What was it like growing up as a missionary kid? Many parents have asked me that over the years, and I haven’t always known what to say. We’re this elusive tribe that quietly takes up a majority of the mission field, but what would we say if we had the chance? These are five (of many) things your missionary kid wants you to know. To know more, all you need to do is ask.
1. I’m Not Normal.
When Jesus announced the Great Commission to the disciples, I doubt they imagined the children of those who would “go into all the world.” However, the nature of missions from then to today is that people cross the borders of cultures and countries, and have families along the way. That’s exactly what happened in my family. My two oldest brothers were born in New Zealand, the next in Hong Kong, and I was born and raised in Hawaii.
As a result, I never really knew what it meant to be nationalistic for one country. In history class in Kona, I learned about the cruel British stealing the freedom of the Colonial Americans. Then I’d go home to hear my dad explaining the brutality of both sides of the war. It was impossible to take sides in debates—both cultures were a part of me. Even children who grow up in the same nation as their parents, yet in a multicultural place like a YWAM campus, will not have the same loyalties or traditions. As a parent, you have the opportunity to embrace their complexity, all facets of it.
2. I’m Normal
There comes a point when a missionary kid can get tired of feeling like a weird combination or novelty. Even though your child might think completely different than you, at the end of the day, your child is still exactly that: your child. They want a place to belong and call home, not a zoo cage to be studied in. They want to be loved, listened to, and looked after. Even though their cultural identity influences how you do that, it doesn’t mean you forget they’re still your child, and their identity needs something even more permanent than culture.
3. Let Me Feel What I’m Feeling
For most of my life, I was the poster child for optimism. Wherever we traveled, I was stoked. If it was the Outback of Australia to see my uncle’s farm, I couldn’t wait. If it was to the Midwest of America for my parents to staff a YWAM course—I was all in. Some of my fellow missionary kids weren’t as optimistic about getting dragged across the globe, but I loved it. All this traveling is what makes an MK rich in understanding and experience.
But in high school, I discovered that the many little losses over time need to be grieved, too. Acknowledging those losses with your children, communicating when it is hard for you too, and bringing these burdens to God is vital to transition well as a family. “What do you miss about… ?” should not be a dangerous question. God “heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3) and is not intimidated by tears. All the change is an opportunity to grow closer not only to God, but to your family. All you need to do is start the conversation.
4. Keep Me Close
One of the things I valued most growing up was that I was included in what my parents were doing. Even when I heard my dad’s story about “God is the God of ice cream” a hundred times, I still loved to be sitting in class seeing how God was speaking to students. My mom invited me to share and always introduced me to the people she was serving. That meant the world.
My parents didn’t just keep me close physically, but spiritually, too. When my parents were invited to be on staff of a DTS in the American Midwest, they didn’t say yes without talking and praying with us first. At eleven years old, when we prayed I pictured a house with a tree covered in red leaves at the front. That year, I had my first real autumn, in that very house. Being included in the decision empowered me, gave me confidence that I could hear God for myself, and I felt connected to my family more than ever before.
5. Release Me.
We YWAM Kids formed a bit of a gang growing up. Like any gang, we had common complaints that usually turned into jokes. One was that no one knew who you were were until you mentioned one word: your parent’s name. For some of my friends, they got sick of it. Me? I got so comfortable with slotting into the slipstream of my parent’s fame that I didn’t know how to continue a conversation when people didn’t know my family. It was only when I moved out of home that I started to get a sense of my value outside people’s expectations of me.
Missionary Kids often get the specific gifts and talents of their parents and carry on the family legacy. However, your child also has something unique that God “fearfully and wonderfully made” in them (Psalm 139:14). Their purpose may look completely different than yours — and you get to release them to be who and where God calls them, even if it’s where you least expect it.
By Kayla Norris