Missionary Kids distinguish sanctuary

Preaching the gospel overseas can impact more than just the converted.

Photo courtesy of Avery Robitaille


Photo courtesy of Avery Robitaille

Samantha Gassaway, Writer

Students who have never lived long in one country can experience a certain restlessness upon staying in one place. Moving from place to place and having lived long-term in several countries can confuse a person’s view of allegiance.

Growing up overseas

Missionary Kids, or MKs, are people often raised in several different countries in the name of evangelism. Third Culture Kids, or TCKs, hold citizenship in one country, and grow up in another. As a result, both MKs and TCKs never feel a sense of national belonging, and thus find companionship and community amongst others of the same background.

Avery Robitaille, freshman business marketing and management major, was born in America but moved to Indonesia when she was three-years-old. Her family began mission work there and she has lived and been educated there ever since.

“I’m so happy I got to grow up that way. I want to raise my kids the exact same way I was raised,” Robitaille said. “Growing up overseas, you have a more diverse viewpoint of the world.  We never had super close friends outside the family…We learned not to get attached to things.”

Rebecca Strauss, senior film major, similarly grew up in a ministry setting overseas, born in South Africa and moving several times before coming to Biola for her education. Bouncing from country to country was a large part of her upbringing. Strauss celebrated her fifth birthday and moved to South Africa, Albania, then to the States and finally to Kazakhstan, from which she came to Biola.

a fund-raising effort

An essential piece of the overseas mission is furlough, in which families doing ministry abroad return to the United States to rally their churches and share stories with those who support them about the work they enable worldwide.

“We actually come on furlough every two to four years, depending on the time, so I’ve been back to the States several times, but it was a progression because my mom says when I was five, and we moved over there, I kept asking, ‘Mommy, when are we going to go home?’” Strauss said. “After every furlough we would go to at least five new churches, and we would get introduced in the front and you would be that weird missionary kid that no one really wants to talk to but everyone’s kind of talking about.”

Similarly, Robitaille described the furlough back to the States as more of a fund-raising effort. Her family would return to their home church and several surrounding churches to update them on their hard work as well as encourage and thank the congregation for their contribution.

a scary place

After several years of this lifestyle, enrollment at Biola can be a scary place for MKs to converge and remain in. While feeling like somewhat of an outsider, MKs and TCKs find comfort and community in each other’s presence.

“International students get along really well, because they all have that in common. They all know that they don’t really belong anywhere, and so they kind of belong together,” Strauss said. “It seems like [my upbringing] would be very different, and it is, but I think people would be very surprised at how similar it is too…You forget that everyone’s a person and they all get up and eat breakfast and go to school and have homework and come home, whether it’s in a jungle or in a city.”

scary and intimidating

Adjusting to Biola was extremely painful for Robitaille, as the freedom she experienced in Indonesia seemed stripped from her. The shift seemed scary and intimidating, and home felt further away than the thousands of miles it already was.

“Brutally honest, I hated it. I did not want to be here,” Robitaille said. “It felt like part of my soul was missing. I would have nightmares at night and wake up looking out my window trying to find something that I’d lost, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally I thought, ‘Oh wait, I left part of myself in Indo.’ And it took me a long time to adjust to me being here now for good.”

While many missionaries minister in hostile environments, most Missionary Kids encourage the world to reconcile and boldly testify to peace attainable in the midst of tragedy. Biola students, and Christians alike, can do well to understand and adjust their attitudes toward MKs and their experiences.

This story is part three of a series called Growth is Pain. Read the first and second installments.
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