Why should we treat Third Culture Kids as kids?

As Interserve’s Third Culture Kids (TCK) Advocate, I was recently challenged to reflect on the importance of engaging and effectively debriefing with children growing up in a culture which is not their own.

I attended a seminar where the speaker Ruth Van Reken, a well-respected voice in the sector, raised the point that cross-cultural organisations and oftentimes parents can overlook the needs of children in the context of living in a new culture. It may be assumed that the children are well-adjusted and adaptable but perhaps there are still experiences and emotions that have not been addressed. Debriefing provides the essential opportunity to talk about their feelings – the highs and lows of growing up as a third culture kid.

Tanya Crossman is another well-known voice in the TCK world and in her book Misunderstood, several children share their experiences and the challenges that brought. Tanya highlights the need to acknowledge that TCKs are uniquely positioned as children of parents who have chosen to serve cross-culturally and therefore need to be supported in that way.

Tanya offers a window of understanding from the perspective of TCKs, as seen in the following testimony:

“‘I love the experiences I had as a TCK – they are a treasure trove of memories. What I don’t like is that I didn’t have a choice in the matter as a kid. I always felt that it was my parents who had chosen to be missionaries and not myself… It was really wonderful to be met by a TCK worker where I was treated as a kid rather than as a missionary.’ – Karissa, 23″ (Misunderstood, pp36-37)

What TCKs need is someone to listen to them without judgment, to advocate for them and to validate their feelings – both positive and negative.

Tanya highlights something we may often forget:

“A number of MKs felt resentment toward their parents for choices made on their behalf… They may believe in what their parents are doing, think it is great, and yet have negative feelings about their experiences… They may feel guilty about these feelings, believing it makes them ‘bad people’ especially when it is felt as a religious imperative. This resentment and guilt may be buried, result in passive-aggressive behaviour or only re-emerge later in life.” (Misunderstood, p34)


So what is the role of a TCK advocate?  

Essentially, to walk alongside and help TCKs debrief. This may include allowing them tosafely share their story, looking at highlights and lowlights of their experiences, unpacking feelings, as well as voicing hopes and fears for the future.  This offers TCKs space to process what they’ve been through and helps make sense of their identity and affirms them as an individual. It many cases it will help bring closure and help them invest in the next season of life, whatever that may be.

Most importantly, caring for TCKs involves affirming their story – each one is valued by the family, the organisation, and by God. As TCK advocate I feel privileged to be able to help families and organisations care for TCKs better.

This blog was written by Kath, TCK Advocate.
You can find out more about her work and how to support her here.

All images are representative only.

So, am I called or not?

My Entourage

Serving cross-culturally often begins with a call from God into this ministry. Sounds straight-forward, right? Well, not really. As you can see from the stories in this edition of Go, people experience “call” in many different ways and some of our established ideas about “call” are often challenged during the journey.

Firstly, we often think that call needs to be something that is specific and direct. However, aspects of the call can be just as valid when they are general and indirect. Scripture is full of statements which call us all to sacrificially serve Christ throughout our world. This general call is so powerful that we could argue that no further specific calling is necessary, or that not to serve in this way demands a clear call. Furthermore, our knowledge of the immense needs in a hurting world surely constitute such a compelling indirect call that a direct call from above should hardly be necessary. However, what emerges from these stories is that obedience to explore what the general call to be missional means for us personally often leads to specific and direct aspects of this call on our lives.

Through the hole

Secondly, how the call to cross-cultural service develops is often as much about common sense as about extraordinary events. We already have gifts and abilities that we believe God has called us to thus far. How can we use them in another culture? How can we develop and grow spiritually and professionally as we explore God’s purposes for us? But beyond our common sense we need to remember that God’s call is to be a particular kind of person over and above what job or location he calls us to. This is where we should start to look for His call; the practical will unfold as we remain faithful and obedient.

Thirdly, we need to be open to change during the journey. Sometimes, we get the message wrong and God needs to change us. As Bernie found (GO Magazine ONE 2016, Interserve Australia), “It was a very fluid yet intentional process”. We may be clinging on to false dreams. We can also mistake circumstances or closed doors as direction from God when it may be a test of our resolve or an attack of the evil one. Discerning the differences is not always easy, but God remains faithful and will continue to patiently guide, shepherd and grow us.

Amman Jordan

Finally, our personal call is not just between us and God. We are part of the body of Christ – a community on which there is also a call. Our church, family, friends and, yes, even our mission agency are also collectively called to discern God’s will for the body of Christ in this world. This can be a challenge to Western individuality and independence, but this was firmly part of the early church’s missional strategy and is still a powerful aspect of faith in action among other cultures. Let the Christian community speak into your life. Be prepared to let go, remembering that God’s voice is often heard through His people.

We need to be sure of God’s leading as we seek to serve cross-culturally. It’s a big undertaking with a lot at stake. And it will be this call that sustains us when the going gets tough. However, if we are open, our call will keep developing as God continues His work in us, not just as His servants but as His children.

Shared by our new Church and Community Engagement Director. He and his wife recently returned from serving in the Middle East.


New wineskins

3 new songs for local comm. needsM

We have largely viewed theology and missiology through the lens of individualism. This worked in practice because the traditional mission world came from those with a largely individualistic worldview. The church and missions movement has the exciting possibility of growing in richness and maturity as those with a largely community-based worldview begin to influence it. What are the implications of such a change in our missions paradigm?

Interserve faces the challenge of developing ‘new wine skins’. Simply tweaking the old system, sewing up the seams that are straining from the content of the new thing that God is doing, is not going to be adequate to enable us successfully to navigate through the years ahead. We need to discover a new method of Biblically-driven, value-based collaboration. The reality of Missio Dei must permeate the whole of missions – the Mission is His.

This means our primary mission narrative is about God transforming a nation through the Interserve community rather than an individual going somewhere to do a piece of work and asking churches to come alongside and support them. Of course, individuals make up that community, but an individual’s calling only finds its validity within the purposes that God is achieving through the community.

It will require us to move away from a focus on our individual ministries to being a part of the bigger picture of God’s work in a nation. We will need to be able to have the wisdom to see how God is connecting the dots of the seemingly unrelated work of our Partners in a nation to achieve His purposes through us. It will require us to surrender to His purposes rather than hold on to ours.

And who is equal to such a task? We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.


Dr Bijoy Koshy is the International Director of Interserve.