Trials and Treasures in Raising Third Culture Kids - Radical

Trials and Treasures in Raising Third Culture Kids

Replacing Fear with Faith

Fear is an indiscriminate consequence of inhabiting a fallen world. It’s a struggle all parents experience, but for parents raising third-culture kids, fear can be paralyzing. Fear of persecution, discrimination, language acquisition, healthcare, education, social skills, trauma, and resentment are just a few fears parents may have.

Many of these fears are legitimate concerns. Countless missionary families experience persecution. Language acquisition is grueling. Global healthcare and education standards often differ from Western expectations. Unfortunately, research suggests trauma among third-culture missionary kids is almost double that of their monoculture peers.

Nonetheless, as parents that are passionate about the gospel, we know these concerns do not excuse us from the Great Commission. They are challenges to be confronted, not escaped. For this reason, God calls us to take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

By taking our fears captive, we remember God’s purpose for parenthood. Regardless of context—whether abroad or in our home culture—our task is the same. We are called to help our children see Jesus as infinitely and eternally better than anything our heart may desire. This purpose defines successful parenting. Education, healthcare, safety, and social standards are not factors of first importance in our parenting decisions. We reject the idea that God’s will is for our family to be safe or comfortable. We replace fear with faith, knowing God will supply our every need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). 

Navigating the Complexity of Culture 

Typically, we think of culture as food, music, language, and dress. But the deeper aspects of culture—core beliefs, values, shared assumptions, perception of time, and social norms—are the most difficult for parents.

Understanding this difficulty is straightforward. In the home, parents raise their children to adhere to the cultural practices and values of the home culture. However, the dominant influence on the child’s development is the host culture outside the home. This becomes complicated for the third-culture kids when the cultural norms of the home and host culture conflict. As a result, the children exist in a third culture unique to themselves.

Practically, to navigate this difficulty, you must become a student of culture and master the language. These skills allow you to help your third culture kids process cultural confusion. Theologically, cross-cultural life gives parents an opportunity.

You can help them by pointing out how cultural and ethnic diversity, manifested in God’s image-bearers, is a better display of the diversity of his glory. You can also show them how cultural poverty, violence, and spiritual darkness bear witness to the scope of creation’s brokenness. Lastly, remind them the discontentment of living in-between two worlds reveals their ultimate longing to dwell eternally in God’s presence. Give them a foretaste of eternity by making the home a place of belonging where your children feel fully known, safe, and unconditionally loved.

Prioritizing Family Over Ministry

Prioritizing family over ministry is easy to say and hard to do. Missionary life is characterized by constant activity. We operate at our maximum limit. We assume the urgency of the task and the investment of supporters requires excessive ministry activity. So, we overcommit—often to the neglect of our families—believing this is what’s required of a good missionary. In contrast, our children may only see God robbing them of their parents.

Excessive ministry activity can be one of the most dangerous threats to our spiritual well-being, our children’s well-being, and our ministry’s well-being. Missionary parents ministering to their target culture but neglecting their children’s spiritual and emotional health are left with a public ministry of hypocrisy. In contrast, when missionary parents prioritize their primary calling as disciple-makers in the home, ministry beyond the household will rightly display gospel truth. 

For this reason, as a parent, nothing is more important than discipling our children. God gives us a general mandate to make disciples of the nations, but a specific mandate to disciple our children (Ephesians 6:4). Thus, we prioritize our physical children over our spiritual children. Our children are our primary mission field. Give them access to your time that others do not have. At home, remove distractions, and be actively present. Be vulnerable, model repentance and faith. Be the spiritual leader in the home that those outside the home perceive you to be. Your children are watching. 

The difficulties of raising children abroad can be intimidating and overwhelming, but we do not flourish as disciple-makers in the home and among the nations because we are able. Instead, Jesus promises to invade our inability with his empowering grace, equipping us for the work to which we are called (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Craig D. McClure

Craig D. McClure is a Missions Advancement Strategist and professor at the Dominican Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a master’s degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral student and adjunct professor in global missions. Craig and his wife Joanna live in the Dominican Republic with their four children, Joseph, Liliana, Lucas, and Matías.


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