Twenty-three years ago I left Swaziland with a burning desire to return. I had spent four years there teaching right out of college, and had done most of my growing up in that tiny peaceful kingdom. God, in His wisdom, put me among the people most qualified to help me learn about myself and His world view. I felt like I had found home.
Nowadays we missionary kids are called TCKs (third culture kids) and have a greater understanding of the nuances of growing up in a culture other than one's "home" culture. I attended college before TCK was even a term and before anyone was writing books or doing research. I knew deep down that I was different, a bit odd, and basically I could get on with life or not. I chose to get on, but God chose Swaziland.
Here I am with three of my former students: Hottie, Lynne and Enola.
Most of the issues surrounding the oddness and differentness of TCKs center on this concept of "home." The question we don't know how to answer (because the answer depends on who asked the question) is: where are you from? or: where do you call home?
While I lived with my parents, wherever they were was home. After that, home was a nebulous thing that I didn't have. But in Swaziland I found a sense of home that went deep because I was enmeshed in a culture with my own boundary issues. Both this and that, but neither one. I did not feel Korean, though I grew up there, nor American, which my passport assured me I was. It was that third culture thing.
I taught in Florence Christian Academy which had the distinction of being a school primarily for coloured children. This did not mean "children of colour" but children of a blending of colours--black, white, brown, and ethnicities mingling, too. Swaziland was a type of haven because outside her borders, South Africa ruled with an intense opposition to that mingling, called apartheid. In fact, such an existence was "illegal" as different colours of people were not allowed to marry and have children.
So I began to understand myself as I got to know the delightful people who lived with the constant pressure of not being one or the other, but both and neither--when either side decided not to own them. Of course there were many more issues that my friends had to deal with: the pressures of competition for education, unequal treatment on either side of the border, and even the variations of skin tone within a family. But I found people who accepted me just because I came. They taught me so much about what it means to accept, what reconciliation does and does not look like: and what faith can do in the face of such a harsh world.
I made many mistakes, but was able to learn thanks to grace extended. I also saw what happens in lives that don't have the fortifications of faith, lives wasted and broken on the rack of what others thought. In those four years I went to eleven funerals and only two were older adults. It sobered me. I started to genuinely grow up. But oh, the fun I had in the process, being around so many others who felt, like I did: not a land creature, not a sea creature--not one or the other. But in fellowship, I found community. It was pretty close to "home", probably as close as I'll get in this life.