I spent fourteen of my first eighteen years outside the United States. The first ten of those were in Papua New Guinea, and the last four in Liberia, West Africa. My parents were teachers, and my dad a principal, in schools for TCK’s. Probably the single most difficult part of my time growing up was the other four years—the years that I was “home” in the United States. I particularly remember my first grade year and my seventh and eighth grade years. My parents had a number of churches they had to visit each time we were back in the US, and it was hard to make friends. Add that to the fact that my sister and I were somewhat “on display” as the children of the visitors from abroad, and that I knew little about the culture in the US. I was used to being an outsider in Papua New Guinea, and had buddies to join me in that status. I was much more of a lone outsider in the US.
But the good definitely outweighed the bad, so picking one good thing is hard. The life I lived, simple yet full of experiences on a large mission compound and out in the surrounding highlands (PNG) or jungle (Liberia) was hard to beat. I was able to build houses and airstrips, play sports and make forts with friends, engage with people of other cultures, ride motorbikes, and hunt. I was also in a small-school, rural setting, so it was not easy to fall through the cracks—we were all known by adults who cared. I was in the top three of my graduating class in Liberia—in fact, there were only three of us.
I’m still an outsider, after all these years. But two things have really helped me… my home that moves with me—my lifetime companion (wife, Angie) and… the knowledge that Jesus is preparing a permanent place for me with Him.
My experiences growing up certainly affect who I am today. When I travel to a new place, I start learning the language and asking questions about culture as soon as I arrive. I love working with my hands. I love a rural setting much more than a city setting, and a tropical setting more than a temperate setting. I am much more comfortable in multicultural settings than in monocultural settings. And I have certainly not gotten away from my involvement in schools for TCK’s.
Some things have surprised me as well. Even though I prefer the rural and the tropical, I have found a home in a cold northern city in China. And although some TCK’s get the “itch” to move on to another place after a few years, I have now been in this city longer than any other place in my life—with no “itch” to move on yet.
I’m still an outsider, after all these years. But two things have really helped me by transcending the sense of disconnect that I sometimes feel. One is my home that moves with me—my lifetime companion (wife, Angie). I am at home when we are together, regardless of the place. Having a family has deepened that sense. And even deeper is the knowledge that Jesus is preparing a permanent place for me with Him. My status as a foreigner, a temporary resident that has to renew my permission to live here on an annual basis, just deepens the knowledge that this place is not my final home.