Furloughs are a unique time that many people never get to experience, but to a third culture kid (or TCK—a child who has grown up in at least two different cultures), they are a natural part of life. While furloughs can vary in length, frequency, and purpose, most often they range from three months to a year and include a large amount of travel to different churches and supporters in their passport country. Furloughs often feel far more transient and unsettling to a TCK than living on the mission field because he or she has one foot in their passport country and the other foot overseas. But since furloughs are such formative experiences, local churches play a crucial role in helping their missionaries through them. For most churches, the challenge is knowing how to best support and walk alongside TCKs in this time of transition. So we’re going to examine a few key ways you and your church can help TCKs acclimate to their passport country during their furlough.
The concept of home has most likely shifted and changed for them, as they had to leave the mission field and the home they have there to return to their passport country.
Keep in mind that, depending on the length and purpose of their furlough, it may not be possible for a TCK to fully reacclimate to their passport country. The trip may be too short or disjointed for a resettling in their environment, so much of what you will be helping them do is live well in the in-between reality of their two worlds more than helping them return to who they were before they left for the mission field. TCKs bring so much richness to their passport countries, and it is that unique gift that local churches can tap into by loving on their TCKs in these ways:
Seek to Understand
The concepts of home and belonging are central to most TCKs’ lives and longings. Because they live split between continents, countries, and cultures, it is only natural that most TCKs grow up asking themselves, “Where do I belong? Where do I come from? Where is home?” These questions envelop one of the largest struggles for a TCK as they attempt to find stability and security in a new environment. While it could be easy to assume that they are relieved and feel happy to be home, this is simply not often the case. The concept of home has most likely shifted and changed for them, as they had to leave the mission field and the home they have there to return to their passport country. This transition is often the most disorienting and sorrowful for a TCK and is the heart of why they often identify quickest with others TCKs who also feel torn between homes and cultures. Use your time with them to be curious about how they now define and experience home, and be sensitive to the fact that, while you may be happy to have them home, they may not feel the same way.
Be Creative and Curious
Conversation is an art, and so is asking questions. It requires a lot of forethought and active listening to produce a sense of feeling known by another. TCKs desire above many other things to feel known in their unique life story, and because there are so many things that TCKs want to talk about and share that do not naturally come up in regular conversation, most love being asked questions. But they must be the right questions. Unfortunately, too often TCKs are asked the same questions over and over again, which should not dissuade you from asking questions, but encourage you to be creative.
For example, instead of asking them to compare the two countries they have served in, ask them instead, “What is something you got to do in that country that you can’t do here and miss?” A level of creativity and thoughtfulness goes so far with TCKs. You will make them feel seen and known if they get to share with you the normal, daily, special moments of their transient life that most never think to ask them about. So don’t be afraid, ask away! A great tip is to ask them, “What questions do you have a hard time answering?” or “What do you wish you were asked more often?” and then do that! For more information on this, see my article "Questions to Ask TCKs."
A TCK on furlough is often overwhelmed by the stimulation of the culture around them, so it cannot be overstated that hospitality, space, and rest are a massive ministry to the TCKs in your church body.
Provide Resources and Rest
So many TCKs come home for a furlough with hearts, minds, and bodies full of grief, trauma, loss, experience, information, and emotions that they desperately need to process and walk through with someone. Providing counseling for them and their families is one of the best gifts you could give a TCK to help work through their experiences on the mission field and be better prepared to enter back into life in their passport country. But if you are not able to provide counseling, then providing them with a space to get away and rest with their family is one of the most radical gifts of hospitality for a TCK. A TCK on furlough is often overwhelmed by the stimulation of the culture around them, so it cannot be overstated that hospitality, space, and rest are a massive ministry to the TCKs in your church body.
Allow Them to Be Kids
Being a missionary comes with a certain level of responsibility, resolve, and dedication that often causes it to be a role in the church body that is placed on a pedestal over other lifestyles and callings. But this tendency of our Christian culture to idolize missionaries puts a lot of pressure not only on missionaries but also on their kids. The expected level of maturity in their personal and spiritual lives is often higher than for normal kids their age, and so is the pressure to grow up and do what their parents are doing. One of the greatest ways you can help a TCK during their furlough is to let them be kids and explore who they are apart from their identity as a missionary kid.
One of the greatest ways you can help a TCK during their furlough is to let them be kids and explore who they are apart from their identity as a missionary kid.
Avoid asking about their future plans related to missions and calling, and instead let them dream about their futures as any kid longs to do. Connect them with other TCKs or kids in your congregation with similar interests. Provide them with fun and childlike experiences to enjoy. (Always let these experiences be optional, as TCKs are well versed in stepping out of their comfort zone and sometimes need a break from that. Sometimes the best gift is to get to read books and play in the yard like normal kids). TCKs experience a lifestyle that exposes them to the harsh realities of life much quicker, so it can be a real breath of fresh air not to live under the pressure of high expectations and just enjoy being a kid.
Your intentionality to learn about them and to walk with them during their furloughs will bring needed stability and comfort to their transient lives.
The best ways to help TCKs acclimate to their passport country are to be understanding of their core longing and questions, creatively curious about their lives, generous in hospitality, and to provide a pressure-free environment to let them enjoy being kids. Your intentionality to learn about them and to walk with them during their furloughs will bring needed stability and comfort to their transient lives. So go find a TCK in your church and ask them how you can best help them reacclimate to their passport country. They would be happy to tell you!
Abigail Newport is the Donor Relations and Development Coordinator for Hellenic Ministries, a non-profit missions organization based in Athens, Greece. She earned her bachelor's degree from Moody Bible Institute in Communications and has written a book called HOME: The Musings of a Missionary Kid, which was influenced by her childhood in France and Greece. Abigail is passionate about bridging the gap between cultures, generations, and those that serve on the field with churches in the States. She now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she works remotely, invests in her local community, and spends her free time hosting, exploring, and enjoying coffee or tea with friends. You can find out more at abigailnewport.com or by following her on Instagram.