Matt Jones, Missionary to Thailand
Let’s talk about hearts. No, not metaphorically. Not figuratively. Not philosophically. I’m saying let’s talk literally about your heart. I’m referring to your squishy little grey 10-ounce organ that’s sitting about 16 inches below your eyes right now and silently working hard to keep you alive.
Consider the facts: Your heart circulates your 5.6 liters of blood through your entire body around 3 times per minute. The average child has around 60,000 miles of blood vessels inside of them, while a typical adult has about 100,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries supplying every inch of your body. In one day, your blood travels nearly 12,000 miles inside of you! That is the equivalent of driving from New York City to Los Angeles and then back to New York City and then back to Los Angeles and … then back to New York city once more. All in a day.
But what happens when that blood flow is disrupted? What happens when your heart says, “I’m tired of your throwing French fries and chicken nuggets at me, and I’m tired of your spending more time on Instagram than you do on the treadmill.”? Well, if your blood flow is restricted to your heart for any reason, you have a really serious problem that needs immediate attention. Doctors refer to any condition that affects the way your heart operates as “heart disease,” and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States is heart disease.
Heart disease is a voiceless predator, and more often than not, you would never know that the person sitting across the room from you at Chick-fil-A has 90% blockage in two of his arteries. He’s smiling and enjoying his spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries (and “Diet Coke,” of course) without any indication that anything is wrong. From the outside he looks fine, but his insides don’t match his outsides.
So, the question I assume you are asking right now is “What does any of that have to do with missionary kids on campus at BJU”? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Over the past four decades, missionaries, authors, sociologists, pastors, and mission agencies have dedicated countless hours of research and observation to try to better understand the unique challenges of growing up overseas as a missionary kid. Though it’s a bit presumptuous to make sweeping blanket statements about any group of people, there are certainly inherent hardships that come when your insides don’t really match your outsides. What do I mean by that? Well, again, good question.
All across campus, there are dozens and dozens of students who have grown up as “Third Culture Kids” which loosely means that they have grown up “between worlds.” Missionary kids, military kids, the children of international schoolteachers, and a few others fit into the TCK definition. They’ve spent some of the most important and impressionable years of their lives learning how to comfortably survive in a host country where they have learned new languages, customs, cultures, and traditions. These remote corners of the worlds aren’t exotic to them—they’re just “home.”
These kids have also lived with the constant tension that they would someday graduate from high school and would be expected to pack up everything they own and leave that “home” (mission field) to return to their “home” (passport) country. Metaphorically, they’ve had one foot in their passport country and one foot on their mission field. Most MKs would say they “partially belong” in both places at the same time, but not 100% in either place. Now those same MKs are sitting across the aisle from you in English 102. They’re down the hall from you in Georgia Creel. They’re working behind the counter at Chick-fil-A in the Den. When you look at them on the outside, you don’t really see all that’s inside them. Their insides don’t match their outsides.
While these MKs were learning to greet people with a bow or learning how to not offend people in their host culture, American kids were learning how to shake hands firmly and look people in the eye while talking to them. While the MKs were learning to eat rice, noodles, spicy curries, jamon, and churrascarias, American kids were chowing down on cheeseburgers, Lucky Charms, and Taco Bell. While MKs might have been the only foreigners in their whole town on the field, American kids were graduating from high school with kids they’ve known since kindergarten. The list goes on and on, and it’s easy to see how an MK’s insides might not match their outsides.
For those of us who grew up in America, it’s a challenge to understand this contrast. MKs look just like everyone else on your hall. MKs sound just like everyone else in your classes. MKs have ten fingers and ten toes (typically speaking) just like everyone else. So why don’t MKs act like everyone else? What makes them different from other students who grew up in America? Their insides don’t match their outsides.
While they look American on the outside, on the inside they’re a strong mixture of Brazilian, South African, Spanish, Mexican, Thai, Korean or 189 other countries! While American kids were learning about all the elements of pop culture in the U.S., MKs were learning how to fit into a completely different cultural system. This means there are some basic elements about “life in America” that we take for granted that many MKs have never experienced before. There are “do’s and don’t’s” that no one has ever explained to them, and it will take time for them to add American culture into their worldview. Their insides don’t yet match their outsides, and they need a safe space to tell their stories.
When students arrive on campus in August ready to face the grind of college life at Bob Jones University, every student is feeling the tension that comes from being away from home. The tension of leaving your close friends and family and getting to know new roommates is rough. Every student is wondering if it’s even humanly possible to live on dining common food for six months. Every student is wondering how many times they can wear the same shirt before they have to go downstairs to do laundry.
Sitting in Pathways every week equips the freshmen to face these and other on-campus challenges, but what about the extra hurdles that MKs bring with them from overseas? It seems that most mission organizations, colleges, and even families often treat the rigorous challenges of MK life—especially those associated with high mobility, transitions, and repatriation—much like heart disease: if there are no obvious problems on the surface, just ignore it. If you can’t see it, it will probably go away on its own. It can’t be all that serious if an MK’s insides don’t match their outsides, can it?
I mean, when was the last time an MK tried to burn down FMA? When was the last time an MK came unhinged and tried to graffiti the top of Rodeheaver? Aren’t most MKs just naturally “quiet” and like to be by themselves anyways? Aren’t they supposed to be “resilient” and able to handle everything that life throws at them?
Our problem is that we assume there is no real need to worry if we are not able to observe any serious symptoms. We presume that any underlying tension in MKs will just go away on its own if we wait long enough. Sometimes we make assumptions about MKs on Campus because we misinterpret their personalities and idiosyncrasies as something they’re not. Their insides don’t match their outsides, so they’re not only learning to be Bob Jones University students—they’re also trying to figure out what parts of American culture they need to know to survive!
So, what’s next? How can you help? What part can non-MK students on campus play to help build bridges with MKs? Great question. We’ll talk about that more in the next article…
Elizabeth, BJU Alumnus
I grew up on the mission field in Cameroon, Africa, and missionary biographies were a staple in my home. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat as I read Rosalind Goforth’s account of escaping China during the Boxer rebellion, shedding tears with Anne Judson as she buried her first child in Burma, cheering Mary Slessor on as she pounded a hippopotamus with her frying pan in Africa, and praising God with Darlene Rose in a prison in Japan. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve wanted to do missions ever since junior high. When I went to Bob Jones University, I chose to major in elementary education, because I knew that would be something I could use on the mission field. While I was there, I was heavily involved in Missions Advance. I loved learning about missions all around the world; I remember hearing missionaries speak from India, Philippines, Yemen, South Africa, and France, to name a few! When we didn’t have a speaker, we would have prayer requests listed for different missionaries and parts of the world. After the presentations were done, we would all scoot our chairs in little groups and pray. Sitting in those plastic chairs, listening to the murmurs of people praying all around me, and lifting my own heart up in prayer gave me a taste of true gospel advance. I knew God was working even as we prayed. Even though there were so many other things I could be doing (and yes, there were times I skipped and did those other things!), I never regretted it when I went.
Fast forward a couple years to about three weeks ago when I took a survey type trip to a restricted access country with my one year old and husband (Yeah, a lot can change in a couple of years… let’s just say Missions Advance is a good place not only to pray, but also get to know your future special someone!). My husband and I are interested in missions to a restricted access country, so we spent about two and a half weeks visiting “workers” in a predominantly Muslim country. We rented a car so we could travel to several different cities and get a feel for the whole country. During one of these trips to a nearby city, as I watched the countryside fly by my window, I started to reflect (as somehow long car rides tend to make you do) on what we had been able to do and see so far. I was struck by how hard it would be to do missions here in this country; the people did not seem open to the gospel. Even after years of service, missionaries there only met with two or three believers. I wondered, “Would it be better to go to a place where people were more open to the gospel, where they wanted to hear about Jesus? The people here just seem so anti-Christian and…. closed. Islam is everything.” These thoughts troubled me and made me wonder if we were right for this country.
The next day, I read Matthew 8-9 for my devotions. As I read, I noticed a theme unfolding:
But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed… When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith…” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matt. 8: 8,10,13)
And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (Matt. 8:25-26)
And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven. (Matt. 9:2)
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” (Matt. 9:27-29)
As I read, I thought about my troubled questions from the day before. I pondered, where was my faith? Do I, like the blind men, believe that He is able to do this? How can I do anything but to echo their response of “Yes Lord”? Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus was pleased by the faith of people on earth. He is pleased by my faith that He really can draw people to himself and save them in a closed, Muslim country.
Since we have gotten back to States, I’ve continued to reflect on how God uses faith to reach closed countries and how prayer is inseparably linked with that faith. In 1887, the Goforths, missionaries to China, were appointed the task of reaching a new province in China with the gospel. It was one of the most anti-foreign provinces in all of China. When Hudson Taylor heard of their new mission field, he wrote to Mr. Goforth, “Brother, if you would enter that province, you must go forward on your knees" (Rosalind Goforth, How I Know God Answers Prayer).
If I want to go to a restricted access country, or do any type of missions, it must be preceded by and saturated with faith-filled prayer. Now that I’ve graduated from BJU, and missions advance, prayer group, society prayer meetings, etc. are gone, I pray a lot less for missions. I’ve had to ask myself, am I praying for the lost? More than that, am I praying with faith? Not only for missions but what about for unsaved family members? For some reason, it seems like it takes more faith to pray for the salvation of an unsaved family member or friend than for hundreds of Muslims across the world! Am I praying for the lost and acting on that faith?
What about you? Are you praying for the lost? Are you praying with faith? Are you willing to act on that faith and share the gospel—across the world, on an extension, to your unsaved friend or family member? Maybe you, like me, feel inadequate. Maybe you believe that God could save people in some missionary presentation, but not your unsaved grandfather. Maybe you believe God could use Hudson Taylor or some brave missionaries from the past in the dark jungles of Africa, but you wonder, “Can he really use me today? No cannibals, prisons, frying pans, boxer rebellions, but just ordinary me in ordinary Greenville, SC?” When God asked Gideon to save Israel from Midian, Gideon responded:
“How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
The Lord answered, “I will be with you.” (Jud. 6:15-16)
What more could we ask for? The Lord will be with us! With God all things are possible. Where is our faith?
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.