Be the Village: Loving the Third Culture Kid in Your Life

The local church meeting was stretching into the second sermon when I got up to feed my restless three-month-old baby. Even with a full stomach, Joshua was fussy and couldn’t fall asleep amid the distractions of a strange place. As a new mom, I was as tired as he was, and a pointed question from a Central Asian grandma, who was wondering why my baby was so fussy, nearly sent me over the edge. She grabbed at my chest and asked me, “Don’t you have any milk?”

Not enough milk, not enough warm clothes, not enough discipline, not enough of anything. This would not be the last time a relative stranger questioned my parenting or jabbed me with unsolicited advice. But as painful as the scoldings could be, the truth was I didn’t always know what I was doing. I did need help. Maybe not the superstitious or condescending help that people gave out on the bus and in the grocery store, but definitely the kindness of those who truly cared for me and my family.

“God has used his body to help our children feel a little less isolated and a little more loved.”

Over the twenty years of raising children overseas, we have been blessed to find those people—from kind babysitters who loved our little ones, to the committed US pastor who now mentors our grown TCK (third culture kid). We have learned the truth of the well-worn adage that it takes a village to raise a child. I’d like to introduce you to some of the people from our “village.”

Our Village

Anna* used to babysit my preschooler while I studied language and went to team meetings. She would tell my son stories and watch the same movie with him again and again. When it was time to play dress-up, she would paint her face along with his. When he wanted to act out the crucifixion, she would be one of the women crying at the foot of the cross. My son worked out his early spiritual understanding through these role plays from Scripture, and this young Central Asian believer was one of his first Bible teachers.

When my brother Jay graduated from high school, he gave ten months to help out at our children’s international school. Without a car, far from his good friends, delaying college, he sacrificed the normal freedom of an American student and gifted our family with his presence. My children will never forget the day Uncle Jay hit a huge pothole while riding his bike in our neighborhood. He crashed the bike and scraped up his leg. Then he laughed, wiped off the blood, got back on the bike, and kept going. He modeled for them what it means to be fearless and tough, ready to take on a new adventure.

“You bless your missionaries by loving our children.”

Not a week went by as my kids grew up that they didn’t get hugged by their “Aunt” Lisa. She wasn’t their blood relative, but she might as well have been. Lisa, our teammate, was a cheerleader for our children and so many other kids on our team. She was a prayer warrior in the background and the crazy aunt in the foreground—dancing, laughing, playing, and yes, even scolding them if they needed it. My kids knew they were loved by their Aunt Lisa. And they still do. Lisa is family to them, and her unconditional love has contributed to a feeling of stability in the midst of a nomadic life.

Then there are the Central Asian believers who have sat around our dining room table and shared their testimonies. One of those was Max, who fled persecution in his home country only to be found and arrested in ours. God gave our family a gift by letting us be part of his story. Suffering is part of the call of Jesus, and my children understand this better because of people like Max, who have counted the cost and decided that Jesus is worth it. Their words and example have been part of my children’s discipleship.

Andrew was our children’s school bus driver. Like a mother hen, he fussed at our kids when they opened the van windows on a cold day. He spoiled them with surprise ice cream stops on the way home. He was infinitely patient with their impromptu jam sessions that erupted while they sat in traffic. Speaking to the older students in very slow Russian, he encouraged them to pursue the things they love, and best of all, he pointed them to Jesus. We came to Central Asia to help people like Andrew, who works as a bivocational pastor, but he has been a challenge and a blessing to us over many years.

Be the Village

The list could go on. I could tell about our teammates who stop by the children’s school at lunchtime for one-on-one time with our kids, not because anyone asked them but because they have chosen to make the investment in our kids’ discipleship and growth. Of grandparents who send books and letters, missing us deeply yet choosing to bless us in our calling. Of churches at home that ask how to pray for our kids and then follow through.

These are just a few of the people who have populated our village. God has used his body to help our children feel a little less isolated and a little more loved. Not all families have the resources of a local church or close-knit team, but all of them come from churches in the States that can make the choice to pray, to visit, to reach out to the TCKs they know.

Currently, there are over three thousand TCKs around the world whose parents have been sent out by Southern Baptists through the International Mission Board. These children are deeply loved by their parents, but on our own, we parents will never be enough. We need your help too.

Do you know a third culture kid for whom you could commit to pray regularly? Would you open your home on holidays and weekends to a college-aged TCK who is far from family? Could you welcome some visiting TCKs onto your baseball team or invite them to a youth event?

You bless your missionaries by loving our children. Thank you to those who see us, despite the distance. You help us to fight fear and to trust God’s provision. Please don’t stay on the outskirts of our village. We want to welcome you in.

*Name changed

Sarah Alexander and her husband have served with IMB in Central Asia for twenty-four years. They have two grown children attending university in the US and one teenager still at home.