This was our choice, right? As we respond to God guidance into cross cultural ministry, sometimes even long before we have children, the questions about our kids hound our every step. Will the sacrifices and stresses of ministry life embitter our kids? Will they reject us, or worse, will they turn from God as the result of the choices we’ve made?
We left the United States in 1993 with three small children: Nathan, 5, Matthew, 3, and Lauren, 2. Our fourth, Megan, was born in 1995. Just as we had prayed to discern God’s direction into ministry, we again went to Him for wisdom for this monumental move. God graciously guided us through each transition. As we prayed and sought ministry opportunities, we determined to involve our kids in every part of the ministry that we could. We continued praying that God would work in our kid’s hearts from early on and give them joy in taking part in what we were doing. He did just that. They prayed with us through fund-raising, language learning, and church planting, and willingly joined in most aspects of ministry life. They helped us with children’s ministries, passed out scripture calendars at Christmas, set up for church in a hotel, worked in a youth center in the community, and many other outreaches. They were with us for countless hours at the table for many meals we hosted over those years. They gave up their rooms for guests and helped us as we organized and hosted various groups who came on missions’ trips. They participated with us when we were asked to help start Little League Baseball in our town, and they all joined in when we were invited to walk in the Medieval parade to celebrate our ancient town for several years. They prayed with us for the strengthening of the church and for the lost all around us and listened as we shared the gospel with people in and through our daily lives. We prayed with them for their schoolmates and friends, and we rejoiced in the opportunities they had to share the gospel with them. The work God gave us to do was woven into our family’s life. We are so grateful to look back with joy and see how God graciously used us, as a family, to share His truth with others.
Though our joys were many, the trials and difficulties were there as well, and they drove us to our knees together. The transition into Italian culture was difficult for our introverted kids. We cried out to God for them and walked through the struggle with them. We were concerned about their schooling, and God gave us wisdom and grace to make those decisions for each child. The return trips to the US to report to our 30 churches were exhausting and emotionally draining. We prayed together through these times and talked to our kids about what they were experiencing. God gave us great joy and contentment even through these days.
As we have talked with our adult children about what advice or exhortations, they might give others from their experience as a TCK (Third Culture Kids), five imperatives have surfaced:
- Begin and end with God’s Truth. There will always be struggles in this sinful world when we seek to live in a way that magnifies God and communicates the gospel to others. Making sure we seek a sound understanding of God’s Sovereignty, His Gospel, and our total dependence upon Him helps to provide “absolutes” in an ever-changing world for a TCK.
- Stay in the Word together, pray about everything together, and serve Christ’s church together. These may seem obvious, but the demanding life of the ministry can cause you to put a lower priority on these things. They are vital to Christ- centered parenting, no matter where you live.
- Guard your marriage. Whenever kids see us doing things to protect and build our marriage, it communicates that we agree with the value that God gives to marriage. Many relationships for a TCK lack stability, so the example of their parent’s healthy marriage helps provide a deeper sense of security.
- Talk, Talk, Talk-There are hills and valleys in every life, but the life of a TCK includes unique obstacles and hurdles. Every person processes and reacts differently to stresses and changes. Honest communication about how these things affect everyone is vital. Don’t assume your kids will come to you with their struggles. Take the initiative to provide the platform for sharing what is going on emotionally for your kids. Don’t wait for trouble to start before talking about it.
- Keep watch over your own hearts and attitudes as parents. Watch out for a controlling or critical spirit, complaining, bitterness, or fear in your own heart. Your kids are taking their cues from you. Humbly confess your weaknesses together leaning on His Grace in dependence and faith.
Though our children are grown now, and some have families of their own, we continue to pray with one another and encourage each other in our walk with Christ. Together, we rejoice in the truth from Isaiah 26:3-4, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”