facetiming with schoolfriends.
  • Encourage the involvement of a few trusted adults so children can have positive relations with a small number of adults who aren’t their parents with whom they can talk honestly about challenges, e.g. godparents, uncles and aunties.
  • Encourage awareness of risk within the missions team – often the mission community consists of a team of up to 100 in-country partners who are automatically deemed ‘safe’ because they’re in the family. But how well do we know them?  Let’s not make inappropriate assumptions about people we don’t really know.
  • Include a social media policy within our safeguarding policies. This helps to put social media on the map and create an opportunity for us to talk about the challenges.
  • Help our adults to avoid denial. Many parents will say “My Jimmy wouldn’t do that, he’s a good boy” but the evidence is that Jimmy might actually be doing something online that would horrify his parents.  Let’s help parents realise there is a real danger online that can affect their children.
  • Include social media challenges in our re-entry training – we need to help parents understand that their children may have been shielded from harm by being in a Christian school, and that a secular school in their passport country may have a very different set of values among its pupils.

What can parents do?

Helping young people be safe focuses far more on our relationship with them than on the rules.  It is now widely recognised that rules limiting online time or having computers in a family room aren’t effective, as young people can simply get online on their phone in their bedroom, go round to a friend’s, or change the settings on their internet security.

  • Develop an open and frank relationship so that you can discuss sensitive issues with your children
  • Model forgiveness rather than condemnation when a child makes a mistake online
  • Learn to be aware of social media so that you can talk knowledgeably with your child about issues. Get on Facebook and find out about Minecraft!
  • Don’t spy on your kids’ internet activities – it communicates distrust
  • Focus on knowing your child, not what your child has been doing
  • Communicate that precautions you want them to take are not because you don’t trust them but may not trust people they interact with online
  • Most schools have a policy on cyberbullying – know it and use it
  • Don’t ban or limit gaming time but find out what they might be getting out of it and develop other ways of meeting that need
  • Don’t’ get too upset about the amount of time your kids spend watching online vids – it’s how they relax!

We have remarked before in these blogs that pornography is not the problem.  Likewise misuse of social media is a symptom of something deeper.  Many young people are sucked into bad things because of their need for acceptance and belonging in a community.  It is incredible hard for a godly teen to stand out from the crowd in a sexualised culture.  Helping them to feel valued, trusted and accepted will go a long way towards maintaining a healthy self-esteem which will help protect them against bad influences.

What resources are available?

  • CCPAS has an online course on internet safety
  • Childline has child-friendly resources on dealing with cyberbullying, sexting, and gaming
  • Safer Surfing is an Austrian website (your browser will offer to translate it) with good resources
  • Saltmine Trust has a drama presentation and interactive workshop for use in UK schools.

Moving Round the World

Inside-Out-21Following on from last week’s blog inspired by Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out, we return to the same film this week to reflect on the upheaval which led to story developed in the film.  Apologies if you haven’t seen it yet!

The action occurs because a family moves from a very happy and settled life in Minnesota because the dad has got a new job in Los Angeles.  Their 12-year-old daughter reacts badly to this change, causing her some emotional damage.  Yet we were able to see some very elementary mistakes which the parents made which resulted in the situation being much worse than it needed to be.  TCKs will be only too familiar with some of these challenges.

The reason for the move seemed to be more important than the family.  Whether it’s ‘work’ or a ‘ministry call’, many TCKs grow up being resentful of the God who tells them to keep moving.  Parents should know how their children respond to change and adapt their decision-making process to make sure it works for the child.  This is a time for a family to do lots of fun things together, build happy memories and ensure the child feels loved and valued.

The parents have not involved their child in the decision.  This disempowers the child and could make her feel vulnerable.  The whole family needs to be involved, even though some children may be too young to grasp all the issues involved.  Their fears need to be addressed.

There was no preparation for the transition.  The child clearly doesn’t know what to expect.  It would not have been hard to look at photos, find local amenities on the internet, or even to make an exploratory visit so the child has a better understanding of the new home before moving.  Even saying such things as “Next Christmas we’ll be able to have a barbecue on the beach!” will help a child envisage their new life and become excited about it.

There was no emotional support for the child.  Once in the new home, the child was immediately expected to function normally in a different world.  Ideally there should have been some time allocated for the family to explore their new city together and find fun things to do so that she will feel more positive about the new home before taking on challenges like school.

The furniture didn’t turn up and the child ended up sleeping on the floor in a strange house.  Things like this are not uncommon in missions, and making them an adventure can help.  How we deal with the unexpected is a significant part of thriving as we experience change.  The whole family sleeping together on the floor as if they were camping out would be better than sending the child to bed alone in an empty bedroom.

There are many resources available through the internet for helping prepare families for moving, and we particularly recommend these:

Families on the Move.  Marion Knell’s excellent handbook for taking the whole family abroad.

Preparing Families for Life Overseas.  This one-day course for the whole family is run every April at Redcliffe College.

Sammy’s Next Move.  This is a storybook about a snail who travels the world with his parents, carrying his home with him wherever he goes.  Ideal for young children.

School reunion

Chefoo 1970A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being at a school reunion.  Not a regular one, but one with a difference – some of the people hadn’t even been to the same campus.  They were alumni of the old CIM/OMF Chefoo schools in Malaysia and Japan, and some of them had stayed at boarding houses in the UK during school holidays from their boarding schools in the UK.

It was interesting to observe their interactions as some of them had never met before but clearly shared a sense of camaraderie.  Some were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in decades, and all were thrilled to be reunited with former dorm parents and even an ex-head teacher.

Further investigation revealed that they all felt happy/fulfilled/privileged to have been part of a boarding school education while their parents were overseas mission workers.  Yes, they admitted that being parted from their families wasn’t great, and the times they didn’t get letters in the post were particularly hard to deal with, but they clearly felt they hadn’t been handicapped or disadvantaged by their school arrangements.  Granted, this was a self-selecting group in that any adult TCKs who had anger, resentment or loss of faith as a result of being at a boarding school would have chosen not to be there, but it was encouraging to hear so much positive feedback.

2015-07-04 15.46.21A generation on and despite the advances in local education and homeschooling options, many parents still send their kids to boarding schools.  For many it’s a great experience, although aspects of it can be hard for them.  But it’s interesting how many people say “I would never send my kids to boarding school” while they’re preparing for the mission field, but then later do so, recognising that it may be the best educational option in some places.

So what does Syzygy recommend?  Well, whatever works best for the child’s overall development (which includes spirituality, socialisation, and mentoring as well as ‘just’ education).  We recommend careful prayer, and discussion with the child as to what works best for them.  And here are some options:

Local schools – mission workers often overlook the fact that local schools may have very high standards.  The advantage is that the child will gain language fluency and local culture quickly, but may not get an internationally recognised certificate at the end of it.

International schools – there are good international schools in most major cities these days, usually teaching in English.  They may be run by Christians and usually teach to an internationally recognised standard like GCSE or IB.  They may have high fees, but are often willing to negotiate so don’t assume you can’t afford them.

Faith boarding schools – there are a number of these around the world serving the faith community and while the principal drawback is that your kids are away for the whole term, they can get a good education in English, in a faith-based context.

UK schools – if your child is going to be away during the term, you may wish to consider leaving them in the UK where they can get free education.  The challenge is to find an uncle, aunt or grandparent willing to foster them!

UK boarding schools – although you may think that’s an expensive option, there are many schools which will give generous bursaries for mission kids, so you may end up paying less in fees than you would at an international school

Homeschooling – this has the option of keeping your kids at home, which is also its disadvantage.  One parent must stay home full time to teach and supervise, and being a teacher may change the nature of the relationship with the child.  There are a number of good programmes you can use which include online curricula.

For a fuller discussion of the options, and lists of various school and other education providers, we recommend you take a look at Oscar’s helpful page.

Praying creatively for your mission workers

Here’s a simple yet creative idea for a mission prayer meeting.  Don’t just do the same old boring thing of praying through each paragraph of a newsletter.  Do something a bit more original.  Take a selection of common items you’d find about the house.  Ask yourself what they represent, and if it might look different from your mission worker’s perspective.  Pray into it.  Here are some simple examples you could use.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Mobile phone – this represents their ability to communicate.  Whether writing or phoning home, communicating with locals in their language or dealing with colleagues in a third language, mission workers often have difficulty in understanding and making themselves understood.

Toilet roll – we don’t need to go into details but life in a country your immune system didn’t grow up in can be full of nasty diseases.

Car keys – in many parts of the world roads are even worse than Devon’s!  Vehicles may not be up to safety standards and there are no working time directives limiting the hours professional drivers spend behind the wheel.  Travelling, whether by car, bus, motorbike or cycle can be hazardous.

Bottle of water – we take utilities for granted but many mission workers live in parts of the world where the power can go off for days at a time, or there is no running water.

Family photograph – many mission workers are separated from loved ones.  Children may be at boarding school, or elderly parents may be left behind at home.

IMG_0715Chillies – the food is often very different from back home, and can take a lot of getting used to.  Some people may have allergies to particular types of local food, or may be unable to get food they need such as gluten-free.

Fan – many mission workers live where the weather is extreme, and for some seasons of the year almost unbearable.

Bible – the reality of life on the mission field is that mission workers can become spiritually dry.  They may be engaged in spiritual battles and face great opposition, or the spiritual dynamic of the dominant religion may have an impact on them.

Wedding ring – marriages come under great strain on the mission field, as one partner may have a vision for being there, and the other is tagging along, or perhaps one does better with the language with the other lagging behind.  Conversely, there are also pressures of a different kind on singles in the mission field.

Bowl – in many countries beggars are everywhere, and foreigners can stand out as targets.  It can be easy to get compassion fatigues, or to be worn down by the constant high profile.

Dictionary – mission workers usually need to learn a second language, and sometimes a third.  This can be time-consuming and daunting for those who are not naturally gifted at it.

(Source: www.sxc.hu)

Source: www.sxc.hu

Passport – paperwork is a continual problem.  Visas, work permits, driving licences, residence permits all have to be obtained (without resorting to corrupt expedients) and periodically renewed.  This can be emotionally demanding, with many repeat visits to crowded government offices where you can queue for hours to find that the person you need to talk to is not there.

Credit card – money is frequently a source of stress for mission workers.  Most of us rely on the divinely-inspired generosity of a small group of supporters to provide for the often quite substantial ministry costs we have.  Sometimes we have to leave the mission field for financial reasons alone.

Book – many mission workers use their professional skills as theologians, medics or educationalists, and need to keep their knowledge and qualifications up to date.  Yet finding time to read academic journals, let alone take CPD courses in the midst of a demanding role can be very difficult.

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

Toy – children can suffer in the mission field, and that has a huge impact on the parents.  Without support, children can easily become the mission worker’s Achilles heel.

DVD – mission workers need to relax too!  Yet often they find they have too much work, or feel guilty if they stop to enjoy themselves.

Office ID card – for many mission workers, the single biggest source of stress is their colleagues.  Often coming from a variety of cultures, with a common language that they aren’t all gifted in, and with a variety of church backgrounds and missiological viewpoints, it can be extremely hard to form a team in which everyone gets on well.  Arguments and even personal disputes can become commonplace.

Please use this information to pray into the situations of the mission workers you support.  The advantage of this method is that you can use it to pray anywhere, anytime, for your mission workers.  For example, if you’re waiting for a bus, look around you and seek inspiration.  What do you see?  Cars – pray for your mission worker’s safe travel in a world where roads and transportation may not be as good as ours.  A dog – pray for safety from being bitten by rapid dogs, or mosquitos, or lions.  A pillar box – pray for their good communication with family, church and friends back home.

Try this way of praying for mission workers and your prayer life may never quite be the same again!

TCKs – the mission worker’s Achilles’ heel?

AchillesSending a mission worker out into the mission field is rather like sending an army into battle.  You don’t just stroll out and pick a fight.  It pays to be well-prepared.  Plans are laid.  Training is given.  Strategy is developed.  Support is put into place.  Scouting is done.  Weapons are provided.

Yet we all know only too well that no matter how much preparation is done, there can always be a chink in the armour.  Like King Harold’s woefully inadequate eye protection, or Achilles’ badly-designed army boots.  One small weakness which can result in a devastating defeat.

For many mission workers, their Achilles’ heel is their children.  Most of us go into the mission field prepared to make sacrifices for God.  Few us of want to think of our children as those sacrifices.  It’s all very well for us to risk everything for our beliefs, but to ask our children to risk everything requires a whole new level of faith, and many of us struggle to get there.  I’ve known mission workers pack up and go home not because they couldn’t cope with getting malaria regularly, but because they couldn’t cope with their children getting it.  It’s not uncommon for mission workers to return to their sending country because they can’t get the right education for their children in the mission field.  Or because their kids are not adapting well to living abroad and want to go home.

I’m not criticising them for those choices.  It’s right to look after the kids.  At the other end of the spectrum we’ve all come across TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who’ve been completely messed up by being brought up abroad and struggling to fit in.  Some have even lost their faith as a result.  That’s a tragedy.

So whether we stay or go, we need to be aware of the potential impact of serving in world mission on the kids, and take steps to remedy it.  Mission workers, agencies, churches and family all have a part to play in this.  Here are five things that we can all do to make sure that TCKs are part of the army not part of the problem.

Pray – many of us forget to pray for the kids when we’re praying for the family.  So it’s not surprising they can become the Achilles’ heel.  Pray for their health, happiness, education, sense of identity, safety and most of all their own personal, genuine walk with God.

Be informed – read books like Families on the Move or keep in touch with websites like:

Find excellent resources from the TCK Forum.  Ask sending agencies what they’re doing to support your mission workers’ kids, and keep the pressure on them to deliver.

Education – this is always an issue of great concern.  Despite the British tendency to assume that education abroad is significantly inferior to ours, some countries have extremely high standards of education.  There are also international schools in many cities, Christian boarding schools in many countries and even boarding schools in the UK willing to make very generous scholarships to TCKS.  There are also a significant number of Christian and secular home-schooling programmes available.  You can read more about this on the Oscar website.

Healthcare – nobody enjoys the thought of a child being sick.  Good health insurance is vital, one which pays for medical evacuation to a first-world country if necessary.  However TCKs may be no less safe in the field than they would be in the parents’ sending country, the risks may just be different.

Support – from simple things like remembering birthdays and Christmas to making sure that TCKs get an opportunity to connect with each other through events like reconnect or websites like those listed above, make sure the family knows what support is there for them.  There are also plenty of TCK specialists around who can provide care or counselling if necessary.  Contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for further information.

TCKs don’t have to be sacrifices.  With appropriate care and support, they can thrive and make the most of their international experience as global citizens.

Housing for Home Assignment

to letHousing for home assignment is frequently a huge headache for mission workers.  In fact, it’s probably the single biggest challenge, though for many mission workers, their family and church may not even recognise this.  So for starters, here’s a summary of the challenges:

If you’re single – You may end up moving in with your parents.  While this is potentially demeaning for any adult, it may also put pressure on your relationships (particularly if your mum keeps asking when she’s going to need to go shopping for a hat).  Or you may end up in a spare room at a friend’s house.  This can be great fun when it works, but you may be acutely aware that it’s not your home and you need to work around somebody else’s space.  At other times singles can end up in a succession of different places, often staying with strangers, which can be emotionally demanding no matter how hospitable they are.

If you’re a couple – People take couples’ needs more seriously than singles, recognising that you need your own space.  You’re more likely to get a home of your own, but it’s still not always easy.

Sharing accommodation isn't always easy

Sharing accommodation isn’t always easy

If you’re a family – The bigger your family, the bigger the challenge.  It can be very hard to stay with friends due to the lack of space, but the rising cost of renting in the UK means you may not be able to afford somewhere large enough, and lack of space can put pressure on your family relationships.  Families sometimes find themselves living far from friends, church and family, because they have to take what accommodation they can get.  It doesn’t help the children form a positive impression of their parents’ home country.

Syzygy recommends that mission workers get a place of your own if this is at all possible.  It gives you the private space you need to process all that’s gone on in your life on the field, and to deal with the pressures of adjusting to life in the UK (see Reverse Culture Shock).  But renting is expensive, and it can be very hard to get a rental contract for less than a year, so there are a number of different solutions:

Multi-generational occupancy can be fun

Multi-generational occupancy can be fun

Live in your own house – If you own a house, ask your tenants to move out so that you can live in it.  It can help with a settling back into your ‘home’ but the challenge with this option is that your income drops though you still have to pay the mortgage.  You also run the risk of not being able to let it again when you leave, although you can take the opportunity to do routine repairs which may help you get a better rent.

Save up money while you are overseas to set aside to pay rent when you return.  Living back in your sending country may be significantly more expensive than being in the field, so setting aside a little every month (yes, I know it’s hard!) can help with this.

Ask your family/church/agency to help pay for the rent.  Don’t be shy!  They may not even have realised it’s a problem and could be happy to help.  Churches in particular may need to be reminded of your needs.

Time-share a rental with other mission workers from the same church or town.  You might be able to find other people sent from the same town as you who can synchronise their home assignment with yours, so that you can get a year’s rental agreement and take six months of it each.

Borrow a home from someone going overseas.  Agencies can help arrange this, even if you’re not a member, as their short term mission workers will need to fill their homes while they’re abroad.  Do some networking with other agencies in your field before you leave.  Christian Home Exchange Fellowship may also be able to help.

Ask Syzygy.  We know of one or two housing options that we can’t publicise, but contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk for more information.

Ask Oscar.  The mission worker’s second favourite website (after this one!) has lists of the various options, including agencies and private lettings.  Just click here.

Other long-term solutions can include forming partnerships with other mission workers to buy a property which can be used like a time-share, or if you know a number of mission workers from related churches in the same area, you may be able to encourage the churches to club together to buy a property for use as a mission home.  One church I know bought a small development of flats and now rents most of them commercially, giving the church an income while they leave one flat permanently available for mission workers.

It’s also really important to gather a team around you, if you don’t have one already, who will prepare your accommodation.  A group of friends, relatives and supporters who can source, rent and clean a home before you return, make sure it’s furnished and has food in the fridge, is a real blessing.  Some churches collect and store everything from sofas to cutlery so that it can be used to kit out a rented house.

One thing that is important to stress is that having the right accommodation for your home assignment is a crucial element in managing the stress involved in returning to the UK, and it is well worth investing the time, energy and finance in finding the best solution.

TCKS coming ‘home’

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

Depressed, misunderstood, lonely?

It’s a while since we discussed TCKs, and since we reviewed reverse culture shock a few months ago, this might be a good opportunity to focus specifically on how this affects TCKs.  TCKS are Third Culture Kids – people who spent a significant part of their formative years growing up in a culture which was not that of their parents.  They don’t fully fit in either in their parents’ home country, or the country (or countries) in which they grew up, so they form their own third culture which features aspects of both.  Where the parents are mission workers, they are also known as Mission Kids (MKs).

Among the many huge challenges facing TCKs is the question of where home is.  They can often experience significant confusion over the issue, particularly when they’ve lived as mission kids in more than two countries.  But they seldom agree with their parents that the original sending country is home.  This complicates returning to the sending country, whether temporarily for home assignment or permanently, as in relocating for educational reasons.

Home... or away?

Home… or away?

Parents can easily talk about this as ‘going home’, which it may well be for them, but for the children, it is more like going to a foreign country.  They may be familiar with aspects of it but it is probably not home.  They are leaving home!  Their wider family in the sending country, and also in their ‘home’ church may reinforce this view, asking children who are already feeling lonely, bewildered and homesick how it feels to be ‘home’.  It’s not surprising if they occasionally get a hostile response.

Recognising that any such transition is a huge challenge for young people is the first step in dealing with it.  Some of our top tips for helping TCKs cope with this transition are:

  • ensure that the parents can spend more time than usual with their children, since they are a key point of stability in a different world;
  • connect with old friends back home through social media to maintain meaningful relationships;
  • bring with you favourite toys, furniture and food supplies so that you can continue to celebrate where you’ve come from;
  • meet with people from their host culture in the new country, and connect with other TCKs who have already made the transition;
  • continue to speak in the language of your host country to reinforce your connection with it;
  • take children and teens to Rekonnect – a summer camp specially designed for TCKs;
  • ensure that key features of life and culture in the new country are explained.  Don’t take it for granted that TCKs know how to tie shoelaces or button a dufflecoat if they didn’t have shoes and coats as they grew up!
TCKs in Brazil - Pam and her four sisters

TCKs in Brazil – Pam and her four sisters

One of Syzygy’s trustees, Pam Serpell, herself a TCK who grew up in Brazil, wrote a dissertation on this subject for her degree, and has given us permission to publish it here.   In her research she discovered that TCKs who reflected back on their experience of relocating to the UK used words like depressed, misunderstood, belittled, lonely, excluded, trapped and even suicidal.  This will not come as a surprise to those who have already been through this transition, but indicates how seriously the challenges for TCKs need to be taken.

Pam also looked at what helped prepare the TCKs for the transition, supported them through it, and what else they thought might have helped.  She clearly felt there is a need for sending agencies to do more to help prepare TCKs, perhaps through a formal orientation programme, and to support them through it.  Fortunately, in the 10 years that have elapsed since she did her research, many agencies have made great progress in this area.

Yet despite the evident challenges involved in being a TCK, Pam concludes:

All the people who took part in my research expressed being grateful for their upbringing and the experiences they had in ‘growing up between worlds’ and I would encourage any TCK to concentrate on the benefits of their experience and look for the positives.

You can read a pdf of Pam’s dissertation here.  As with all material on the Syzygy website, it is available for reuse where appropriate as long as the author receives due credit.

Getting your TCK into a UK university

Is it going to happen for TCKs?   (Source: www.sxc.hu

Is it going to happen for TCKs?
(Source: www.sxc.hu)

One of the concerns at the back of the minds of UK mission workers with children is how to get their children into a British university.  The standard understanding around the world is that you have to return to live in the UK for three years in order to establish the right to get your kids into university, but this is not strictly true.

The situation revolves around that vexed question of ordinary residence which we have already encountered when thinking about income tax (see Tax doesn’t have to be taxing and Statutory Residence Test).  You don’t have to be physically resident in the UK to be ordinarily resident.  If you are UK citizens who would live in the UK if you weren’t working for a mission agency, you are considered resident even if you are ‘temporarily’ abroad for your work.

This means that the children of UK mission workers should be eligible for university entrance and student loans even if they have never lived long-term in the UK.  However even if you fill in all the application forms correctly, many universities are wrongly categorising Third Culture Kids (TCKs) as international students.  While this situation is usually corrected on appeal, this process can take time, so don’t leave it till the last minute to submit the forms.

The Global Connections TCK Forum. considers issues such as this and has some very helpful resources listed on its webpage, including a very helpful paper by Steve Bryant and a powerpoint by Ann Christian which presents the issues visually in a helpful manner.

If you are having difficulties persuading a UK university to accept that your TCK is ordinarily resident, please contact Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk and we will try to enlist help for you.

Immigrants and strangers

In a recent exercise with a group of TCKs, we did a Bible study in which I challenged the young people to name as many characters from Bible who didn’t fit into the culture of the people around them.

From the obvious ones like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who left their homeland in search of an inheritance, and the apostles who went out into the Hellenised world and eventually beyond to take the gospel, to Joseph and  Daniel, the successful Prime Ministers of foreign powers, we came up with a list that completely filled the flip chart.  Rahab, who left her people to throw in her lot with the Israelites, refugees Ruth & Naomi, and David living with his band of outcasts among the Philistines were some of the less likely examples.  In the end, most of the major characters in the Bible were up on the list.  I left them with the challenge: in the light of that list, how do you feel about finding it hard to fit into British culture?

For mission workers adult and juvenile, the challenge is generally seen as how to fit in, whether it’s coping with culture shock when we go to live in a foreign country, or reverse culture shock when we come back home – and remember that Britain isn’t ‘home’ for TCKs who’ve spent most of their lives in another country.  Yet is this really the right approach?

People working with TCKs try to help them fit in and feel at home, to quickly make friends at school and come to grips with the very different culture they’re living in.  If they feel they can fit in, they are generally a lot happier and content to be living here.  But when you take a long, hard look at our materialistic, sensual, consumerist society, why on earth would we want anyone to fit in?  Learn to cope with it, yes, but to feel like you belong?  Surely all Christians should be actively taking steps to make sure we don’t feel we belong in this world!  Isn’t that what John means by telling us that we are not of this world? (John 17:16, 1 John 2:15)

The New Testament summarises this sense of dwelling in but not belonging as being immigrants and strangers (1 Peter 2:11, CEV).  There is a very contemporary ring about these words, yet they were ancient legal categories referring to transient migrant workers and what we now call ‘resident aliens’.  People who weren’t from round here.  People who were different, who didn’t fit in.  Who didn’t have rights.  People who formed an economic underclass, who may actually have been desperate to go ‘home’ but couldn’t find jobs or food there.  The Roman empire, particularly its major cities like Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Alexandria were heaving with this great unwashed mass of migrant humanity, living a hand-to-mouth existence, moving from tenement to tenement, city to city, in a never ceasing effort to find food, work, money.

This colourful picture shows us how Peter expected Christians to feel about their place in the world around us.  Hebrews 11:13-16 picks up on this imagery and suggests that the Old Testament heroes of faith were like foreigners and strangers in the land, looking for a better home, a city given them by God.  Paul resolves this paradox in Ephesians chapter 2, where he says you are no longer strangers and foreigners but co-citizens with the saints and the household of God.

This teaching would have been hugely encouraging to the stateless, illiterate, itinerant workers who made up the bulk of the early church.  Many of them were slaves, most would have owned no property, and few would have been Roman citizens.  To have a sense of community, belonging, enfranchisement and home would have been beyond their wildest dreams, and they found it in the church.  This truly is good news for a broken world.

At this time of year we remember the birth of the ultimate cross-cultural mission worker who brought this good news.  He wasn’t from round here.  He moved into our world and brought a message of hope.  Like those he lived alongside, he wasn’t a citizen; he lived under military occupation.  For a while he was a political refugee.  He had few belongings, and moved from place to place, with nowhere to rest his head.  He was executed as a common criminal and buried in a borrowed grave.  This was someone with whom the urban underclass could identify, even though in his own world he was a King.

How much effort do his followers make today not only to take his message to immigrants and strangers, but to take it in the same way he did?

Featured Ministry: Member Care Media

We have mentioned before in these pages the extraordinary ministry of Member Care Media, which provides a valuable service to mission workers worldwide.  A project of TWR, Member Care by Radio (as it was originally named, was set up to provide a daily radio broadcast aimed specifically at the needs of cross-cultural mission workers in places where they were physically beyond the reach of regular and proactive member care.

With the arrival of the digital age, the project became Member Care Media, though the basic concept remains unchanged.  Each recorded ‘broadcast’ is now available to listen to online, with some of them also featuring as transcribed articles, and an entire library is available on the website for you to browse through.  They cover a range of subjects including emotional health, family, short term mission, cross-cultural living and working, teamwork, leadership and TCKS, and are all dealt with by professionals working in the relevant field.

While the broadcasts are aimed primarily at people working in a cross-cultural context, there is a wealth of resource available on emotional health, marriage and leadership which will be of use to all Christians in helping them cope with the demands of their life and ministry.

We suggest that you may like to use these broadcasts as part of your regular times of self-maintenance.  They are all fairly short, so listening to each daily broadcast might be a bit demanding on your time, but it’s not unfeasible to listen to one a week.  Couples could listen together to ones about marriage and family, and work teams could listen to the ones about teamwork and use them as a basis for discussion afterwards.  Small groups could use them as part of their devotional times together.

This collection of resources by some of the member care sector’s most prominent practitioners is too good to be kept a secret!

School for TCKs

This month our resident adult TCK Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her experience of being educated abroad.

So how did I become so fabulously educated, growing up in the wilderness of a third world country?  All of us went to Brazilian primary school, and for secondary transferred to an International British School.  That meant going where the British school was, in second-biggest metropolis in the world.

Going to a British school overseas was glorious.  It was the poshest school in town, and we studied in company with the state President’s grandchildren.  I remember one boy announcing to me that his grandmother had funded one of the largest bridges in town (I’m still not entirely sure what he wanted me to do with that information. Ask her for money?).  Another had received kidnapping threats, so he had two bodyguards whenever we went on field trips.  Of course it did mean we got dead good birthday presents from our school friends, but then we had to wear a bizarre uniform: pinafores and blazers are weird in a country where jeans and a t-shirt are the standard school uniform.

It also meant we lived away from home in a special house, called the hostel (nicknamed the mental hospital).  We were looked after by the lucky missionary couple who pulled the short straw to look after that madhouse.  It was unique.  Having people who aren’t your parents making decisions about your life is surprisingly stressful on a kid.  I dreaded spending time with them so much that I would rather go to school if I had the flu (through no fault of that unfortunate longsuffering couple’s, may I add).

In Brazil there were always bars on the windows, which to me meant we were trying to keep someone out.  Whoever that someone was, they presumably wanted to attack me (hence the bars); it happened on the news all the time.  So I kept the door to my room open so I could run out into the (in my head) safer communal areas of the house in case that happened.  The only problem with my cunning plan was that Auntie Betty* (our housemother) used to vacuum every morning, including on Saturdays.  Today I can applaud her cleanliness, but at the time I cursed it (not with actual curse words, I was a missionary kid after all; but I think she got the gist…).

The day that I asked (I say I asked, but it might possibly have come across as a criticism) why she was ironing my nightgown, we finally had our bust-up.  I got told off for being rude to her, and from then on I decided to keep my opinions and my feelings to myself.  For years after that crying was hard for me – it was just a sign of weakness.

So the salient feature for school for me wasn’t actually school, which was excellent by any standards, but the separation it entailed, and the differentness that it gave us.  Like so much in life, it wasn’t the experience itself that mattered so much as the people I met, and their reactions to me.

*name changed

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Editorial comment

Education for their children is one of the biggest concerns of most mission workers who have young children.  The trauma of long-term separation, the risk of compromising a child’s future by not giving them the best educational opportunities, and the sheer cost of some of the alternatives weigh heavily on many people’s hearts.  However many TCKs grow up to be well-rounded, sociable people who look back on their school experience as a time of building lasting relationships with people from all around the world.

Options for educating TCKs include homeschooling, using the local education system (and quite frankly many people’s concerns that the schools in the countries they’re serving in don’t reach the standards of their sending country are frequently unfounded), leaving children ‘at home’ with friends or relatives, sending children to international schools in a major city or sending them away to boarding schools (Christian or otherwise).

There are no easy answers as the ideal situation will depend on each family, and the options available to them.  However we recommend that you read the excellent articles published on the website of our good friends at Oscar.

England – land of bitter sweets

This week adult TCK (Third Culture Kid) Gill Gouthwaite reflects on what it meant to come ‘home’ to England as a missionary kid.

To me, England was a land of aniseed balls and liquorice, sticks of rock and gobstoppers, dolly mixtures and wine gums.  It was a land of daisies and dandelions, cowslip and hawthorn, where the most dangerous nature got was the occasional bramble or rose-thorn, or on a particularly bad day, a nettle sting.   Food was sausage rolls and quiche, scalding hot tea or instant coffee in church cups (never with sugar, which rots your teeth in England, though presumably not in Brazil), smoky barbeques in spring showers, aspartame-flavoured orange squash and overdone lamb.  Hillwalking in cagoules, wet feet, the excitement of clambering over a stile, of reaching the summit and being lifted to stand proudly atop the trig point, eating soggy sandwiches, and sipping a well-deserved taste of mint liqueur at the local pub after a long day’s walking.  The Beano and the Dandy, stamps printed with pretty pictures, the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  This was England.

Naturally I knew when we returned that I didn’t know what the English were like.  Logically I knew this, but in my heart they were a simple, sweet people who saw my parents – and me by association – as heroes, willing to leave Everything to do the Will of God.

But to people at school this was not who I was.  I was the Brazilian girl who, disappointingly, turned out not have luxurious Latin locks or olive skin…  I was the American who had never lived north of Mexico.  I was the English girl who wasn’t even born here.  I had the right to whichever countries they chose, when they chose.  England, it seemed, was a land of Eurovision politics and sarcasm, of ‘health and safety’, of the infernal ‘Spice Girls’ and of  ‘Steps’, where one could dislike any and all of these things, but one must absolutely know who they were and why one disliked them.  England was also a place of profound ignorance and apathy about international suffering, which, when it impinged on one’s consciousness, could be assuaged by putting £2 in Oxfam’s collection bucket.

This was how I felt for years.  Things have changed now, both in me and in this, one of my countries.  But the changes did not come easily, or quickly.  I wish now that someone had taken me under their wing and taught me why it is that we don’t like Eurovision, but still we watch it; who ‘Posh Spice’ was, and to pity her; and to laugh aloud at the absurdity of a ‘wet floor’ sign in a shower room.  I could not laugh then, but now I do, by the grace of God.

 

Gill still likes to stand proudly atop trig points, but no longer needs to be lifted. . .

Enculturation or resistance – a dilemma for Nepali believers

Nepal“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12.14

In a country where 95% of the population is Hindu, we live in an environment where almost all our Nepali neighbours, colleagues and friends are Hindu.  This weekend was Holi, one of the multiple Hindu festivals that punctuate the calendar here on an almost weekly basis.  Like many such festivals, its origins vary greatly, but in Nepal it is associated with the god Krishna who is known for his playfulness and his charm with women.

The festival, appropriately known as the festival of colours, is celebrated by showering friends and family with water and coloured powders.  Excitement builds as brightly coloured water pistols of different sizes appear in the shops.  Many find it hard to wait for the day itself, and for up to 2 weeks beforehand children and teenagers will delight to throw water balloons at unsuspecting passers-by.  Our boys were thrilled when visitors left a gift of two water pistols for them.  We were less thrilled at having to face the issue as to whether or not they should be allowed play Holi, even as several other missionary families from school planned water parties for the day.

These festivals however raise serious questions for many Nepali Christians.  Their frequency and their interwoven-ness with social life here are a significant challenge to separating oneself from Hindu religious practice and ritual, something the church feels is essential to its identity.  Hinduism is a religion that embraces multiple deities, religious teachings and practices, and many Hindus are happy to include Jesus Christ in their pantheon of gurus and leaders.  The church feels it is important to take a stand that clearly reflects their faithfulness to Christ as their one and only Saviour, without the confusion of practices that may have Hindu origins.

Weddings are an example of an occasion that is steeped in Hindu rituals, and thus it is that Christians not only marry in a church ceremony, but that the brides also generally wear a Western style pink or white gown. The fear is that the traditional red and gold wedding sari may carry some significance for Hindu observers and prevent them from clearly distinguishing the Christian faith.  Dashai is the largest Hindu festival in Nepal, lasting several days and involving much animal sacrifice and the exchange of Hindu tikka between family members.  Associated with long holidays and much socializing, non-Christians tend to liken it to our Christmas (we beg to differ!).  But for many Nepali Christians, it is a time of real conflict, feeling isolated from their community and being torn between their family and their faith.  To borrow the allegory, imagine if you as an individual had to choose not to participate in any aspect of the Christmas festivities your friends and family enjoy: the parties, decorations, meals, gifts, let alone the religious ceremonies.  The church is aware of the immense pressure and sense of isolation that many feel at this time, and so usually organises several days of events at churches for Christians to attend and enjoy together, including meals served with meat (butchered, not sacrificed) as a treat.

Some outsiders criticise what they see as the church’s inability to distinguish between cultural and religious practice, and its failure to explore a truly Nepali expression of Christianity.  They fear that this attitude only reinforces the concept that Christianity is a foreign religion and that Nepali Christians are not truly Nepali, an accusation frequently made by Hindu fundamentalists.  But I am not sure that any of us non-Nepalis can fully understand their experience as a minority (at times, persecuted) faith in this country, nor their struggle for recognition in a land where the ‘secular’ government provides massive subsidies for Hindu sites and festivals.  Many Nepali Christians report that even in this day when Nepal is supposed to have freedom of religion, some Christians experience being cut out of their inheritance, denied land that is rightfully theirs, or being thrown out of their families because they have converted.  It is not an easy or light choice that people make, and they usually endure far more than we ever will for their faithfulness to Christ.

So what to do about our boys valid hopes to try out their new water pistols, and join in the water fights and fun outside our apartment for Holi?  At church, we referred the matter to our Nepali pastor, who gently but unwaveringly stated that none of the other children from the church would be playing Holi.  After the service, the church showed a film and provided snacks for the congregation as alternative entertainment for the afternoon.  Our family instead braved the streets again and went home for our ‘traditional’ sabbath nap.  When the boys woke up, the children next door were already out on the empty lot waiting for Mark to start a game of baseball.  Grabbing mitts and bat, the boys headed out, water pistols left lying in our storeroom, waiting for another day.

This blog is an edited version of an article by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal, where she lives with her husband Mark and two sons.  To read the full version, follow this link.

Change – an MK reflects on the only constant

Source: www.freeimages.com

Language is what we use to describe the world.  The philosopher Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language define the limits of my world,” and speaking two languages, as MKs often do, expands those limits.

In Portuguese the word that means you miss someone or something is saudades.  Saudades is such an expressive word that the Wikipedia article for it is over 3,000 words long.  It expresses a longing that gnaws; it is the sense that a part of you is gone and has left a gaping chasm where your breastbone should be.  I’m glad to know the word; without it I would still have the feeling, but not be able to express it.

Being an MK isn’t all mangos and cream.  Difficulty and loss are frequent companions on what can be a lonely road.  By the time I was 13 my home had moved 13 times.  Twice I moved back to a place I had already lived in, but the problem is that those who say ‘you can never go home’ are right.  Once you’ve left, even if you do go back it won’t be the same.  The people have changed, you have changed, the place has changed.  You can rebuild, but not from where you left off.  Weeds will have grown in between the cracks, rain will have swept the earth from beneath your feet.

And things are different in every new place.  Always different.  Rules are different everywhere.  Should I call my teacher by her first name (and title), or her surname?  Why does that lady from church call me ‘filha!’ (daughter) when she tells me off?  I’m NOT her daughter!

New school, new church, new ‘home’.  God and family were the only constants.  So my identity was change; I was the exotic one who was new, the one who always knew she would soon be leaving.

Gill Gouthwaite grew up as an MK in Brazil with her four sisters and English-speaking parents from different countries.

A celebration of life as a Mission Kid

This week Gill Gouthwaite reflects on her multi-cultural childhood in Brazil…

Growing up an MK is marvellous.  It’s a gift of many facets.  Some of the facets are bright and clear; others are, well, a bit hazier…

I was born into three countries, to parents of different nationalities.  We lived in Brazil. Where we lived it got so hot that if we parked the car in the sun we couldn’t touch the seatbelt handles without burning ourselves.  When it rained I’d be soaked to the skin in 20 seconds if I couldn’t find shelter.

It was great being an MK though, because it helped me appreciate my life in ways that would have been very difficult if I’d been brought up monocultural, or indeed if I’d had less awareness of my own fortunate position in the world.

There are five of us children – all girls, all blonde.  When we met anyone new they always loved us.  ‘Five?’ they’d say, ‘All girls? They’re so cute/sweet/adorable/such darlings/like dolls!’  They’d gently stroke our heads.  Then, as they caught a glimpse of my father, they’d remember that none of us would grow up to carry on the family name.  The astonishment they expressed reflected both the improbability of having five fair-haired children of the same gender, and a touch of horrified compassion for my heir-less parents.  The reaction was simultaneously flattering and insulting.

Now that self-effacing Britishness has entered my bones, it’s embarrassing to admit how great it was to grow up being automatically popular, even though I knew it was because of where I came from.  Of course, returning to Britain, where I had to explain that missionary parents did not go from house to house with tracts (very often), was a bit of a culture shock.  The difference in the way people treat you without reference to anything you’ve actually done does make clearer the passing quality of human praise.  Humbling.

The most beautiful aspect of my childhood, if I had to choose, would have to be insight.  As an MK I got entry into very different worlds, from the very poorest people and churches to the wide diversity of (always richer and better-educated, though not always particularly more content) churches in the UK where our mission was based, to the world of expatriates abroad, which I’m afraid I was always a little disparaging of… so how much real insight I got from that I can’t say!

I think that being exposed from early childhood to very different cultural expectations has given me a greater generosity towards those who see things differently from the way I do, and when someone does something to upset me it makes me look first for a source of miscommunication rather than assuming that they see things the same way I do.  Looking for common ground with people from all sorts of different backgrounds blossoms into a richness of life, relationship and experience which is what I value most about my upbringing.

Gill and her four sisters all have different perspectives on their childhood as MKs.  Gill is going to be a regular contributor to this website, reflecting on the blessings and challenges of such an upbringing, celebrating life and commiserating with those who are still struggling to adapt, often many years later.  We hope this will form the focus of an MK discussion, so if you’d like to join in the chat, please use the comments box. If you’d like to talk confidentially about your experiences, email mk@syzygy.org.uk