TCK Fitting in

...and what it’s really like to be one.

In 1983, my parents and I moved to East Africa. I was not yet 2 years old, so all my early memories are of Kenya or airplanes. My passport country is the U.S., and at first glance, I look like I ‘belong’ when in the U.S. among other light-skinned people – but I always thought of Kenya as home.

This is part of what it means to be a missionary kid (MK)/third culture kid (TCK). You don’t quite belong in the culture that your parents are from (your passport country), nor do you fully belong in the culture in which you spent your formative years. You create another culture, a third, in-between culture. This can apply to missionary kids, military kids, and others whose families live cross-culturally in their formative years.

Some TCKs are ambivalent about or frustrated by their experiences. I’m not one of those. There has not been one single time that I wished my parents had not gone to Kenya. I wouldn’t trade those years of my life for anything; they were wonderful and rich and beautiful.

Fast forward to a Monday night last fall where I was teaching a theology course for counseling students.

There were students of various ages, church backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnicities in this classroom, and it’s been a joy to get acquainted with them. I’ve also heard about some of their painful experiences, and I’m reminded we all have times of feeling like we don’t belong. Being a theologian, what has comforted me is the thought of so many Biblical characters who were strangers, ‘aliens,’ and ‘sojourners’ – people who did not ‘fit in’ in the lands where they lived (Hebrews 11:9): Abraham, for example.

The prophet Daniel was a TCK whose commitment to God set him apart. Jesus, in leaving heaven and coming to earth, was something of a TCK too.

As a Christian, I am called to have an allegiance that transcends any one nation or culture. This world is not my home. One day, I will be with God, and know that I am completely loved and accepted in His presence. Until then, the way in which I live, the values I hold, should in some ways mark me as a ‘misfit,’ a person who is different.

Sometimes the sense of not belonging anywhere hurts, and that drives me to the promises of Christ.

Here is how Hebrews 11:13-16 puts it, in speaking about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other heroes of the faith: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” This song by Switchfoot conveys the same idea. In Christ we have a home, a place where we are fully known and loved, where we belong and where we will ‘fit’ … even TCKs.

About the Author:

Stephanie Lowery

Stephanie Lowery

Stephanie Lowery is a graduate of Biblical, and adjunct professor of theology there. She grew up in East Africa, and is currently pursuing a PhD in systematic theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. Her dissertation evaluates ecclesiological models in African theologies. Please read her personal blog.

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