I think this is going to be a somewhat shorter post, but I wanted to get something down on paper or cyber space or somewhere before it gets lost in the storm of life, events, work, priorities, responsibilities and whatever else blows around in where thinking happens. Much has been written about TCKs (third culture kids), who eventually became ATCKs (adult third culture kids) some of whom became parents of, by this time would it be fourth maybe fifth culture kids? And much of course has been written about the missionaries themselves.
I was thinking the other day about my parents and other missionaries of sixty or seventy years ago and was brought up short by the realization that as a kid, I, and I’m guessing many other MKs as well, didn’t begin to understand the emotional and physical trauma our parents had experienced in leaving their countries of origin. It wasn’t till years later that I understood, or I should say, began to understand, what they had gone through. In many cases missionaries were plunked down in some forgotten jungle location and left to carry on the best they could. To be clear this was not because of having slipped off the radar of mission leadership or having ‘fallen through the cracks’, it was the way missions were done back then. That thinking was reflected in my father’s words when he told me that once he’d made it to the jungle with his family he didn’t expect to ever make it back home. I assume he’d talked it over with my mother and that she felt the same way, and had nevertheless been willing to go.
But to us as kids wherever our family happened to be in the jungle, life was what it was. We didn’t have a very big template in our memory bank to remind us of a former place of doing life and what that life used to be. Obviously the change would have impacted the children a whole lot more if they had been older when their parents moved overseas. When my mom and dad moved to the jungle three kids of us were very young and the other three were born out there.
In terms of a really great place to live and work, the little town on the confluence of three rivers where my parents first settled was a long way from being ideal. The move had been way harder than they had imagined. And moved to what? They found nothing to keep them there, nothing that is other than the rock solid conviction that God wanted them there and that was all they needed. While our parents were grappling with all the adjustments life was throwing at them including, of course, their concern, dare I say worry, about the kids’ health and well being in that strange place; we as kids were learning and coping like all kids everywhere. Since we didn’t know anything different it was normal to us. We couldn’t know what our parents were going through.
I remember my father trying time and again to get us down river to a dentist for check ups but every time something made it impossible. As faithful as clock work every six months my mother made us swallow pills the size of robin eggs called castroids to get rid of parasites. And my mother really did try to keep our feet shod with the sandals the local folks wore but it was a losing battle. Soon we were as barefoot as the town boys we played tops and marbles with. Since my father was the field director it fell to my mother to host visitors coming through on their way to wherever. I say my mother because my father likely as not, was travelling either up or down river on mission business. At conference time or when the missionaries had to gather in town to await the granting of a new permit, the single guys would take the boys swimming and even play tic-tac-toe with us. Some of the single lady missionaries helped the married ladies with the schooling of their children. I know for a fact that this was a great blessing for my mother. As I remember it the impossibility of getting a consistent organized approach to schooling brought many tears forth both from my mother’s and my eyes. Later the school for missionaries children would become a reality and great blessing for both the missionaries and their children.
I don’t remember my parents discussing conditions wherever we lived out there in the jungle in a comparative way with life back on the farm. There were many times and situations that were discussed in light of the difficulties that presented themselves, but I don’t remember ever hearing my parents wish they were back on the farm. Their commitment to their God and the mission to which He had called them as far as I know never wavered.
What I do remember is as the years went by, we as kids became more and more involved in the work my parents were doing. Their passion and zeal for the work they had come to do was catching. This was true of all my siblings as well as a number of other MKs in that country and in that era. We wanted to be part of what moved and motivated our parents. In time we came to own their mission and work. I say own in the sense that we began to embrace the responsibility to see it through. Our parent’s urgency and passion became our own. What they said which was a reflection of how and what they thought, what they did and why they did it, how and for what they prayed, those values they modeled became our values.
The love of Christ compelled our parents to present themselves “as a living sacrifice, holy acceptable unto God”, which they had come to see as their reasonable service. When those of us who were third culture kids, became adult third culture kids, eventually became parents of fourth or fifth culture kids, we came to understand a little better what our parents had experienced when they had come to the jungle. This was because we by then had experienced a little of what life had been like for them in their home country before giving that all up because of the love of Christ. I remain convinced however that I will never know the full emotional and physical price my parents paid to take the the Gospel to where it had not been known. I think that is a secret, a sacred secret shared only between them and the God and Savior they love so dearly and for whom they gave everything. Can you imagine sharing your heart with the Trinity and hearing what your redemption had cost God? Well I think they keep asking to hear that story over and over again and will keep asking for an endless eternity. Because God is God He’s able to have that personal tender touch with every one of His children as individuals.
I finish with just a few things about my sister Sara. She had been born right after mom and dad returned to the country of these posts from furlough. The days, weeks, months and several years rolled by and once again it was time for furlough. Sara by now was five or so years old and had been out of the jungle very few times and maybe never at all. The family came down river by boat and was met at the port (mentioned in several previous posts, notably ‘watching the boats’) by the truck which took everybody, their baggage etc. into town. It had a wooden rack and an out board motor was fastened on the rack on the rear of the truck. It was a convenient and safe place for the motor to ride. Sara who had never seen a truck in real life before assumed the outboard was going to power the truck on its way to town. Seeing grama and grampa had of course been part of the discussion as the family anticipated furlough. Sara had never seen a road. She wanted to know if her grandparents lived close to the river bank. All the real life houses she had seen were perched on the bank of some jungle river. She also wanted to know if the port where canoes docked at her grandparents place had nice steps cut into the bank. Where she had lived all her life, all houses were on a river bank and if the house had a decent port, steps for climbing the bank would have been cut into the clay. In dry season the distance from the water level to the top of the bank was many feet and very steep. When the river rose the next wet season the steps would be washed away which meant of course they’d have to be recut.
Today, for some of us, those days of long ago are just as clear in our minds as if they had happened yesterday. And tomorrow and the next day and the next and the day after that…………..