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

Leave a Reply