Frontline Kids: Our Secret Weapon
By Sara Eggman
Missionary children play a vital role on the mission field. God has a plan and purpose for each of them. There are lost and hopeless people in the nations in which missionary kids (MKs) serve who are waiting to experience the love of God through them. Jesus understood this. In Matthew 18:10 Jesus says “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father”. Jesus expressed righteous anger when children were not treated with dignity and as valuable individuals (Mark 10:14). He gave a severe and very graphic warning to those who might lead little ones astray (Matt. 18:6). Jesus valued children and their important role in the Kingdom. It is vital that we have his perspective and see them as workers in the field. When God calls a couple with children to the mission field, he calls the whole family. He has called our MK’s to walk and move in the power of God and operate in the gifts of the spirit. It is important that we as parents and fellow missionaries affirm their identity in Christ and recognize their role in advancing the Kingdom of God in the nations.
It is crucial that we affirm the MKs identity. MKs are “Third Culture Kids.” Ruth Van Reken, an adult third culture kid and author has spent a lifetime writing, advocating and teaching about the psychological impact of an international childhood. The following is her definition of a Third Culture Kid.
“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parent’s culture. The third culture kid builds relationship to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” In simple terms, they are children who grow up within different cultures who learn to adapt within each but never fully belong in any. They are known to be able to belong anywhere and nowhere. We understand very well the nature of being a missionary. Even as adults the international and mobile life can be difficult. It is even more difficult for a child or a teenager who is trying to understand and discover who they are and where they belong. As MKs transition and move there is loss. They lose family, friends, places, pets, language etc. With each loss comes grief. An Mk may love their location on the mission field. They may truly believe in what their family is doing as a ministry. They can even have their favorite places to eat and to play and hang out. But at the same time they still miss their home culture, their family, the pet they had to leave behind, their best friends and the toys they loved. These two conflicting sets of emotions cause great confusion and heartache within them. They often feel self-condemnation for having such mixed emotions. Many times they can even feel shame and guilt. They feel shame for being sad when they are doing so much good and guilty about wanting to go back home.
We can affirm the MKs identity by creating a safe place for them to process their grief. Grief is an emotion that God gave us and it has a purpose. We need to let them know that it is okay to grieve, that what they have lost is worthy of mourning; that it is ok to miss the people and places that we loved that were left behind. With good intentions, we can be overly quick to encourage an MK. We can say things like “You will make new friends, we can get new toys, and God will provide what we need.” Focusing on the good and the positive is important and there is a time for it but we must also be careful not to shove aside their pain. We need to acknowledge their pain, comfort them, and help them process their confusion. We have personally seen MK’s experience this who are in the internship, in the apprenticeship, and even as veteran missionary kids.
Jesse and I had an opportunity to minister to the children and youth at the Gathering of the Finishers. During our break-out session with the youth we asked them “How many of you get asked lots of questions about how exciting it must be to be a missionary kid? How much fun it must be to travel? How cool it must be to speak two languages?” Every single youth raised their hand. Then we asked, “Ok, how many of you get asked what is it like to live far away from your family? What does it feel like to be 16 but can’t have your driver’s license? How does it feel not to have the experience of prom?” Not a single youth raised their hand. So then we asked them “How many of you wish that your family, your friends, your partners would ask you those questions?” Without hesitation every youth raised their hand. The truth is that the grief is real and they are open to sharing.
We have seen the most profound change occur when we partner with the Holy Spirit to identify core ungodly beliefs that were formed in missionary children out of pain, trauma, and despair and allow Him to change those beliefs. We take them with all of the confusion, the self-condemnation, the shame and guilt to their loving Father who is able to heal the pain and fill them with new Godly beliefs. He is always faithful to reveal their true identity and empower them to live life with a new outlook.
We can recognize their role in advancing the Kingdom of God in the nations by equipping them and giving them opportunities to serve. Whatever your ministry may be, give them a role. Our team in Honduras does lots of children’s ministry. The MKs there have been equipped on how to do children’s ministry. As a result they are participating and leading national children. They can do everything from praise and worship songs, to games, to memory verses, to Bible stories, to sound! It is truly amazing! I have personally seen as these MKs have broken down walls and opened countless doors in the areas where they minister. Our son is 4 years old. He talks with Jesus and can explain the gospel clearly. He sings songs in the grocery store about how Jesus died but rose again. He knows how to rebuke the devil and has faith to believe for miracles. When I am sick he is the first person I ask to pray for me. Our kids are growing up on the frontlines. We must give them the tools to fight and help us win and finish this war. We all play a role and God has a special role for our missionary kids. When we recognize that role, honor it by equipping them, and allow them to serve in greater capacities beside us, we will see major advances made for the Kingdom of God in the nations.