In Pursuit of Home: Third-Culture Kids in Ministry | UMC YoungPeople
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February 2023

In Pursuit of Home: Third-Culture Kids in Ministry

By Tori Mick

If you ask Third-Culture Kids (affectionately referred to as a TCK) where “home” is, chances are they will counter your question with a question about your desire to know their favorite place, where they graduated high school, where their parents currently live, and so on. Finding them a “home” in your ministry can be equally challenging. The cultural values and practices of most TCKs are rooted in the parents’ home culture and may be markedly different from the practices surrounding the dominant culture.

A TCK is a person who spends a significant part of the first eighteen years of life in a place that is different from at least one parent’s passport country. It often also includes a person who is living/has lived in two or more cultural environments for a significant period during the formative years. TCK families experience mobility at high rates; and that gives lots of cultural positives, such as travel, independence, friends, language, adaptability, and a sense of confidence. There is an equal amount of loss that comes with being a TCK. which includes loss of world, status, lifestyle, possessions, role models, relationships, and identity. TCKs include military kids, missionary kids, and the children of diplomats and government workers.

Jesus was a TCK. Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem. They left for the census and ultimately settled in Nazareth. Theirs was a foreign family in a foreign land. Jesus was always “different.” TCKs are often labeled as “different” due to their experiences as well.

As a TCK myself, I would like to offer a few tools for your toolbox if you have a TCK in your ministry.

1. TCKs need time to be kids.

Often, they have lost a lot. They have been required to adapt and reconstruct their lives (possibly multiple times). I can assure you that walking into a large grocery store with ten variations of your favorite cracker after living outside the country for several years is an overwhelming experience. TCKs may have experienced situations that seem more “adult” as well. Even if TCKs present as “mature,” allow them the space and the freedom to be kids.

2. A TCK needs to be known, valued, and loved.

Because they have lived in multiple cultures, TCKs are highly adaptable. The constant adaptation can help them fit in with their peers day-to-day but may never allow them to develop a true cultural identity. To be in a place where they can be known, valued, and loved helps them to become resilient in adversity.

3. Resilience is an unrealistic expectation.

Especially among children of government workers and military kids, resilience is celebrated. Resilience is a goal to be achieved. When children appear unresilient, they often resort to labeling themselves “failures.” Be sensitive with your response if resilience is expected. As a Third-Culture Adult during the Covid pandemic, I remember the expectation of resiliency all too clearly. Constantly responding positively and with compassion became toxic and unattainable because, the truth was, I was not okay. I had compassion fatigue, and I was fumbling my way through just like the rest of the world; the expectation of resiliency became a burden.

4. Don’t be afraid to engage.

TCKs often relish the chance to be known, to tell their stories, and to share experiences with the community around them. Consider integrating opportunities for them to share, when appropriate. Maybe they know how to make an awesome dish from their “home” country that they could share with the group. Maybe they could talk about what faith looked like in other countries.

Questions to think on:

  • Are you, or others who are part of church staff or volunteer groups, “Third Culture Kids”? How might this be affecting your ministry?
  • Do you have TCKs in your ministry right now? Where are they finding the most natural fits? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you know of TCKs or TCK families that might need some extra outreach? How could you find out who those are?