I grew up as a missionary kid. I have no home.
Oh, I had a house to live in during my childhood. The photo above, taken in 1970, shows my brother and me playing in the front yard.
It was a sprawling, creaky, wooden house with sixteen rooms if you include the basement that was originally built for holding church services. In the winter, we kids rode our bikes in the old worship space.
The house was set on a hill overlooking the town of Toadlena, New Mexico, where my dad was a missionary pastor among the Navajo people.
Besides being our living quarters, the house was a ministry center. It saw a stream of people who came by to use the telephone, receive counselling, or get a hot meal. Mom taught Bible classes in the kitchen. Used clothing was distributed in a room off the garage.
Toadlena was remote, an hour and a half drive from the nearest city with typical American features like a supermarket or movie theater.
People were different in Toadlena. Everyone but us spoke Navajo as their first language.
My classmates also lived by other rules and values: their parents were lenient where mine were strict, and vice versa.
I still remember my mom forcing me to wear snow boots to school in slushy weather even though no one else in town owned a pair.
As if my skin color wasn’t enough to set me apart, those boots became a symbol of how I didn’t belong. I was from a different culture.
Toadlena was where I lived, but it never felt completely like home.
Then again, neither did the world of supermarkets and movie theaters. That world felt indulgent, loud, and impolite compared to the Navajo people.
I couldn’t relate to “ordinary” Americans, who defined life by their careers, what they bought, or how they spent their free time. I felt awkward among them—certainly not at home.
Third Culture Kids
Since then, I’ve learned that this is a common phenomenon. People like me are labelled “third culture kids” (and even given a handy acronym, TCKs).
We tend not to feel totally at home either in the culture where we grew up or in the culture our parents came from. We’re caught between cultures.
The only place that felt like home to me was the big house on the hill in Toadlena—the familiar middle space our family inhabited.
About the time I stopped living in that world and went off to college, my family also moved out of Toadlena. We left that house. And my life since then has always included the feeling that I need to fit in but don’t.
TCKs react in various ways to being caught between cultures.
In my case I feel awkward, and one of the sinful ways I often respond is by withdrawing.
I’m scared of being seen as a misfit, so I won’t do anything socially risky even if I have a chance to help someone.
I live selfishly, with too much caution and too little kindness. I’m afraid to leave my home territory even though it doesn’t feel like home.
Then there’s this: a few years ago the big house in Toadlena burned to the ground.
A stove fire spread to part of the old wood frame and the whole house was blazing like a torch within minutes.
When I heard the news, I tried to tell myself it was no big loss. It was just a house; just stuff. But the pit in my stomach told me otherwise.
A Better Home
The loss of the house leaves a hole, but now I think it’s been helpful to me.
In case it wasn’t clear before, my home is not in this world.
The fire reminds me that no home I might find here will last. Like Abraham, I need to be “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
You see, the TCK label explains some of my awkwardness, but it must not define me.
I own a bigger name that covers that label. I share the name of Christ; I am a “Christian.”
That is the real me.
I have a heavenly Father who loves me. I am learning the rules and values of his house.
And Jesus, who has already left his own home once to come and save me, has spoken this remarkable promise: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14: 23).
Oh, I do fit in—in the best home of all!
Of course, it isn’t just people like me who often feel out of place.
Our Father made us all in his image, so nothing short of a room in his house will fully satisfy any of us.
We all long for a home.
But I find my selfishness giving way to kindness only when I long for the right one.