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Confessions from an American Christian Expatriate

Quick link: Dear American Church

I wrote this week for A Life Overseas about the complicated feelings I have as an American expatriate toward the American evangelical church. The essay required a lot of humility and vulnerability because I confess how judgemental I can be.

Its gross.

But it is also good because I relearn, every time I’m back in the USA, why I love the church, in all her imperfections and mess. Because she loves me back, in all of my imperfections and mess.

Here’s part of the piece:

Dear American Church,

Sometimes I feel cynical about you. This should not sound surprising, especially coming from an expatriate. I haven’t engaged deeply with you in almost sixteen years. My ‘church’ has been a motley crew of people from all nations and all denominations and all manner of theological bent in terms of eschatology, gender roles, predestination (or not). My pastors rarely speak English. My family is usually the only white family.

My other church, the BODY, has been women I take long, sweaty, dusty walks with, sometimes chased by wild dogs or men with AK-47s. We pray, we hold hands, we shout, we weep, we fight, we forgive and ask forgiveness. We try to untangle the world’s brokenness and our own. We babysit each other’s children, counsel through hard marriages, donate blood in the hospital. We do Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, baptisms, baby dedications, and grief in each other’s homes. We don’t attend services together inside a building but we live worship together in the world.

We are a small community and a constantly changing one, which means we cannot stagnate. We have to try, really hard, to not close ourselves off to each new arrival or to isolate in sadness after each fresh departure. We know we are a hot (literal) mess.

So sometimes when I come back to America for a visit, the church feels so big. So impersonal. So unengaged in relationship. Focused on politics and national pride. So rich, so much pressure to buy certain books or to dress well enough to look presentable in services. So homogeneous.

And I judge.

Oh God, forgive me, I judge. While I’m away, I cry about loneliness and limited relationship options and the exhaustion of the revolving expatriate door. But then while I’m in the US, I judge.

Click here to read the rest.

Expat Focus Podcast

Quick link: Expat Focus Podcast

Check out my interview with Carly at Expat Focus!

“Today on the show, we’re talking about raising children abroad, specifically as Third Culture Kids.

‘TCKs’ are people raised in a culture different to that of their parents, and the country named on their passport.

My guest, American Rachel Jones, is a mum of three TCKS. She left the USA with her husband and their young twins to work in northern Somaliland, and later Djibouti, where she still lives.

So what’s it like raising your kids in a country that’s so different to your own? How does the experience influence their development, and shape them as adults? And what challenges are you likely to encounter along the way? Rachel’s going to share her insights, which she hopes will help other parents create a thriving family culture while living internationally.”

*photo by Jessica Lee

About the Sexual Abuse of Third Culture Kids, Resources and Way Too Many Links

(trigger warning: sexual abuse and mental illness)

A few weeks ago a report came out updating and filling in holes regarding the ongoing sexual abuse of kids at a school run by New Tribes.

Marilyn Gardner wrote a prayer of repentance at A Life Overseas. As a TCK who went to boarding school at a young age, Marilyn has a special tenderness and insight into what this kind of abuse did to those kids.

The Southern Baptist convention has been rocked by accusations of rampant abuse. Protestants cannot and dare not point fingers at the Catholic church or priests. This article is long and devastating. And the Southern Baptist convention has responded, finally.

Just in the past six months, I know three TCKs who lost the battle with mental illness. I’m not saying mental illness and abuse necessarily go together, but that there is a lot of brokenness and grief that isn’t often addressed well in the world of expatriates. TCKs face this in unique ways, sometimes by nature of living in the home of their abuser at boarding school, sometimes leaving a country before resolution has been found, sometimes having no safe place or safe person to tell. There are so many goodbyes, so many losses, so many fears and insecurities. There is so much vulnerability and hunger for belonging.

Books and Resources about abuse and Third Culture Kids

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. A novel, yet it rings deeply true on many levels. The person who loaned this to me almost two decades ago said, “If you go to Africa, don’t you dare live like this.” I like to think we haven’t. There is so much to wrestle with here.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner, about her experiences growing up in Pakistan and boarding school. Also, Worlds Apart, which digs deeper and goes into vulnerable places. I love her words.

Rachel Cason’s site: Explore Life Story

Amy Young lists 8 resources for expats walking through darkness at A Life Overseas.

Finding Home, Third Culture Kids in the World, especially the essay by Sezin Koehler

Letters Never Sent, by Ruth Van Reken

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

The Story Women Need to Tell, about sexual harassment. We need to lead our kids in conversations about harassment and abuse, so they will know their stories are safe to tell and that they are not alone.

The Trouble with Third Culture Kids, by Nina Sichel Nina also has an article in this incredible book, Writing Out of Limbo, about growing up abroad.

Noggy Boggy writes candidly about his experience with mental illness and life as a TCK.

Time Doesn’t Heal Assault if Victims are Silenced

12 Resources for Churches (and others) to Prevent Sexual Assault

How to Really Talk about Mental Illness

(Thanks to Sarah Bessey for the last three links)

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere : Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile by Lois Bushong

I know I’ve covered a ton of material and provided an overwhelming amount of links. Everything from sexual abuse in the church to among Third Culture Kids to mental illness.

Maybe it is too much to be actually useful.

Maybe one link to serve one person. In that case, I’m content.

Be blessed, be healed.

*includes affiliate links

A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel

Gifts for Third Culture Kids, 2018

This site has hilarious gifts for TCKs. T-shirts that say, “Where am I from again?” or “Invisible Immigrant” or “Yes, I speak African. If by ‘African’ you mean one of the 1,500-2,000 languages spoken on the African continent.”

Uncommon Goods has beautiful, fun things, especially search ‘travel’. (I make no commission, just love the site!) I especially love these coloring coffee mugs.

Color Map Mugs

This sticker, from Etsy. “Where am I from? It’s complicated.” Only $3.00

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A world map and push pins. The push pins are for them to mark places they’ve traveled or where people they love live. Or, this map has a scratch off-able cover, so they can scratch off the places they’ve been.

10 Days in Africa game. My kids love this game and of course we made our own pieces to include the countries (ahem, Djibouti) that aren’t included. It has helped our relatives, in particular, to learn geography and gives the kids a chance to talk about the places they’ve been.

Another game, geography of Africa and the Middle East.

Ticket to Ride has an Africa map version but the cover is deeply problematic. Check out these other games instead.

Magnetic poetry, this links to a French version. This is a great way for kids to engage with their new language or to remember and use their old one, if they are no longer in their host country (ala university students)

Food. Always, food. Passport country food, host country food, food you make for them, food you ask them to make in order to celebrate and honor their upbringing…food.

Books

Finding Home, by yours truly.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, by Tina Quick

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

Home, James by Emily Steele

 

*contains affiliate links

*For more ideas, check out the list from 2017