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…
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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.