Sacred Mobility


Researchers Jeffrey Keuss and Rob Willett describe the TCK experience from a theological perspective, using the phrase “sacredly mobile.” When seen in this light, they describe the experience of the sacredly mobile adolescent as a journey in following God’s vocational call. More importantly, the sacredly mobile adolescent reminds the rest of the Christian community that our identity and vocation in Christ are not physically located in a “home” but can be anywhere in the world.”*

I read the quote above two years ago. For two years I have mulled over and thought about sacred mobility. Mobility has been a part of my life from birth. At three months old, I was diapered and swaddled and left New York Harbor in the arms of my mom. I spent the next six weeks, six weeks that I would never remember, on a massive ship in a sea so big that you could not see land. This mobility continued throughout my childhood, living in different houses in the southern part of Pakistan and going back and forth between boarding school and home.

So I knew mobility – but what about sacred mobility? 

From my faith perspective there are a number of examples of sacred mobility.

The examples begin in Genesis and are woven through both Old and New Testaments. Consider Abraham who was called to leave everything and move to a new land, given promises that took years to fulfill; some never fulfilled in his lifetime. Then there is Jacob who ended up fleeing home after stealing the birthright of his brother. His son Joseph, whose brothers, jealous of his favored status, sold him into slavery in Egypt. There’s Ruth, who left home and traveled with her mother-in-law, speaking words made famous throughout generations for their love and commitment. Words that are still spoken at weddings today “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” 

There is the Jewish diaspora in Babylon, where the prophet Daniel became a trusted friend of the king. Those examples are a few of many.

Sacred mobility. What does it mean? In an increasingly mobile world, it feels like an important concept to understand. Can we see the movement of people as something sacred? Something that God has continually used for good? Can I see my own movement, my own going from place to place as sacred?

Sacred mobility – what does it mean for the immigrant? What does it mean for the migrant worker? What does it mean for the refugee? What does it mean for the expat? What does it mean for the TCK?

And is there a downside to describing the TCK experience in these terms? While I agree that the sacredly mobile adolescent reminds us that “our identity and vocation in Christ are not physically located in a “home” but can be anywhere in the world,” is it too much of a burden to place on them? Can a vocational call be imposed on a child? 

I’m not sure about the burden piece – I’m not sure about the vocational call for a child, but I can certainly say that at some point in my TCK journey, when I was quite young, I knew that God was using ‘place’ in my story. That he uses ‘place’ in all of our stories. This theme continued on through my adult years, as long as I was overseas. It came as a shock to realize that I could believe in sacred mobility when I was overseas, but had a difficult time when that mobility meant I was back in my passport country.

I’m pondering these things as I sit in a hotel in Idaho. I’ve been traveling for a work job and the people I am working with have welcomed me with their hearts. So has the wide, open land and clear blue sky. I’ve had little time for contemplative thought, but when I woke up today, in a hotel room far from home, I began thinking once again about this idea of sacred mobility.

I still have a lot to think about when it comes to this concept. Can I believe for the refugee who has lost everything, that somehow their journey is sacred in the redemptive story that God is writing? It’s a big ask.

But this I do know: As humans, we are tethered to earth with hearts made for eternity. When we acknowledge God’s loving orchestration of our journey, our mobility does indeed become sacred. And sometimes that takes a lifetime.

8 thoughts on “Sacred Mobility

  1. This post is a perfect example of why I adore your thoughts and writing: you fiercely name and examine things that are very often left in glittering shadows. Never heard this concept before of “sacred mobility,” and very glad you called out the dichotomy between feeling that sacredness when you were “abroad,” but not when you were mobile in your passport country. Yes. Whatever the dynamics God uses in our lives, he has and will continue to use your own story and its strong thread of “place” to help those of us (and our kids) who live in such a globally nomadic way make sense of life and God’s tenacious presence with us. xx


    1. Ah Laura – thank you. Your words always make me feel stronger … As I said, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Love following your journey a bit through posts. Would you think about going to FIGT this year?


  2. I’ve been thinking about this since reading it yesterday and am concerned that the concept could be a burden to teens still trying to figure out their place in the world, especially when their life has involved moving between worlds. I wonder if it might work better as a second stage of life insight, thinking of Tournier’s book A place for you’ that I’ve found so helpful. On reflection I can see the thread of grace that has been part of my nomadic life, but trying to identify that at a young age might have done more harm than good. Not sure I’ve said this clearly, but trying to put my gut feeling into words is helpful, to me at least.


    1. That’s exactly where my thoughts have gone – in fact, originally I was going to try and work that one out through writing. It feels like a heavy burden to bear. Maybe it’s the words used that are critical. And it’s true, they are talking about teenagers in the quote and that is certainly different then younger kids. And maybe, if I had heard that language when I was 16, it would have been helpful. At that age, I was beginning to work through the between worlds journey, and if someone had come beside me with a concept of sacred mobility, I think it would have made sense to me.
      I love the book A Place for You. I first read that when I was a teen and my mom gave me the copy a few years ago. I’d love to hear more of what you see as the difference between the premise of that book and the idea of “sacred mobility.” Thanks for your thoughts and for mulling this over together.


  3. I don’t know why kids can’t have vocations, too. I don’t think it is the norm, but I think of Samuel being called by God when he was a child serving Eli in the temple. And I recall my own conviction on the matter, and what spilled out of my mouth while terrorists were shooting at the building I was in at MCS on August 5, 2002. I told the junior high kids in the library with me, as they crouched under furniture in case bullets came through one of the many windows and showered glass around, that God had not just called their parents to come work in Pakistan, that He knew the kids were there, too, and that somehow He had therefore called them, too. None of us were there by mistake or accident, and nothing that happened, whatever might happen, was out of God’s control. I told them we were all there by God’s will, and held securely in His hand, and that there was no safer place to be, no matter how many bullets were flying outside. I have no idea what the kids thought of my words, or if they remembered them later, but they stayed reasonably calm and some said later they felt protected, so that was good! Anyway, I believe kids are called along with parents, though of course 6-month-olds cannot participate in the decision process the way older kids can. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that one!


  4. Marilyn, perhaps mobility is more the norm. Good idea to call it sacred. I’m reminded of that old spiritual, “I’m Just A Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “Little Pilgrim.” In sorting through old keepsakes and photos, I have a category, PLACES WE HAVE LIVED, and they have been numerous. Each was sacred indeed. Thanks for this perspective.


  5. Thanks for this meditation. I grew up idolizing missionary families. It’s really nice on this blog to read the human side of the whole affair of “leaving you country and people and going to the land shown to you.” God bless all who hear and answer this call to GO.


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