Last year, the number of UFM children reached almost 160! The term Third Culture Kid (TCK) has been coined to describe children who spend some of their formative years outside their parents’ culture. They build relationships with both cultures, without fully owning either, and often identify most with other TCKs. This is one reason children in the UFM family love our Summer Conference. They feel they have met their ‘own tribe’!

An expanded worldview

Being a TCK brings many rich blessings, as well as challenges. They often grow up with an expanded worldview. They learn that skin colour is unimportant and people have different perspectives on the same thing. They experience the world first-hand, and often learn to empathise and value relationships above convenience and things. They develop social and linguistic skills, and are often task rather than time oriented. They make friends across cultures and get a front row view of the joys and trials of ministry.

Cultural chameleons

There are also challenges, however, such as a gap in understanding their parents’ culture. They may be cultural chameleons, observing and adapting on the surface, while inwardly feeling like outsiders for a long time. TCKs have widely ranging experiences, but many share a feeling of being uprooted several times, making rich friendships but saying goodbye to friends and loved ones with painful frequency. They can face unrealistic expectations of behaviour in unfamiliar contexts. Their educational history may be enriching but a form-filling headache!

Supporting families

Wise cross-cultural parenting doesn’t just happen. When families move cultures, far from support systems, stress is placed on the family relationships. Decisions have to be made about schooling, medical and spiritual care for the children – things often taken for granted in the home culture. Then there is the extra pressure of deciding the best time for re-entry for education or family reasons. This can be positive if families have a good foundation.

Wise cross-cultural parenting doesn’t just happen

The support of the sending church is vital. Asking the right questions, keeping mission workers accountable, and caring and praying for them, all help to strengthen the family’s foundations. Home churches can also help by keeping links with children in the church, passing on prayer requests, and being sensitive that for TCKs, the UK is not really ‘home’. One of our sons, when asked if he was glad to be home after a dramatic evacuation from Ivory Coast, replied with childlike frankness, ‘No I’m not glad, and I’m not home!’

The support of the sending church is vital

Practical support from UFM

In UFM, we believe that mission workers are sent by local churches, and we deeply value the support churches give to those they know and love. To complement this, and support from our pastoral team, we offer practical support. This includes help considering education options, resources, and the timing and impact of transitions.

We are delighted to have two new volunteers: Christian professionals who can provide Skype or email consultations to support families in and outside of the UK. This means parents anxious about a child’s emotional, behavioural or educational needs, can get tailored help before returning to the UK, without having to wait to go through the state system. We are very thankful for this provision and the blessing it has already been to several families.

Please pray for strong relationships and communication in UFM families and that in the pressures of ministry, children feel valued and heard. Pray for good adjustment and friendships, and that our children come to a personal faith and share a sense of ownership in their parents’ ministry. Please pray that they will be able to look back with joy and use their experiences positively.

Rosalind Brown served in Ivory Coast and now supports UFM parents