What MKs wish their supporting churches knew

Perspective and words of advice from one who grew up in a missionary family

by Missionary Kid Ron Snell

This article appeared in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly. © by Ron Snell, Used by permission

I sit in the middle of the back seat of a large green car -- a donated gas guzzler with rather loose steering connections. I'm sitting way in the back with my younger sisters. Obviously, when it was time to argue for the best seats for our ride to church, I lost.

They say that we are on home assignment. That word "home" bothers me, though, because, as far as we kids are concerned, "home" is the other country we just came from. But nobody understands that when we walk in the door of the church.

"Welcome home," they say, gushing over their missionaries. Dad and Mom greet them warmly, hug them, say how good it is to see them, and introduce us: "Terry, Ronny, Sandy, Melody." Born in that order.

"My, how you've all grown," these greeters tell us for the skulzillionth time. We don't remember ever seeing them before. To us, they are complete strangers, though we have been told over and over again how important they are to our lives and to our parents' ministry of Bible translation.

"They've supported us and prayed for you kids since you were born," we were reminded this morning when we asked, "Do we have to go to another church?" We want to try to be grateful, but we have no relationship with them deeper than the pictorial church directory we get every couple of years. As a matter of fact, we don't even know our aunts and uncles very well.

With big smiles, those people invite us to split up and go to different Sunday school classes. Melody, the youngest, clings to Mom. The rest of us only look back longingly as we march politely to separate classes. We know how to look confident and enthusiastic on the outside because we've practiced at a dozen other churches. On the inside, however, we feel lonely, inept, and uncool.

"Ronny, it's so good to have you today," says the Sunday school teacher, who sat in Sunday school with my mother when they were both little girls. "Come up to the front and tell the class a little bit about where you're from."

I did, talking about Peru where I grew up with the Machiguenga Indians. Kids look blank. At 12 years old, I had had the most interesting life of anyone sitting in the room: riding rafts down wild rivers, helping care for dying Indians, climbing thorn trees in the dark to escape a herd of stampeding peccaries, speaking three languages, teaching a Machiguenga man to read, eating monkeys and macaws, and living life in the Amazon rainforest. I don't say much about any of that because I know from long and painful experiences that these kids don't care very much. In middle school, what they care about are each other's hair, clothes, and shoes. Most don't have a clue where Peru is.

So how do you reach out to a missionary kid who is on home assignment?

For starters, let's just admit that it's not easy or natural. They come to you from a completely different world and are going through a culture shock that neither you nor they understand. Still, there are significant things you can do to help:

Third-culture kids

Next Their experiences and heritage make missionary kids part of a larger grouping called "third-culture kids." [ more ]

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Afterword: Examples of Mks

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