From being a TCK to a TCKs’ parent

20 Dec 2019

“Mum, do you have any childhood stories that dont involve Papua New Guinea?” my children ask.

Shortly before my 7th birthday, my parents responded to an urgent request for teachers for a tiny TCK (third culture kid) school in Tari, in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG). I remember very little about the weeks leading up to departure, but it seems that I more than made up for that with a plethora of memories from the next three years. Life on the small compound surrounded by green paddocks was for children, idyllic. Having other TCKs living right next door provided me with constant playmates. The friendships that were forged during those years were deep and enduring. We had freedom to play outside – creating new games, just enjoying being kids.

There were also other great delights as a TCK in PNG: having our own real bow and arrows, raising roosters and receiving parcels from Australia. My sisters and I were only interested in just one thing – how many lollies were inside! I remember quite distinctly the time that a packet of curry powder spilt inside the box and infiltrated everything else; what disappointment! I’ll never forget too, outings that involved trudging through knee-deep mud to swim in a beautiful lake in the middle of nowhere. Even the obligatory worm tablets afterwards didn’t cast a pall on these daytrips! Although I missed our extended family, especially on birthdays and at Christmas, I mostly just enjoyed the new lifestyle and accepted it as normal…I’m sure this was largely due to the fact that mum and dad provided a stable, secure home for us in Tari, just as they had in Australia. That part of my life didn’t change.

The biggest downsides of being a TCK for me, were saying goodbyes to friends and leaving PNG ourselves. People coming and going is a constant reality of missionary life. I’m not sure that it gets any easier, especially when the goodbyes are overshadowed by not knowing if you will ever meet again. The heartbreak of leaving PNG ourselves, lasted for years. My dad became very ill during our last year there and had to be medically evacuated. He never returned to Tari and I remember sobbing one night when I realised that he would never again hear the wonderful sound of the rainwater tank overflowing. But an enduring part of that memory are the words Mum comforted me with, assuring me that God would never put me through anything more than I could bear.

As a child, I didn’t ever give a second thought to the inconveniences of no running hot water or telephone, and having to order in groceries every three months for delivery by truck. These ‘hardships’ were not part of my reality. A friend recently asked me why I thought my MK experience had been so positive. I replied that part of it was because I never heard my parents grumbling about the challenges of life in Tari. Their positive response to our new life helped to shape my own.

Now it’s my turn to be the TCK mum. It’s quite incredible the different perspective this brings. No running hot water, power cuts, constant interruptions, and dirt are now a daily part of my reality and I’m sorry to say that my children won’t be able to claim that they never heard me whinging! Our journey to West Africa first involved a year in France, where our children were cast abruptly into local French public schools. There is no denying the cost for them in that process; so many nights of endless tears with no earthly solution. And yet, the rewards for that sacrifice are already evident as we have witnessed their faith grow and mature. Life in West Africa too still involves homesickness that seems to know no bounds and the ongoing pain of losing friends. We cling to verses like Lamentations 3:32,33 and 1 Peter 1:6,7, ultimately certain that the cost of taking the Gospel to other lands is not too great when viewed in the light of eternity.

I don’t for one moment regret being a TCK or raising my children as TCKs. Do I think growing up as a TCK changes you? Yes! I will probably never feel entirely ‘at home’ anywhere for the rest of my life and I often ache for the friends and the countries I’ve left behind. I grieve these things for my children too, and there is no easy remedy. But I also know as a TCK and as a mother to TCKs, that most often joy is interwoven with the pain and to forgo one, is also to forgo the other. And so, I look forward with hope, to one day listening to my children regale their children with their own stories from West Africa.

– Jenny, a Pioneers worker serving in West Africa.

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