“You know you’re a missionary kid when you see a picture of your family on random peoples’ refrigerators.” (Anonymous)
Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Jared scanned all of my parents’ slides from Africa. It’s one of those projects that keeps getting put off, but we actually tackled it and got it done. They were coming here for the holiday and all of my siblings and my parents were going to be together. So, on Thanksgiving Eve, we spent most of the afternoon viewing them on the large TV screen in our family room and heard stories about each one. Needless to say, we made a pretty good dent.
That same weekend, in conjunction with the slides, I asked my parents about the “Five Best and Worst Things” about being a missionary in the latter half of the 20th Century. I seized the opportunity to listen and learn what it was like from their perspective. I have had my personal kid’s-eye-view and have spent years processing my own experience (good and bad), but I was in the dark about theirs. Truth be told, I heard stories that corroborated my memories and beliefs and learned many things that were new and unexpected.
Here are their Top Five(ish):
- Deputation. Dragging the kids around to all kinds of churches in the USA trying to raise money. (This seems nuts to me and I remember how we all didn’t like it either.)
- No converts. Questioning what they were doing there.
- Terrible food.
- Leaving her kids at boarding school. It was a heartbreak.
- Not getting along with other missionaries.
Mom Best (she only had Four)
- Freedom not to be encumbered with constant schedules.
- Teaching in the school.
- Experiences that you were exposed to that were “out of the norm.”
- Getting to know people from all over the world. The friendships they developed.
Dad Worst (he only had Three)
- So few converts. Asked himself, “what are we doing here?”
- Deputation. (see above crazy-making)
- Not getting along with other missionaries (I’m seeing a pattern).
- Learning another language.
- Traveling to new places.
- Seeing kids learn in the school where they were teaching.
- The experience with the death of a close friend who was gunned down in front of his wife by an extremist and how God protected him and my mom. (sounds like a best and worst to me)
- Meeting people from other countries (missionaries and nationals) and all the friendships they made.
I learned a lot about my parents over Thanksgiving and continue to. This past week, we plowed ahead through more slides during a visit as my mom is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer. It makes our time even more precious and the learning and gleaning even more pressing. So far, here are my top five takeaways which are for all of us, missionary kid or not (sorry, the new correct phrase is third culture kid).
- There were a lot of slides of animals I only now see in zoos. Growing up in another country meant having a different experience than your average American kid (like my husband). Attending boarding school, living as a minority and foreigner, knowing people from all over the world, being surrounded by war and poverty, vacationing in exotic places, and eating strange food is not your average American childhood. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sure you wouldn’t trade yours either, no matter how or where you grew up. It makes us into the people we are today, both broken and beautiful.
- Those 18 years my parents spent serving God in a far-away country was exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated all at the same time. Like all of our lives, my parents’ lives were filled with struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows. I draw comfort in knowing this. My “normal” adult life has looked very different from theirs on the outside. But my own life has been filled with the exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated as well. It’s not what’s happening on the outside that matters most. It’s what’s happening on the inside.
- They matter and all their experiences matter. It was really good for me to take a peek from their point-of-view, to understand all of this effected them, as well as us four kids, for both good and bad. I have been so wrapped up in my own “how this effected me” for a long time. It was helpful to step out of that for a moment to see the view through another lens. I want to do this more often with all those I know. My life will be richer when I do.
- Our family mattered to my parents. My mom wants to delete every slide that doesn’t have one of us in it. She keeps saying, “What does that matter to our family?” I love this. For a long time, I had a warped perspective on this. My view was that “God’s work” was more important than our family. It’s just not true for the Marets at the very core. It’s so good for me to know that. It brings great healing to me. Yes. They made mistakes. Yes. It was very hard and unusual. BUT. Yes. They did their best. Yes. They loved us. (Doesn’t sound very different from my own family and my own children.) This is where grace comes in and wins!
- Life comes down to people. People are the hardest parts of our lives. People are the best parts of our lives. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what cultural differences we have, or what we are trying to accomplish together, it all boils down to people and the relationships we build with them. People bring the most frustration and hurt, but they also bring the most joy and healing. We can try to avoid people and all the “bad” stuff they bring, but in doing so, we miss out on all the hope and healing and love that they bring to us. People are worth it!
My heart is for greater healing for each of us. This project is bringing me much. It brings me back to what matters most: being fully-known and loved, but with a twist. This time was not about me being known, but getting to know another. That’s my unexpected surprise. I hope this will prompt you to take on a project (person) of your own. Who knows what will happen?
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