"Where are you from?” is a question that’s hard for me to answer. Often I’m tempted to say, “The airplane!”
I got my first passport when I was 6 months old. My family’s destination? Russia, a country few grown men dared to visit. I went with my family for “religious work,” as described on my visa.
While my parents taught at Zaoksky Adventist Seminary, I spent six of the best years of my life in love with the nearly year-round blanket of snow—building caves in the snow, skiing, having the biggest snowball fight ever. I grew up in a country that hated America and all the people having anything to do with it. Yet somehow I managed to make friends with the Russian children, master the language, and attend first grade in an all-Russian elementary school.
I thought it normal when the KGB (now called the FSB) would visit our house, asking us why we were really in Russia. My parents were very open and always told them that we had nothing to hide.
After years of gaining people’s trust, we were able to develop close friendships and share Jesus with the Russian people by helping them with their medical and scholastic needs.
God was holding my hand throughout my time in Russia, and when it came time to leave, my 6-year-old mind couldn’t quite comprehend what I was leaving behind.
The next stop in my journey was England—my first experience with culture shock! The Russian and British worlds are so far apart, it’s like comparing Saturn to Venus. However, I quickly became enveloped in the richly intriguing British culture. Going to formal banquets and taking fencing lessons was fun, but walking along the bulwark of ancient castles, exploring morbid torture chambers, and receiving squire training from a knight was even more fun.
In England there were different challenges from the watch-your-back intensity of Russia. While attending a prestigious prep school in Cambridge, every social event and extra-curricular activity fell on Friday night or Sabbath, but somehow I still remained a very social second- and third-grader.
My Friday-night and Sabbath absences provoked a lot of questions from my classmates, which in turn opened up opportunities to witness. Before long I had many friends. And often they scheduled their parties on days other than Saturday, and they also respected my choice not to eat meat.
Three years was not nearly long enough for me to gain all that could be absorbed from such an incredible country. When it came time to leave, I was old enough to feel an intense sadness at being pulled away from what I then called home. God had a master plan, however. Two years later—after a brief pit stop in Nebraska I found myself living in the tropical Philippines.
This move was the hardest for me, as I had only just adjusted to the fast-paced environment of America. The Philippines was completely opposite from everywhere else I’d lived. The climate alone was a huge adjustment. Being so near to the equator, the temperature never drops below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunset times are nearly constant year round, ranging from 6:00–6:30 p.m. The beaches are incredibly beautiful, and the people are overwhelmingly warm and friendly.
It’s a very strange feeling to be stared at wherever you go, and in Asia I stuck out like a flashlight at night. Daily life in the Philippines included going to the market, staring at looming coconut palms, and riding on a jeepney. Jeepneys, the main form of transportation, are like a cross between a bus and a jeep.
It’s striking to see the harsh difference between the rich and the poor. In Asia you can often tell the status of people by their weight. Yet, with all the poverty, the people are such an incredible inspiration because they remain positive and friendly, in spite of difficult circumstances.
After four years of living in the tropics, I took the flight for boarding school in California. Everyone there kept asking me, “Aren’t you glad you’re finally coming back home?” But America didn’t feel like home, not after having lived here for only two years. Airplanes—— with their flight attendants, crowded seats, and insipid food—felt like my real home.
Looking back on my childhood, I can honestly say growing up in different countries has impacted me for the better. A knowledge and understanding of other people and cultures helps me to better understand what it means to be like Jesus and love everyone.
As the saying goes, “Once a missionary, always a missionary.” I hope to be able to bring my experience to the mission field someday and do the work that God is calling me to do.
Are you a TCK?
Third-Culture Kids, or TCKs, are people who’ve spent a significant part of their developmental years in a culture other than their parents’ culture. They’ve developed a sense of relationship to all cultures without full ownership of any.
If you’re a TCK, go to www.tckforum.com/tck and register to communicate with other TCKs from around the world. No one understands a TCK like another one!
Psalm 139 is the perfect psalm for Third-Culture Kids. Check out verses 7-10: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”