Saying Goodbye Again and Again and Again

A few years ago, I had a memorable encounter with a missionary mother. I could tell that the mother was not happy, and she soon told me why. Her teenage daughter, let’s call her Kayla, had recently been at a youth event for MKs. The event included opportunities for the teens to split into smaller groups with a leader and share about their experiences.

During one of the small group discussions, the leader had asked the teens, “What are some losses that you have experienced as a missionary kid?” At this point, Kayla started to experience a panic attack. Her mother was called in to comfort her. “They should know better than to ask a missionary kid to share about loss,” the mother told me.

3 Minute Read

By Harmony Niphakis

Michele Phoenix, an MK advocate, created a survey that she sent out to a large population of adult missionary kids. One question asked respondents to identify the hardest part of their MK experience. Over 1,000 adult missionary kids responded. The second highest response, next to “A sense of belonging anywhere” (39.35%), was “The number of goodbyes I had to say” (31.12%). You can see Michele’s survey in full here.

Missionary kids are not alone in this struggle with loss. The term third-culture kid or TCK has become more popular in recent years. It is a term identifiable with children of missionaries, military personnel, diplomats, international business workers, immigrants and others who find themselves raising children outside of their own passport country. With a jumble of cultural identities, each TCK is almost entirely unique. Yet, TCKs often share the same joys and the same struggles, including the experience of lost relationships and the grief that comes with it.

A wise teacher of mine once told me that with every change there is loss, and with every loss there is mourning. Missionary kids (like third-culture kids) are well acquainted with change and, therefore, loss. But not all MKs know how to mourn. No kid should have to deal with this grief on their own. Missionary kids should be empowered to experience healthy grief with the knowledge that their feelings are valid and they are not alone.

How? Here are four ways that YOU can empower missionary kids you know:

1) Pray for healing and pray for healthy relationships for your MK.

2) Recognize EVERY emotion as valid. Whether the MK you know is angry, sad, bitter or joyful, one of the best things you can do for them is to acknowledge that emotion. “I can see you are sad right now. It’s okay to be sad about this.”

3) Connect MKs with others who can relate to their experiences. Meeting other third-culture kids offers the opportunity for MKs to connect with other people who almost instantly understand their deepest struggles, constant longings and greatest joys. It confirms the idea that they are not alone!

4) Be the constant: In a transient life where friends are continually coming and going, a relationship that shows consistency can feel surreal and even healing. Be present, be real, be available and be the constant that illustrates the constancy of Christ.

Author Bio

Harmony Niphakis spent her early years as an OMF Missionary Kid in Thailand.  She committed her life to God at a young age and now serves as a TCK Advocate with OMF (U.S.) where she finds great joy in equipping and caring for missionary kids of all ages.  In her spare time, Harmony enjoys being out in nature, gardening, going out for coffee and spending time with her family.


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