“It’s a Long Way to go for a Friend” Guest Post by Pauline Brown

I’m so happy to feature my mom today in this post on friendship. You can read more about my mom here and here. She is a gifted, amazing woman, the author of the books Jars of Clay ordinary Christians on an Extraordinay Journey in Pakistsn and Cat Tales and has modeled friendship well through the years. Enjoy this piece on friendship and please add your thoughts in the comment section.



Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt
Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt

It was a long way to drive for a friend.  Can we do it?  Should we? 

We got the phone message after church that Sunday from a funeral director in my home town. Our friend Phil had died, and Phyllis, his widow, wanted Ralph to come and officiate at the funeral the following Wednesday.  We talked it through – it would mean driving the whole day Tuesday and back on Thursday from western New York to central Massachusetts.  And we’re not as young as we used to be…

This started me thinking about the whole idea of friends and friendship. Just what is it that makes an acquaintance into a friend? Some never make it. They come into our lives and fade away and we barely remember them.  For most it takes time and sharing life’s experiences. Then, rarely, we meet a special person who becomes an instant kindred spirit friend.

Some are friends from childhood and teen years. For those of us who have moved far from our birthplaces only a few of these will last through years of geographical separation.  I have a love/hate relationship with social media, but its great blessing among a few others is the way we can reconnect with people from our past.  Not long ago I received an email from one of the few friends left from my High School class.  Joan had persevered with her daughter’s help in searching me out after losing my email address. We talked on the phone and she updated me on news from Mary Lou and Jessie, who moved to our town when I was in grade school and from the other Polly, a girl I had known perhaps from the age of four when I started going to Sunday School.

When my family moved across town in my ninth grade year,I started walking to High School with Joan, along with her cousin Gaynor and Lucilla. Lu came by my house and we walked together to where we met the other two. In those early morning walks and occasionally in the evening we talked about life and boys and teachers and the world’s problems. We worried and prayed as older boys were leaving school to fight in World War II. Then it all came really close to home when boys in our class started leaving. After graduation Lucilla and I worked together for the summer at two different jobs, but that would make another whole story. We went our separate ways to college and marriage. We moved overseas and she lived in Pennsylvania. A few years ago she died quite suddenly, and although we hadn’t seen each other often, I realized how much I would miss her. Joan was the one who called to tell me, and Ralph and I went with Joan to her graveside service in the Catholic cemetery in my home town.

There are those special friends I keep in touch with from my four years at Gordon College. Bev phones a couple of times a year, and we get together with her and her husband Don when we’re in their area once a year or so.  I called Maggie last summer when we were driving to Massachusetts to spend July 4 with Marilyn and her family. “I thought I’d be hearing from you,” she said. “It’s that time when you usually come through.”  We went out to lunch together, and it was as if no time had lapsed since our last meeting a whole year before. Others we only hear from at Christmas time, but I love our holiday mail.

Some of the richest friendships are with those people we lived and worked with in our years in Pakistan. Many were with the same mission, and we became like family with all our quirks and idiosyncrasies.  There are Ray and Jean;and Shirley, whose husband Warren has gone to be with Lord. We shared a tiny house with these two couples when we first moved to Pakistan.  Living that way for nearly 3 months with five kids under five and only two bedrooms, a shared kitchen in a corner of the verandah, it’s quite an amazing gift of God’s grace that we remained close friends.  Then I think of Bettie and Hu and all we shared through the years. Hu pulled our oldest son out of a muddy canal saving Ed’s life. When Hu and Bettie’s two sons visited us one year when we were in the USA, Marilyn, then in high school, told me, “I didn’t know whether to introduce them as my best friend’s brothers or my brothers’ best friends!” Phyllis and Hannah and Dr. Mary, are single women who gave themselves to serve the medical needs of the women and children of Sindh. These, among others, I count as special friends.

Not all our friends in Pakistan were from our mission family or from our generation.  We were blessed with many from other missions and countries and denominations.  Occasionally one turned into a friend from an unlikely beginning.  I never expected to call Ruth a friend.  She scared me.  She had strong opinions and she wasn’t shy about voicing them.  Then she dropped in on me one day in Murree when I was sewing name tags on Ed’s clothes, getting him ready for boarding school.  Ruth pulled a chair over next to me picked up a spare needle and started helping me.  We talked that day, and shared how hard it was to be sending our kids away at such a young age.  Ruth shared a verse from Isaiah 54:13 that God had given to her for her children:  “All your children will be taught of the Lord and great will be the peace of your children.”  I took that as a gift that day, and have prayed it ever since for our children, then their wives and husband, and our seventeen grandchildren, now our great grands.  That was the day the woman whom I never thought I would call a friend, became so special to me.

One thing that stands out in all these special relationships – we seem able to drop right back into a genuine intimacy no matter how much time has passed.  I never hear a word of criticism nor do I voice any:  “Why haven’t I heard from you?” Or “why don’t you call more often?”  We just accept the special gift of whatever time we have and get on with catching up on the news.  Friendship involves a special kind of love and when such a relationship lasts for decades it is very much about grace, that acceptance that says without words, I know you, we know each other with all the good and the bad, the strength and the weakness,  I’m just so happy to be able to be with you, and let’s do it again – sooner!

So we did it for our friends, Phil and Phyllis, remembering a good man, a funny man who always had a story.  “Stop me if I’ve told you this before” but no one ever stopped him.  He was our friend so we drove to Massachusetts on Tuesday, shared with his family and friends at his service, and drove back on Wednesday, tired, very tired, but knowing we had been blessed in Phil’s life by a very special friendship.

Lessons From an Ill-Fated Holiday Feast – A Guest Post

As promised earlier in the month in a call for stories, today I bring you one from a reader’s childhood in Mozambique. Writer Heidi Carlson takes us back to a poignant memory of excited kids, a mom desperate to recreate tastes of her home country (the U.S.) and how it didn’t turn out quite like any one thought it would. More on Heidi at the end of the article but for now, enjoy this story of an ill-fated holiday feast.


A naked, fluorescent bulb dangled from the ceiling.  The power source – a dusty car battery – lay on the red cement floor.  Figures in varying stages of acute fatigue cast shadows on the cement block walls that were hosts to various shades of deteriorating white.  Humidity engulfed them as they quickly stripped off every possible layer of clothing, only preserving the most minimal, acceptable amount of modesty.  A mosquito whirred its wings in dizzying flight on the window screen.  In a split-second, a gecko expertly ran down the screen from the top corner and ate his hearty meal just as we were beginning ours.  This was not the setting of a military interrogation, but the setting of our Thanksgiving dinner.

How did it come to this? How did we get here, across the days and miles?

A school bus, two plane rides, a crowded-goats-included public bus, the back of a pick-up truck over the mountain along the lake, across no man’s land by bicycle, a hitchhiked ride in a businessman’s Land Rover, and, finally, a twelve-hour journey in the “first class” car of a very slow train.  What it amounted to was complete exhaustion.   I have since felt similar exhaustion in the days that followed the birth of each of my children.  That delirious exhaustion is notorious.  I also have felt the same weary, travel-induced walking coma in Portugal when, after several flights and time changes, our hosts treated us to a traditional Portuguese feast of bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) at 10 pm.  The feast was impeccable.  I remember every delicious bite – before I rudely crashed back on the sofa and surrendered to my primal need for sleep.

But this post-train ride Thanksgiving was a joyous homecoming with a feast fit for the prodigal son.  Mom had waited for months, then weeks, then days and hours for our return from boarding school and had prepared traditional American fare – almost.

Helmeted Guinea FowlTurkey was not available in Mozambique, so she marinated and roasted a local guinea fowl.  Pumpkins?  Not available.  How about sweet potato pie instead? There was an assortment of other dishes spread across the table in the buzzing glare of the bulb.  With few words and weak smiles, I forced myself to be gracious and eat something before I crawled under the mosquito net and went to bed.  Locally grown guinea fowl sounds like a foodie-gourmet-heritage breed kind of thing to eat.  But this wild guinea fowl? Not so much.  The first few movements of the jaw brought out the rich flavor enhanced by the marinade.  The following 20 or so chews failed to break down the tight sinews.  It was like chewing gum, but guinea fowl gum.  After the flavor was gone, the muscle was still there. Really good flavor, we kept saying sincerely.  It was true.  But it didn’t mask the toughness of the wild fowl.

Then there was the sweet potato pie, the other item on the menu I remember distinctly.  It tasted just as a fine sweet potato pie should taste.  That is to say, it doesn’t taste at all, and should not be substituted for, the expected pumpkin pie.  The two are not remotely related.

I felt so guilty.  We were forcing grins and trying to keep our lids open for a meal Mom had prepared with great love in expectation of our return.  One could say it was a complete flop as far as holiday meals go, but I don’t think so.  We took away several lessons.  First, don’t try to recreate food from the home country with inadequate substitutes.  Early members of the vegetarian movement can relate to this.  No, tofu does not taste like chicken, so don’t tell me it does. Use available ingredients to make something delicious that stands on its own without having to be compared to a dish from yesteryears and yestercountries.

Second, ill-fated meals often become the most memorable.  We can look back and laugh at the comedy of this event and the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.   At the time, we were not laughing.  There were probably some unkind words spoken, considering we all just wanted to get some rest and start a new day.  But now when my fish bake is overcooked and mushy (nasty!), I can laugh about it and regret just the foul flavor, not also a foul attitude.

And the third lesson is for parents of children in boarding school who may have traveled many miles and perhaps even days to get home: Hold your horses and let the kids get some rest so they can give the proper attention to a meal they’ve waited months to eat.


Heidi CarlsonMore about the author: Heidi is a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mom. She is also a multiple-marathoner, a scuba diver, a third-culture kid and a follower of Jesus.  Born near the front range of the Rockies, she grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there.  An Africanist by education, a U.S. Air Force veteran by skill set, and a homemaker by choice, she enjoys making home wherever the family goes.  With three children aged 4, 2, and 2 months, mommy hood leaves less time for scuba diving and training for long races, but she manages to find the time to roast coffee at home and share her thoughts at willtravelwithkids.

Sharing Christmas – A Guest Post

I love the essay I’m sharing today from Cindy Brandt. You’ll remember Cindy from her post a couple weeks ago The Gift of Longing to Belong. She offers another gift today in this post filled with wisdom and a reminder that the goal of Christmas, whether we are celebrating in our passport countries or overseas, is not to exit the season “ragged and unraveled”. Rather, we are called to live out the Christmas message in peace and authentic living.


christmas ornament

Christians who are living and working overseas, either in formal missionary roles or informal tentmaker positions, are a high risk group for burnout. I suspect 96.89% of the causes for burnout may be attributed to the month of December. If the holiday season is a traditionally busy time for mainstream culture, with gift shopping, party planning, and end-of-the-year business, it is even busier for those working in the church, a typical flurry of activities surrounding the celebration of the Savior’s birth. To take things a notch more intense, those who have been sent out by the church into the mission field go into hyper drive at this time. It is the one chance out of the year to reach the lost. The stage is set, the ambiance perfect, there is no better time to share the love of Christ and share the tidings of joy. This may be the opportune time to grow your ministry. Supporters are waiting to hear the heartrending stories of Light in the midst of the unreached worlds.

It’s good. People are invited in. Lives are touched by the message of Christmas. The work is worth it. But we are exhausted. Wiped out. While consumerism drives the secular world into a frenzy with pinterest pretty decorations and glamorous bags of gifts, all God’s people are driven ragged with a similar impulse to pack the calendar full of evangelistic events, and we emerge out of the season thankful, but unraveled.

 Can it be, that in our fervor to give others the message of Peace, we have left unclaimed the very gift for ourselves?

The holidays are a time when homesickness surge, bringing a fresh pain in the hearts of even the most veteran missionaries. The loss of nostalgic traditions, foods, and smells in a foreign land is acutely felt. Those with little ones feel that stab of guilt for celebrating yet another Christmas away from the children’s doting grandparents. It is a time for self-care. A time to take a deep breath, for meditating on the coming of Christ, the very reason Christians are out in the field. A time to re-invent old traditions as the diaspora, a group of people living outside of their homeland. A time to borrow the lenses of the local culture and allow it to challenge traditional notions of the spirit of Christmas.

The truth is, much of the way Christmas is celebrated in Christendom misses the mark. Blatant consumerism has corrupted the spirit of gift giving. Corporate greeting card companies have cheapened sacred liturgies and turned seasonal greetings into sentimental fluff. Christmas games, parties, and other activities are products of a modern Western civilization, not necessarily representing the scandal of the Incarnation.

The thoughtful Christian must always unwrap the gospel from Western packaging, because that ultimate Gift incarnates Himself into every culture. My fear is, if local believers see their missionaries practicing certain westernized customs for Christmas while delivering the gospel message, the association becomes inextricably linked and they internalize the idea: to be Christian, one must celebrate Christmas the Western Way.

It is a special season for many missionaries, both in personal nostalgia and in the perceived opportunities for ministry. But there needn’t be such a sense of urgency resulting in jam-packed, non stop activities. December doesn’t have to turn into a blur of back to back events. The work of the Spirit is not rushed, but moves steadily through the rhythm of the entire year.

 Persistent love trumps harried programs.

Invite local friends to participate in your family traditions because you care for them, not because they are ministry objects. Open your home to others not for potential newsletter fodder, but because you need friends at this time of the year. Share your customs with them as just that, customs from your own culture, not some hyper-spiritualized practice. Learn the local flavor of Christmas and incorporate some ideas for your family next Christmas. Laugh at the wonder of local children when you offer a gift or a Christmas cookie. Leave space to lament over Christmases left behind in your home country, and find solace in the quirky traditions in this new life. Tell a local friend you are sad and homesick, but that you’re glad you got a chance to meet them.

In this way, Christmas is shared, not imposed upon. The gospel isn’t preached, but lived.

The Story of a Soup

 The Story of a Soup by Robynn

It was years ago God gave us the Wilson family!

John and Kamala Wilson ran a guest house in the small mountain town of Coonoor in South India. We first checked in to the guest house when our Bronwynn was only 2 months old. We had come, our bedraggled family of five, for rest. We left two weeks later with so much more than that. We had found new friends, a new family! “Uncle Wilson” and “Auntie Kamala”, as our kids came to affectionately call them, invited us into their hearts and lives. They loved us generously and deeply. And it was ever so easy to love them back.

Kamala had been raised by two British missionary women. These two women adopted several girls and raised them as their own. Kamala learned from one to cook and bake and create delightful delicacies in the kitchen. From the other she learned to play the piano and to play games. She became good at both! John grew up in an Anglo-Indian home, thus his very English name. The two of them met at Bible school and married soon afterwards. They had three lovely children, Timothy, Gauis and Sharon.

The guest house, under Wilson and Kamala’s special care, ministered to the bodies as well as to the souls of those who passed through.  Afternoon tea was staged out on the lawn, surrounded by the green tea plantation fields, if the weather allowed.  Kamala always baked up special treats for tea. There was always fresh bread and homemade jam or lemon curd. There was cake or biscuits (of the British variety), a salty snack and of course the tea! In the evening after dinner, there was more tea and a Bible reading and prayers in the sitting room.

Auntie Kamala loved to bake and cook. She collected recipes from various cookbooks but also from international guests that haled from all over! Family recipes for shortbread or lamington or lemon squares, pavlova or trifle were shared with Kamala. She tried out recipes for casseroles, soups and pasta dishes. Each recipe was written down in a little note book or kept in a scrapbook. Each recipe was tested in her little kitchen.

It was there at Coonoor that we first tried Curried Pumpkin and Bacon Soup. We were the only guests and Uncle Wilson had given the staff the day off. Auntie Kamala made us supper that evening. Fresh bread and this amazingly thick consoling bowl of soup! Although it had “curry” in the name, it really wasn’t an Indian recipe. My memory may fail, but it seems to me that Kamala had found that particular recipe in an Australian cookbook that a former guest and friend had gifted her. Here we were South Indians, Americans, Canadians basking in bowls of thick stew-soup who’s recipe had likely been developed with the nostalgia of British “curry” deep down under!  It was amazing.

It was the type of soup that sticks to your ribs and glues friendships together.

Later after we had left India and I reflected on our departure I wrote this about our last visit to Wilson and Kamala (who had since moved on from the guest house):

After packing up and leaving our home for all those years the girls and I flew south to some dear friends where we stayed for one week. I was still physically recovering from staph infection, severe amoebic dysentery and 18 days of antibiotics, let alone the heat, packing, good-bye parties, 1000 last-minute errands and details. Spiritually I was battered and beaten down. Emotionally I was ruined.

Wilson and Kamala were the perfect people to collapse with. They took such gentle care of the girls and I. Auntie Kamala played games, held tea parties, provided crafts and crayons. I took long naps. Wilson fixed hundreds of cups of tea. I sat in a chair in the middle of their sitting room and pathetically cried through nine complete Gaither Homecoming DVDs. In the past I’ve made fun of that music, the hairspray, the makeup, the dramatic, the crescendo—now it was the balm that soothed. Kamala fixed delicious meals to tempt my appetite again.  Their adult children Sharon and Gauis came to visit. There was lots of laughter, lots of love, lots of space to begin to heal.  (Expectations and Burnout 2010, p213)

It is with joy and memory that I can commend this soup to you on this chilly autumn day! It’s best enjoyed with friends and fresh bread.

Curried Pumpkin & Bacon Soup

  • 500 gr pumpkin
  • 3 potatoes
  • 3 strips bacon
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½-1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups water, milk or cream

Cook pumpkin and potatoes. Brown bacon. Add onion and garlic and butter and spices. Cook until the onion is clear. Add vegetables and liquid. Roughly mash with a potato masher. Add more milk or water if desired. Garnish with bacon.

(*This recipe is incredibly versatile. I’ve used sweet potatoes, Indian Kohora, carrots or a combination of the three with pumpkin or in place of pumpkin. I’ve used fresh pumpkin or a tin of pureed pumpkin. I often just use bacon bits instead of cooking up strips of bacon….or I’ve omitted the bacon altogether for vegetarian or Muslim friends. However you cook it –this soup is good for the soul!)


To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

To the Displaced and the Exile

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You read an article on burn out and knew that was you. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

But you had barely arrived when you realized that life had gone on in this, your passport country. You call your best friend. She squeals with delight and then says “I’m so sorry. Can’t talk now! Heading to a work party. Gotta get the kids ready for the baby sitter. And next week we’re swamped! Kids are getting ready for camp, we’ve got church stuff. Can’t wait to catch up”.


And your siblings. Oh. Your. Siblings. You so want to be able to sit down with them, to share life. But two of your brother’s have wives that are not speaking to each other and the idea of a fun family dinner is just that – an idea.

So there you sit. All of this going through your mind. And you feel one hot tear trickle down your face. You brush it away impatiently. But there’s another. How can you escape and just let all the preceding weeks and the now fill up your tear ducts and fall freely, a red sniffley nose and all?

You are displaced. You feel you are in exile.

You’ve no home to go to. You’re not fully at home there, but neither are you here.

You make it to the car and sit. It’s begun to rain and the rain blocks the windows, sending streams of water down and hiding you from the world. It has been a long time since you’ve seen rain. Your tears fall like the heavy raindrops. You sob like you will never stop.

There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort.

Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it.

And somehow you know that God is there. The God you cried to for weeks before making the move, late at night when all were sleeping so as to upset no one.The God who was with you when you held your 2-year-old in a steamy bathroom, far from good medical care, praying that the croup would go. The God who was with you when you first arrived on the soil of another country, looking out-of-place and oh so tired. The God who you prayed to when you went off the road in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and suddenly help was available.

The God of the Displaced and the Exiled is with you. Here and Now.

You recall the verse given to you by an older woman, one who knew what this nomadic life would hold – knew the good and knew the hard. You breathe. Slowly.

You say the verse aloud, your voice raspy,knowing you are at the end of your human strength. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion.*”

Softly you repeat the words “Strength to strength” and you start the car.

*Psalm 84:5-7

This article appears in the Goodbye section of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Part I ~ Re – Entry: Oh the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have wanted to write some essays on the re-entry process for a long time. It is a topic of critical importance in the world of the TCK, expat, missionary, and global nomad. I’m grateful that this week while I’m in Istanbul I have the privilege of posting a 3-part series on re-entry written by Joy Salmon, a fellow TCK from Pakistan who has done extensive work in this area. In this first post, Joy does a great job of putting our early adult experiences with re-entry into the context of development. I’d appreciate your feedback on this three-part series on Reentry by Joy Salmon. You can find out more about Joy at the end of the post, but for now take a look at Part 1. 


What story have you told yourself about re-entering your home culture?

The stories we tell ourselves and others matter.  They shape our lives.  Our stories not only describe us, they also define us – they even give meaning to our lives.  They’re useful, in that they make sense of our experiences and events that happen to us.  In doing so, they influence our thoughts, feelings and life paths.

When I returned to the U.S. after graduating from high school at a boarding school in Pakistan, I was filled with excitement to be entering the next phase of my life – college, independence, adulthood.  My dad had taught me how to open a bank account and write a check.  My sister was waiting with open arms and a summer job.  Family friends opened their home and moved me into my college dorm.  What more could one want?  I was prepared and connected.

But life happens.  My sister moved away.   I no longer was a known and valued entity.  Nor were the people and world around me.  Even those who were “like me” (re-entered TCKs from other countries) seemed “not like me.”

I told some not-like-me people stories about Pakistan that were really stories aboutcharpoy my fear that they were not liking me and my misguided attempts to still be okay.  One time, I said my miniature souvenir charpoy (a wooden framed, jute twine bed), which was 1/6 the actual size, was an exact replica of the beds Pakistanis slept on.  I explained that the beds were small so there would be enough space for the many beds needed for large families who lived in one-room homes.

I cringe to admit that I laughed at their naiveté when I realized they believed me.

In time, I grew to hide my story from other not-like-me people because I wanted to avoid long explanations, disinterest or their not liking me by virtue of my differences.  But it leaked out.  One time, in a team-building exercise, we were asked to name a favorite farm animal that hadn’t yet been named.  By the time it was my turn, farm animals typically found in the western world had been named, so I named a camel – to the bewilderment and amusement of other participants.

My misguided efforts to build myself up and hide out were based on the story I told myself that went something like this:  You’re different.  You don’t fit in.  So there’s something wrong with you.

ReentryWhile there was a kernel of truth in my story, i.e. I did have different life experiences, my decision about what that meant took me down a path of incongruities:  I set myself apart from others, while doing all I could to become the poster child for middle America.

What if I had known that my like me vs. not like me and my liking me vs. not liking me struggles were expected and typical parts of the story of everyone my age?  That internal crises and emotional upheavals were inextricably linked to exploring possibilities, to discovering and committing to a strong sense of me, to becoming confident in my identity while still being able to connect with my peers.   That the process of exploring and growing in the ability to have close, trusting relationships that are mutually caring and beneficial is often messy.  That I was like my peers in these normal developmental tasks for young adults.

Perhaps I had some personal vulnerabilities that predisposed me to make these developmental tasks into internal struggles.  And perhaps defining them as “struggles” changed their meaning – one that spoke more of an agonizing battle than a natural growth process.

What if I had embraced these seemingly adverse events as normal experiences for my stage in life.  What if I had realized that these feelings and struggles were:

  • Temporary
  • Ones that nearly everyone experiences at this phase of life
  • Ones that would be naturally resolved with time and effort, some new skills and strategies, and a little help from my friends and mentors

More specifically, what if I had known that almost all young adults feel uncertain of their belonging, and that these feelings wane with time.  How might I have responded differently?

What story will you tell yourself – and others – about your re-entry to your home culture?  If you’d like to explore this, here’s one way:

  1. Grab a pen and paper and describe in writing how your experiences are similar to my late-blooming realizations mentioned above.  Let your thoughts and feelings flow, without worrying about writing style.
  2. Turn your writing into a paragraph or two you could share with others.
  3. Would you be willing to share your paragraph below as a way to help the transition of future re-entering TCKs?

In Part 2, we’ll look at how the cultural transition of re-entry adds a development task – reconstructing our lives.


Joy SalmonJoy L. Salmon is a former TCK.  She lived in Pakistan for most of her youth.   Her dissertation research was on the early-adult experiences of third-culture kids (TCKs) who returned to the USA upon graduation from high school overseas.  She is a licensed psychologist, with a Ph.D. In Counseling Psychology & Human Systems, and the founder of workwiselearning.com.

An Ode to the Well-meaning and the Clueless

As a child of missionaries growing up in the sixties through the late seventies, I have more than a few funny stories about some of the things that were sent our way — clothing and such sent to the “poor missionaries” in Pakistan. This post is an ode to those who sent them – but before you judge my heart and attitude, please read through to the end.



You tried so hard!

You went through your children’s clothes, certain that you could find something, anything really, that you could send to the children of missionaries. You pictured the huts we lived in, the threadbare tunics we wore, the lack of stores and supplies.  You thought we would never know the difference between Levis and no name jeans.

You advertised and arranged special drop off times so those clothes could make their way from your basements to our homes, our bodies.

You packed up oatmeal, and flour, thinking that surely we would use these products and be so excited. It never entered your mind that chocolate chips and taco mix were what we craved.

You really did send teabags to the part of the world that invented tea.

You sent pants with no zippers and old-fashioned dresses, all with love and a pure heart. And we mocked with hearts that were mean and not pure.

And I thought you were well-meaning and clueless. And I laughed.

And then I began meeting some of you. And you really didn’t know. You really were giving us gifts from your heart. You were taking time and energy that could have been used in a hundred other ways to care for us so far away.

You put little stitches on big warm quilts and sent them our way so we could be warm. And with each stitch you prayed for us. You prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

When my mother and I went over a cliff in the mountains, with only a barbed wire fence separating us from certain death – you were praying. When my brother got in a near fatal accident in Turkey, you were praying. When we faced illness, and sorrow, and separation, you prayed. When babies died, and boarding school was too hard, and people hurt us, you prayed.

You were so much better than me – with my arrogance and my “well-meaning but clueless” song and dance. You prayed with a fervor and love that I never had. You knew what it was to care for people you had barely met.

I still have two of your quilts. And when I look at them I think of how much I judged – and how wrong I was. And I thank you in my heart. 

Out of Darkness, Into Light

Every day I ride the subway line into the city of Boston. It’s a short ride, going from Central Square in Cambridge to the busy Park Street stop just off the Boston Commons. At one segment in that short ride we come out from the deep underground of the city and we are above ground overlooking the Charles River, the city of Cambridge on one side, the city of Boston on the other. It is glorious to come out of darkness into the light of the day. It never gets old.


In the quiet night the girl lies alone. She can hear the breathing of five others in the boarding school dormitory room where she lies. All of her roommates have been asleep for a long time.

They don’t know she is awake. They don’t know that every night she wakes in a panic, a scream just ready to break the silence. That it takes her a moment to calm, to realize she is not being attacked – she is safe with 5 other girls, all of them young teens. She cries out to a far away God, desperate to reclaim the innocence of her faith from before the attack, desperate for some measure of comfort.

The man who violated her is a respected member of the missionary community in the city where her parents work. He is a household name; a frequent household guest.

No one would ever believe her — a 14-year-old teen who is known for her sparkling personality; her love for the dramatic. She physically wards off the panic and the tears by folding her arms tightly across her chest, feeling the warm flannel of her pajamas. It’s in the early hours of dawn when she finally falls back into a dreamless sleep.

In another room and building a little boy has just woken up in tears. He has wet the bed. The other missionary kids are white – and he is not. He is subject to sometimes merciless bullying – and no one stops it.

He curls into a ball. How can he change his sheets so no one will know? He cries out to an absent mom, longing for the comfort that would come from her presence, knowing he will never tell her.


Cairo, LightIt’s dark and it’s painful – but abuse of missionary kids is rightly being brought into the light. The loyalty code that makes people hesitant to confront is being replaced by a Godly recognition of sin and the need for confrontation and repentance, the need for justice.

There are some horrific stories – and there are some just plain sad stories, but they can’t heal until they are brought to the light. It’s a warped sense of honor, a twisted allegiance that tells us we need to forgive without confronting and bringing to light that which has wronged or destroyed.

And the thing with light is this: Even a bit can dispel darkness, even a candle illuminates and makes room for us to see more clearly; even a little light can comfort. And God who sees into the silent, sleepy dormitory asks us to speak into the dark, speak truth where lies were planted, offer hope where despair has been rooted, offer comfort in the face of torment.

Because these ones who were hurt have been called out of darkness into His glorious light; a light that dispels darkness and blinds us with its beauty and power. A light that never grows old. 

Blogger’s note: I wrote this as I do all my posts – with a deep breath and a prayer. The post is not intended to hurt further – rather to offer a word of hope. My great prayer is that it does that. For those who have been hurt, violated, abused as missionary kids there is a conference that will be held in April in Chicago.

“Abuse sent many MKs and their families on an ‘Unexpected Journey’. This conference will address actions and steps to help us move toward reclaiming our lives and breaking the silence.” MK Safety Net Conference in Chicago Unexpected Journey’April 19 – 21, 2013