Friday, October 7, 2016

Third Culture Adult Identity Crisis

Yours truly at the amazing Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Thirty-two years on the field and I don’t know who I am, where I belong, or how to think only in English. I’m the most confused person on earth . . . and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Our first ten or more years, I tried so very hard to be Spanish—to talk like they do, gesture like they do, express myself using idioms, and understand their jokes. Sometime our third term, I realized it was impossible to be Spanish. People would walk up to me—in Spain—and speak to me in French. (Yes, I look French but I’m not.) I realized I’d never fool anyone—ever! What a rude awakening!

Then I tried to figure out who I was. I gave up shortly afterwards. I mean, a girl born in one state, transferred to another at age three, to another at age eleven, back to a different part of my second state at age thirteen, and on to college at seventeen—in a different state, of course! I only knew a slight handful of people at college but fast made lots of friends. My sophomore year started out with meeting a handsome man with a deep voice . . . . “But I digress.” (I got that phrase from my English professor, a supporting pastor today.)

I graduated and married at twenty-one, and life’s adventures really kicked in. Our car blew a rod that first year. We would spend the next three years under cars . . . . My husband got mono, too, so he dropped out of grad school and used the time to recover and study for his ordination, memorizing hundreds of verses. After that, he did two years of graduate studies while I worked. After he got his master’s, we both worked to pay off school debts while searching for God’s will. We knew the Lord wanted us in missions, but we didn’t know where—and the world is a big place! My foreign language background was in French . . . . In God’s humor, He sent us to Spain, where we’d both start off at zero. Who am I? Very funny; I can’t even say “hello.”

Two little children, a new church plant, our fifth house move on the field . . . . Life is interesting, to say the least.

We often talk about third culture kids. (They’re the ones with the passport that says one thing and their life experience says another. They’re the ones who aren’t really understood in their home country and aren’t totally accepted in their life country.)

But, how about us “old” missionaries? We are so third culture, we don’t even know where we belong! Should we retire? Should we not? If we retire, do we move near our kids or stay where we invested our lives? 

When we go back to our home church, a lot of people don’t even know us. (Let’s cut them a break; we’re not there very often.) They look at us like we just landed from Mars. (Maybe we did! Jet lag will do that to you! A little bit green and “take me to your leader” . . . .)

Where do you belong? Where’s home?

Please don’t ask me those questions. I have no idea!

My third culture, mixed-up identity turns to the Bible, where I read: By faith he (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. . . . These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:9-10, 13-15).

What a perspective!

I think it’s especially important for every missionary woman to know:
  • That she’s following God in his “land of promise,” even if it’s a super “strange country.”
  • That heaven is our future. God prepared it for us.
  • We can cling to God’s promises.
  • We are “strangers and pilgrims” on the earth, because we believe in Jesus. It’s completely normal to see our ministry as temporary and purposeful.
  • God has prepared for us a city where we really belong. Praise Him!

What are some of God’s promises for missionary women?
  • For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD (Psalm 27:5-6).
  • Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24).
  • That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Ephesians 3:16-21).
  • Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5).
  • Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you (1 Peter 5:7).

 . . . Of course, there are many more!

So, who am I? I’m a sent one, a pilgrim in a strange country—even if it’s my own—and a messenger of the gospel of peace and Good News. (I can even claim beautiful feet!) Where’s my country? In the heavens, prepared especially for me, walking on crystal streets of gold, enjoying the river view. I look forward to seeing you there, too. God bless your faithfulness!

And how shall they preach, except they be sent?
As it is written, How beautiful are the feet
of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and bring glad tidings of good things!
(Romans 10:15)


Kathryn Carlisle said...

Lou Ann, I can identify with you completely except I don't have beautiful feet (they are small and chubby with midget toes). After leaving Spain for Uruguay, I've found one more place that I don't fit in. Truly heaven is more appealing than ever! I will see you there someday! :-)

IBREMA said...

Very well said. I have often said that I fit in best with fellow missionaries. It is a great life, however.

nance said...

Amen! What an encouraging post! Thanks for sharing this. Indeed, we are but sojourners in the mission field and someday, we'll meet the One who called us to leave our country to proclaim His name. Therefore, we must keep our eyes skyward.

Emily Knight said...

Well said! And truly encouraging. I appreciate your ministry and testimony of faithfulness.