Missionary Kids Become ‘Third-Culture Kids’ In Foreign Countries

Missionary kid Caleb McAfee (left) plays marbles with a friend in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he has lived since he was 7. Now 14, he enjoys playing soccer and other games with his Ivorian friends. IMB Photo
Missionary kid Caleb McAfee (left) plays marbles with a friend in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he has lived since he was 7. Now 14, he enjoys playing soccer and other games with his Ivorian friends. IMB Photo

Mike McAfee took his daughter Karis to work with him on a Tuesday morning in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan.

His work that day happened to be visiting a Muslim friend, Seidou, to talk more about Jesus. Karis, 11 at the time, was going to play with Seidou’s niece Sadia. Her hopes were dashed, however, when they arrived and Sadia wasn’t there. Her uncle told Karis that she was now an apprentice in a tailor’s shop.

Even though Karis, now 12, and her brothers — Caleb, 14, and Benjamin, 4 — live in the same city as their friends, sometimes the lives of those friends, though the same ages, are decidedly different. It’s part of being MKs, missionary kids.

Most of the time, the differences fade away when it comes to mutual interests such as playing soccer for the boys or braiding hair for the girls. During long church services at the Baptist church in Abobo, with no Sunday School classes to involve the children, the girls play in front of the church building under a shady tree. Karis patiently sits as girls cluster around her, stroking her silky hair with a texture so different from their own. Caleb, meanwhile, sits in the back of the dirt-floor sanctuary with a friend, making seats out of large overturned plastic buckets. During songs, as others clap their hands, the boys join in, hands beating on the buckets, keeping time with the drums at the front of the church.

‘Third-culture kids’

Caleb, Karis and Benjamin are MKs, but they are also TCKs, “third-culture kids.” By leaving their “passport” country to grow up in a foreign country for an extended time, they develop a cultural identity from their home country and their host country — a sort of third, unique culture of their own.

The foreign country they live in, however, isn’t “foreign” to them. As Caleb points out, he’s lived more than half his life in Ivory Coast, giving him a different perspective than an outsider would have. For instance, a decade of violence in Ivory Coast left its mark in various places throughout Abidjan. Caleb matter-of-factly tells of finding a bullet hole in the side of his family’s roof.

“It went into the roof, hit something metal, came back down through the roof sideways and hit our metal pole,” Caleb said. It punctured the hollow pole and fell to the bottom. “So I took a sledgehammer and busted out the bottom and got the bullet,” he said.

The McAfee children, like most MKs, assist their parents in ministry. When volunteers fly into Abidjan, Karis likes to go to the airport with her father to meet them. As volunteers visit a local artisan’s market, she acts as a translator to help them bargain in French for keepsake items.

Karis is homeschooled by her mother, Heather, and sometimes her father when Heather’s work commitments take her from home. Caleb does his schoolwork through an Internet-based homeschool curriculum. Karis and Caleb put up with plenty of interruptions during the school day as visitors pass through their home.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Baptist Press
Elaine Gaston