How Can Sending Churches Care for Missionary Kids?

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This is Part Two of a two-part series.

Sending churches often talk about caring for their missionaries. But what about missionary kids? How can sending churches help them? When I say “missionary kids,” I’m referring to those who are currently living overseas and those in your churches right now.

Here are a few ideas that come to mind.

1. Pray specifically for them.

Missionaries with children may live in “exotic locations”; their lives may be fascinating, at least compared to yours. But their families have good days and bad days—just like yours. They have fights, they go to school, and they celebrate holidays—just like you.

Sending churches ought to know the lives of their missionary families. When praying for the children of these missionaries, try to pray for the MK’s:

  • language learning
  • schooling options
  • ability to make new friends
  • spiritual walk

The list could go on. As a church, perhaps ask various small groups to pray for different MKs. Ask them to write letters, letting them know you are thinking and praying for them. And of course, pray for their salvation!

2. Recognize that being a missionary kid doesn’t mean they are “mini-missionaries.” 

Families go to the field because the parents lead them there. In almost every case, the children didn’t choose to move. Some MKs are passionate about their relationship with the Lord; others aren’t.

Put simply, most MKs aren’t missionaries; some aren’t even Christians. While they may hear about Jesus a lot, they usually have a wide variety of beliefs. They may often explain Christianity to others, but they may not receive much personal discipleship on the field. If you get the opportunity to either visit MKs on field or host them while on furlough, don’t assume they are believers. Instead, ask them about their beliefs, give them space to express why they believe what they do, and ultimately love and share the gospel with them no matter what. 

3. Make long-term commitments to your missionaries.

When a church partners with a missionary family for one trip, they may help for a week or two. But by establishing long-term commitments, the church will continue to love and support missionary families. When this happens, MKs are more likely to feel remembered, cared for, supported, and anchored to a loving church from afar. Furthermore, when they return to the States, they return to family and friends they’ve known and loved for years.

Enduring relationships offer stability to MKs who move around a lot. Long-term mission commitments help MKs feel like they’re not forgotten or alone. They have a church family who knows them, and is cheering for them![1]

4. Expect kids to be kids.

MKs are just that—kids. There’s a good chance they see the world differently than you based on their experiences around the world. They are, after all, Third Culture Kids. They like different foods, play different games, and speak a different language in their sleep.

I want to offer particular advice for how sending churches can care for MKs who are living on their own for the first time.

  • Hospitality. Have MKs in your homes, feed them dinner, and get to know them. This is especially true for college-aged MKs whose parents might be halfway around the world. Perhaps ask some of your church’s empty-nesters to “adopt” an MK. Or connect them to older MKs who are already in your church. This doesn’t need to be an official program, but having people you trust acting as a bridge between MKs and your church will help them get acclimated to their passport country. This might take time, and it will involve more than a few social gaffes on both sides. But a willingness to listen and to extend your hand first will pay huge dividends down the road.
  • Discipleship. Discipleship is a natural extension of hospitality. If there are MK believers in your church, then disciple them! Sometimes MKs will be perceived as spiritually mature just because we grew up on the mission field. But that’s not necessarily the case. So disciple MKs through their transition by keeping them focused on Christ and not on themselves.
  • Practical help. Your church should regularly ask MKs if they need help with various things in life. Perhaps think of them in the same way you would an international student or recent immigrant. Do they have reliable transportation? Do they need to learn how to drive or get a driver’s license? Even if the MKs you encounter don’t need much help in these areas, they’ll be encouraged by your thoughtfulness. It shows them you’ve thought about their unique situation, and it can embolden them to ask for help in other areas. Hopefully, as MKs see the church investing in them, it will encourage them to invest back into the church.

Conclusion and Further Reading

As I mentioned in the first article in this series, I struggled with identity and the idea of home as a kid. But now, as an adult and a believer, I can confidently tell people that my eternal home is in heaven and my family is the church. This truth emboldens me to share the gospel. However, not all MKs have had the same experience.

This brief introduction to the topic is neither universal nor exhaustive. I simply wanted to provide some quick ideas to help and a few questions to ask. If you want more information about MKs/TCKs and our various problems, gifts, and experiences, then your best bet is to ask us! But apart from that, I’ve added some further reading below that will help those who want to learn more.

My prayer is that your church would make disciples of all nations, which includes the kids of the missionaries you’ve sent out. We’re an interesting bunch—full of stories and experiences, rich with cross-cultural insights and ideas, and sometimes deep wells of grief. We need Christ as much as anyone, and as Christians we have the potential to serve your churches in unique and God-honoring ways.

So don’t forget us. But also: don’t place us on a pedestal just because of where we grew up. Instead, just love us, care for us, and point us to Jesus, as we hope to do the same for you.

[1] I am grateful to Hannah Clark Maynard for her contribution on these points.


Further Reading:

Crossman, Tanya. Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century. UK: Summertime Publishing, 2016.

Pollock, David C, Ruth E. Van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock. Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, 3rd ed. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2017.

https://www.alifeoverseas.com/- A blog run by foreign workers about living life overseas.

Bowers, Joyce M. Editor. Raising Resilient MKs. Colorado Springs: Association of Christian Schools International, 1998.

Bushong, Lois, J. Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: How to Counsel the Globally Mobile. Indianapolis: Mango Tree Intercultural Services, 2014.

Gardner, Marilyn. Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. South Hadley, MA: Doorlight Publications, 2014.

See also her website: https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/

Van Reken, Ruth. Letters Never Sent. London: Summertime Publishing, 2012.

Gregg Turner Jr.

Gregg Turner Jr. is a missionary kid who grew up in Asia.

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