GO asked two missionary kids to reflect on what community means to them – the strengths and highlights of growing up on the field, their experience of community as they transitioned to living in Australia, and how the Christian community in Australia can support MKs.
We lived at a boarding school for missionary kids in the north of Pakistan, where my parents were teachers, and it was incredible experience doing church and community with such a range of nationalities and church backgrounds. It was great to learn from each other and see Jesus as such an important commonality. It was a blessing to be part of a close-knit Christian community, all living onsite or close and sharing so much of our lives with each other. We called everyone who wasn't a teacher auntie and uncle. I really missed this coming back to Australia where we have very individualistic tendencies, not really knowing our neighbours or inviting people into our homes as much.
Transitioning to living in Australia was a little bit of a shock. It felt hard to connect with people, even as a teenager, and now with hindsight I can attribute feelings of isolation to this less-involved community life, even in our churches. I think we need to work harder to be culturally different here. The MK network was my closest and most-at-home-feeling community for a number of years when we got back, and it's hard to explain why, other than that we have shared experiences and it’s easier to just ‘get’ each other.
What is helpful for one family or individual might not be helpful for the next, but in general the Christian community can support and encourage MKs by keeping in communication and taking an interest in those who are on the field in a two-way capacity; don't just ask them questions but let them get to know you too. Don't treat them as a phenomenon when they return, but give them room to be who they are and feel as ‘mk’ as the want to feel, while exploring who they are in other capacities, most importantly as a child of God hopefully.
I spent nine years in Nepal as an MK with my parents. Nepali people tend to be quite community oriented and there were kind people from our church, from the hospital where my Dad worked and people who worked for our family who welcomed us into their lives. The missionary community was also a highlight. With on average seven kids in the small school, the one teacher was more like an auntie than just a teacher.
I also attended a Christian boarding school for a couple of years while my parents were on the field. Though I found it hard to be away from my family at times, being at boarding school was great fun. With about 350 kids, it was also a helpful transition between my small village school and my school in Australia with 1000 students. Starting at the Australian school was overwhelming; a couple of the students tried deliberately to shock me in my first few days, but it was generally a fairly accepting place, which contributed to me settling in.
I found some great support in my church youth group and a girls’ Bible study group. It was in this group that I grew a lot in my faith and understanding of God. Another great source of community for me was the Missionary Kids Network. My brother, sister and I caught up with MK friends at annual camps and Interserve weekends. From our common experiences we could share about leaving ‘home’ to come back to our parents’ ‘home’ that was not really home for us at all. I often did not feel very Aussie … in fact my feelings and reactions often seemed to be much more Nepali.
My family was also a great source of community for me, and we helped each other when it was tough. During the time we’d been in Nepal our extended families had been great at keeping in touch with us, so when we came back our cousins were already our good friends. Church friends or people in the mission agency can play a significant role during home assignment, which is a busy time for parents. Taking MKs out to do special, fun things with them is helpful. On one home assignment I remember a wonderful lady from Interserve taking us out ice-skating with her children.