MK & TCK Book Club discussion

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The "Third Culture Kids" Book > Chapter 18: How Sponsoring Organizations Can Help

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message 1: by mkPLANET (new)

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
FACILITATOR: MICHÈLE PHOENIX
Michele Phoenix
Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, mischievous students, Marvel movies and French pastries. http://michelephoenix.com


message 2: by Michèle (last edited Aug 17, 2015 08:58PM) (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments Hello, MKs and TCKs! I'm thrilled to have been chosen to begin our discussion about how sponsoring organizations can help TCKs to thrive while overseas, in transition back to their passport culture (if that's the direction their lives take) and into adult life. It's a huge and complex topic that warrants our attention. It's also powerfully on my mind! We've probably all known TCKs who have thrived and others who have struggled--some of them in tragic ways.

For the purposes of this chapter, I'll set aside the subject of the parents' responsibility in "growing" healthy MKs, thought they are clearly foundational to preventing some of the attrition we've seen. But what more can be done by sending organizations? What more should be done in ensuring the physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being of children growing up in international contexts?

A bit about how I relate to this: when I was growing up in France as an MK, there was no such thing as "Member Care." There were attempts at helping my (broken) family, but they were carried out in a hush-hush manner with no follow-up and that made true change impossible. My parents' marriage was a sham (in private), I was severely depressed and suicidal for much of my childhood and adolescence, locked until 9th grade in an educational system that was abusive is several ways, send to boarding school against my wishes and woefully unprepared for my transition to college in the States. I have no recollection of anyone checking in with my family or with me. The community also seemed unwilling to admit and address what it was observing. So I have a litany of "wishes" for what might have helped to ease my situation.

I know that others were sent overseas by organizations that did it right--and I'm actively involved in my current ministry in helping missions to better understand the needs of their MKs. I love nothing more than doing pre-field seminars with outgoing missionaries (parents, singles and communities that can have an impact) and consulting with organizations that are trying to develop Member Care. We're making progress!

Today, every organization I know of is trying, in its own way, to develop something that fosters wellness in the workers it employs. Unfortunately, many of their efforts are still independent of each other, with little cooperation and inter-organizational sharing. But...even with the flaws in what's being offered, I am absolutely thrilled that finances and focus are finally being invested in this crucial area.

Let's try to be organized about this discussion! :-) We'll BEGIN with your personal narrative as it relates to Member Care. THEN, in the following days, I'll ask specific questions about what needs to be done at each stage of development (childhood, adolescence, boarding school, transition to passport culture, ongoing life) and in each social hub (family, MK schools if applicable, missionary/work community). So if you can hold off on broaching into those sub-topics for now, it would be helpful!

Question #1 (I know it will be hard to stick to just this!): In what ways do you wish "Member Care" had been involved in your life and/or in what ways was it involved in a helpful way? Just tell your narrative, please--and leave the analysis and prescription for the next few days. :-)


message 3: by Corrie (new)

Corrie | 3 comments This discussion is of interest to me as I have created my own business to work with TCK's and help them to thrive where they are. I am super excited to be a part of this discussion so that I can better serve the TCK's that come to my week long camps. I am one who provides care to the TCK's and am looking how to improve.


message 4: by Gail (new)

Gail (gailao) | 7 comments Hi, I am an adult TCK who also, like Michelle, grew up in France. In terms of "member care", like Michelle, those words where not used in the 1960s and 70s when I was growing up, but there were some things that my parents mission, TEAM, did well. One was regular get-togethers of missionaries that included the whole family, such as a Thanksgiving and Christmas gathering. Dale Anderson, one of the missionaries who worked in music ministry, was amazing at preparing a festive atmosphere. The activities were family-oriented and me and my siblings enjoyed hanging out with other TCKs. I have very fond memories of the yearly Christmas white elephant gift exchange. It was always very entertaining and laughter is such a healing ointment. Secondly, every summer there was an annual conference, often located in another country (I remember going to Austria, Switzerland, Belgium). While the missionaries met to plan out the year, as well as encouragement and hear from a guest speaker, the kids had a VBS program, staffed by summer workers, who added on an extra week to spend with us. I remember a week of fun family outings, crafts, family talent night, meals shared together, singing, skits, lots of laugher. We always looked forward to these times and they are part of my cherished childhood memories.
What would I have wished for? As Michelle mentioned there was no awareness or talk with the TCKs of grief, of transitiions and no support for TCKs (at the time) upon re-entry or before returning to the field. As far as I know there was no training or counseling for families on how to help your child cope with the challenges of being a TCK. I definitely didn't feel any support while attending Moody Bible Institute for my first 3 years in college. I think there was one time that the mission came to MBI to pick up the MKs and take them on a picnic? but it was just a picnic and there was no discussion of how we were doing or what we needed. At the time, there was no TCK support group at MBI either. After transferring to UIC, I experienced an Evangelical Free Church there that was International, pastored by a man from India and that church and the hospitality of the pastor and their family was probably the greatest healing balm I felt after college. The church family embraced me. They were like a family away from home. There was not a time of day or night when you couldn't pop in to their home and not feel warmly welcomed and included in whatever they were doing. Thank you Sam and Sharon Mall! So I would say this small International was the "member care" God brought into my life to bring about healing. Sorry for my long ramblings. I hope this answers the first question and furthers the discussion.


message 5: by Jerry (new)

Jerry | 3 comments I grew up in a mission that also had no formal "member care" at that time (mostly 60s and early 70s), and what little there was was mostly negative. Also, there was no openness about any issues or problems. Things have changed a bit now, but there's still a long ways to go.


message 6: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments Thanks for good discussion. Corrie, are you running camps for non-MK TCKs? If so, please let me know. I have requests from many for info on TCK camps for the non-mission sector but don't know of any of those while I am aware of several that are specific for MKs...thanks for leading this discussion Michele...good questions...like Gail, the term "member care" or "HR assistance" or "relocation services" were unheard of in my time, but the organization my parents worked for was a strong community and growing up, I always, always felt the love and support of my many "aunties" ad "uncles" and friends within our community and organization. and we always went back to the same place on leave so I felt support and basic belonging to that community as well...for me, that returning to the same environment to my grandma's home and neighborhood were very important and helpful to me long term...


message 7: by Daniel (new)

Daniel | 1 comments I grew up in South America with a mission that informally did Member Care, but areas like grief, moving, and adapting to "home country" were not addressed. I accidentally came across good material later. In many ways, the long (year) furloughs helped with later adaption, but yet I feel they can be more disruptive to family than shorter furloughs. I heard recently that a team of counselors / advisors had come to visit and discuss with families once, but I don't remember it at all. Because the majority of our mission activity was in "jungle ministry" and we weren't, the team activities which were done or requested to fulfill their need were very different, and often opposite of what I/we would have needed.

Now back in missions, our current organization and region actually has few TCK children and it has been a recent blind spot. They have begun to recognize this and allow us and help fund our using resources from other missions organizations.


message 8: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments So here's a broad question: What kind of help from your sponsoring agency would have been beneficial to you and your family when you were growing up overseas? How do you think your current "self" might be different if you'd received it then? Be as concise or as expansive as you need to be to address this!


message 9: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments I’m so sorry to hear about your difficulties, Michèle. Thank you for sharing and facilitating this discussion!

>>"Question #1 (I know it will be hard to stick to just this!): In what ways do you wish "Member Care" had been involved in your life and/or in what ways was it involved in a helpful way? Just tell your narrative, please--and leave the analysis and prescription for the next few days. :-)"

Going to Europe was fine for me. I was young enough that the transition didn’t affect me in the long-term. I was also going to the local school and mostly fell in step with the kids of the culture. It was the move back that was more difficult, mostly because we moved around so much afterwards. But, at that point, it wasn’t under the mission’s board. In any event, the issues were the same from the overseas move.

There was no follow-up. I entered a time of delayed social development without knowing what was happening and I started to isolate myself. But since I focused on my academics, I was just a good student. No one was able to see the signs of difficulties and help me through them. I certainly couldn’t tell you what was going on.

>>"So here's a broad question: What kind of help from your sponsoring agency would have been beneficial to you and your family when you were growing up overseas? How do you think your current "self" might be different if you'd received it then? Be as concise or as expansive as you need to be to address this!"

Mentoring throughout the following years into my early adulthood would have helped if the mentor knew about TCK issues and could help identify problematic signs common to TCKs and provide advice for how to work through them.

I might have been able to develop a healthier social outlook at an earlier age and actually fostered friendships that have lasted rather than walling myself off from people.


message 10: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments So--and I'm going to use your answers to better counsel the missions I work with--if a sending agency were following this thread and trying to decide where to put their efforts first in developing better care for MKs, where would you have them START? Pre-field, reentry, whole-family, MKs? Childhood, teen years, boarding, college aged? What is the greatest need and where has the ball been dropped? In other words, where should they start?


message 11: by Bethany (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments "What kind of help from your sponsoring agency would have been beneficial to you and your family when you were growing up overseas? How do you think your current "self" might be different if you'd received it then? Be as concise or as expansive as you need to be to address this! "

My parents intentionally went overseas with an organization that would leave them alone, would let them do things their way (i.e. my dad's way), would not require regular meetings and official schedules, etc. We only went on furlough every 5-6 years. So from the time that we moved to the place we stayed the longest, I was 6 years old. We went on furlough when I was 12, then when I was maybe 14 or 15 the director of the mission came to visit for a few days, and the next furlough was when I was 18. I look back now and am shocked at the extreme lack of accountability that my dad was afforded. It speaks to his character that he intentionally sought this out, but there was an organization and lots of supporters out there that gave it to him as well!!

I just read in a group on facebook that there are some mission organizations that pay for counseling for MKs when they leave the field. I am flabbergasted right now: I did not ever know that existed. Frankly I'm feeling very shocked at the moment: this is not a part of my MK/childhood experience that I have really processed. I have mostly blamed my parents for the example that they set in their relationship and other things, but now I am realizing that there *should* have been someone else looking out for me. There should have been someone who cared about my welfare for 12 years that we were with that mission, yet I only saw the mission people or frankly any other foreign missionaries 3-5 times ever in those 12 years. I thought I had more to say but right now I'm kind of stunned and feeling sad.


message 12: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments Bethany, you're not alone! I think many of us realized too late that there *might* have been help if only our families had been more forthright in asking for it and if only missions had been more proactive in offering it...dare I say imposing it? So many missionaries are A-type personalities--that's what gives them the courage to head into unknown territories. The problem is those same "types" sometimes fail to acknowledge need. And need is a huge component of seeking out and accepting help. (See here for more on that: http://michelephoenix.com/2015/03/the...) So can anything be done for missionaries who don't want help/oversight and whose children might need it?


message 13: by Jerry (new)

Jerry | 3 comments I think this would be a good start (I wrote this almost five years ago):

I would like to see a complete paradigm shift in the way that MKs are cared for and treated. I would like to see the following statement adopted by all mission organizations in relation to all issues pertaining to MKs:

"The children of missionaries must be considered an integral part of the mission's and missionaries' ministry and must be treated with the same dignity and respect as their parents."


message 14: by Bethany (last edited Aug 20, 2015 01:56PM) (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments That question is very difficult to answer, because I am not sure that I agree anymore with people leaving their countries to go to another country to tell people how to live. If my dad worked for a big company that sent him overseas, or if he was a teacher, or he was in the military... I feel that in any secular scenario in which I would have grown up in the area that I did there would have been a LOT of oversight. My dad wouldn't have been allowed to just not go to meetings, and not have accountability. It's only because "God called him" that he was excused from all that and given free reign, because it follows, for a religious person I suppose, that because God called him that God would take care of him. That isn't true.

Accountability is an absolute necessity. Leaders need to be talking to and asking questions of the missionary, to his wife, to his children. If there is ANY way to see them on a regular basis, that ought to happen. A lot of things are visible that wouldn't be able to be told (the way a child might be physically afraid of the parent, unusual bruising). Education MUST also be a priority and there must be accountability on that. My mom happened to be a fantastic homschooler, so we didn't have problems in this area. Had she been less proactive, organized, and meticulous in teaching, however, I would have had a lot of educational neglect by the time I turned 18 and was back in the US.

I wonder what the answer would be if you asked a pastor or a director of a mission organization, "do you think x person is capable of physically/sexually abusing their children or wife while on the mission field?" If they answer no, they are ostriches with their heads in the ground intentionally. Hopefully they would answer yes, because the truth is that anyone IS capable. The next question should be, I think, "what are you doing to ensure and verify that he is not?" It is awful to have to think these things of people, but it is far more awful to not think them and have the worst actually happen.


message 15: by Bethany (last edited Aug 20, 2015 02:21PM) (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments We were with one mission organization when I was a baby til about 5 years old. That organization then dropped my dad, and told him he had to find another group to go with. If I remember correctly, they referred him to the group that we were with from my age of 6 til about 19. Then that mission dropped him as well. My dad almost found another group that would let us go back overseas somewhere, but it ended up not working out. I wonder if, similar to a job interview where they ask why you left your last place of employment and if you can speak to the boss about the situation, missionaries have to do the same. It is possible that the new organizations did speak to the previous ones: I was too young to know at the time. But if they didn't, I know that my dad is able to spin things to a positive light very well; he's a very charismatic person.

*just going to keep editing my post instead of writing new ones!

I just realized that if something was happening in our family, I would not have known who I could reach out to for intervention or help. I didn't know anyone with the mission that well, so I probably would have attempted to talk with my grandparents. I think that this is not ideal. MKs should know who in the mission is trustworthy and going to be on their side, someone who will always listen to and believe them if the need came up to tell them something important.


message 16: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments Jerry, I love that statement! I would add, "The children of missionaries must be held as priorities by their parents--heard, protected, nurtured and cared for by parents who count their wellness as a God-ordered first concern." Is that too strong a statement?

And Bethany, I've just written a novel (my agent is looking for a publisher as my usual one--Tyndale--wasn't up for the controversy) that closely reflects what you've expressed of your story. Was your dad close to anyone who might have served as a sounding board and source of wisdom, or was your family truly isolated? I think community (true community formed of honest, engaged relationships) is crucial. Is it outrageous to hope for a Member Care system that would foster that on the field and within the mission?

A more general question: what role can/should Member Care play in the very controversial world of boarding school?


message 17: by Jerry (new)

Jerry | 3 comments Michele - no, I fully agree and that's a very important addition. I also think that there needs to be someone independent that children can go to for help to resolve problems that may arise.

As for boarding schools, I think that the whole system needs to be reviewed and revised, and of course used as little as possible. One of the main problems I see that needs attention is the separation of siblings.


message 18: by Heylane (last edited Aug 21, 2015 02:43AM) (new)

Heylane | 8 comments I meet a lot of teenage-MKs who want nothing to do with the organisation their parents worked with.
Partly because they feel not-cared for in the past, partly because they are teenagers and are rebelling against the structure they've been in so long.
It is hard for an organisation to offer member care in a situation like that.
Anyone recognise that?

Another question I hear a lot from organisations (especially the ones that are funded by personal gifts)is how long does an organisation offer member care after the members have left.
A lot of people coming "back" to their passport country leave the (mission) organisation they worked with while abroad. They get a job or start working for another organisation.
The children of these people do very often not receive any member care of this organisation, once the parents have left the organisation.
Most organisations offer debrief and if necessary counceling on re-entry for the children.
But what about the next years? When should their care stop?
Or do we need an organisation that is independent of sending organisations that takes up this role?


message 19: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments What is the greatest shortcoming of Member Care in the missions you know?


message 20: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Michèle wrote: "Where would you have them START? Pre-field, reentry, whole-family, MKs? Childhood, teen years, boarding, college aged? What is the greatest need and where has the ball been dropped? In other words, where should they start?"

I don’t recall ever getting support. So, they ought to start pre-field. Although I was only three, my parents could have used the information to place when and how to come back to the passport country.

Michèle wrote: "So can anything be done for missionaries who don't want help/oversight and whose children might need it?"

If it’s part of the contractual(?) obligation prior to people even signing up to be missionaries, the expectation is already built is as part of the norm. It may help take the stigma away of “getting help” if it is seen as a regular part—a ‘check-up’ perhaps. Another way to overcome resistance might be to frame it some other way than “counselling” or getting help. Off the top of my head (and by no means very good), “mentoring” and “re-entry welcome gathering/meeting” might be less scary than the alternatives.

Michèle wrote: "A more general question: what role can/should Member Care play in the very controversial world of boarding school?"

Overall, I count myself lucky to have avoided boarding school, so I haven’t experienced it firsthand. My view, however, is that the organizational leaders need to be committed to transparent and open investigations into wrongdoing of any kind and also foster a healthy developmental environment—all the normal stuff every child needs, TCK or otherwise. For TCKs at boarding schools, the organization probably has even more ability to provide Member Care to the children. It should be a standard part of its administration and school structure.

Michèle wrote: "What is the greatest shortcoming of Member Care in the missions you know?"

It’s not even thought of. Second would be that it’s usually not thought of as a long-term commitment even though it is usually later in life when some of the TCK issues often surface…not to mention that there is sometimes no quick fix and, again, the long view is often missed.


message 21: by Michèle (new)

Michèle Phoenix (michelephoenix) | 7 comments Thanks for all the responses! I realize this is a busy time of year, with summer coming to an end, school/college starting and all that entails. Thank you for taking the time to jot down your thoughts.

I'll end with this:

What message would you like me to pass on to missions regarding Member Care? What do they need to know from a TCK's point of view?


message 22: by Bethany (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments Maybe just to start with, that it exists. :P As someone said above, the missionary's family has to be an integral part of the ministry, not simply a side issue to be handled when issues arise. The TCKs have viewpoints and have needs and ought to be considered important and valued.


message 23: by Corrie (new)

Corrie | 3 comments Ruth wrote: "Thanks for good discussion. Corrie, are you running camps for non-MK TCKs? If so, please let me know. I have requests from many for info on TCK camps for the non-mission sector but don't know of an..."
Ruth - Sorry - I can't help you in that regard - I do MK mostly, but a few for business folks.


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