Parade of Nations

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On Friday night, I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics. I love the olympics and have always looked forward to the opening ceremony but, as a TCK, it has so much more meaning for me now. As all the countries walked in during the Parade of Nations, I had so many countries to cheer for.

While my friends watching with me only saw foreign names on the screen, I saw faces. When Hungary entered, I thought of all my TCK friends who live there. When Turkey walked in, I thought of girls on my South Africa mission rip who had grown up there. With each country, I felt such excitement because for someone that’s their country that they’ve grown to love.

One of my favorite opening ceremonies was the London ceremony. I was in South Africa during it and crowded around a fuzzy tv screen with other TCKs. It was so fun to watch with other TCKs and see everyone get excited as their country walked in. I love that the Olympics bring together the world in cheering on our athletes.

But enough cheesy Olympic thoughts, I have to get back to cheering on both Italy and the US in skiing  🙂

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Thoughts on the American Church / part 3

church blog series

In conclusion to last week’s discussion on the American church, here are Lizzy’s closing thoughts on the subject…

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Great thoughts, Courtney! I like your words, “I’ve never encountered the church he’s describing.” I wish I could agree absolutely, but I don’t think I can. Daniel was kind enough to give us an updated blog post which you readers see here, shortened for the purpose of NOTW’s post. One idea I resonated with from his original, however, is the phrasing that the church “lost” him. Every TCK can come up with a list of the American church’s grievances that rub him or her the wrong way. Churchgoing in the US is just gruelingly hard for us. It presents each of us uprooted, adjusting teens with a unique set of challenges. In fact I believe Satan is often the one presenting those challenges, trying to drive us away from the American church–a body that creates an environment so unlike any we’ve known and yet is crucial to us fulfilling our individual callings in America.

Daniel’s post made me stop and think how the church has lost me. Rich white people? Materialism? Inwardly focused? Oh yes! I don’t want to believe those things of the entire church but I most obviously do! I don’t blame monocultural churches–diversity requires a lot of creativity, and giving, courage. And I can know that though there are most definitely great numbers of rich white families who are the best lovers of and walkers with God and I’ll still hate the image of Christian wealth. Heck, I could get rich, go to church, and still feel uncomfortable with other wealthy whites. Let my hypocrisy be revealed, that Satan’s victories in my heart be exposed!

I moved to the States two and a half years ago, to a good sized town that locals might call a city. The town is operating off of a big church planting revival period about ten years ago, and rich fruit has been born. I tried out churches for the first six months, quickly realizing there would be nothing quite like the loving international fellowship I’d left in East Asia, that met in a dirty shopping mall and represented over 160 countries. I was also astounded and a little disappointed by how long my list of criteria was for choosing a church. When my family decided to settle in one fellowship I went with them, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. When discussing spiritual subjects with my art teacher at school, I couldn’t honestly recommend him to attend my church, since what he felt would bring him back to the faith– a church of deeply sincere people, contemporary but art-filled music, diversity and a casual, accepting atmosphere–was what I was still looking for.

I ended up attending college in the same town two years later. I’ve spread my wings a bit. I now go to services at a large building half an hour from me, that does a great job of engaging believers of all ages and backgrounds in the Word. Really though, I just go for the college Bible study that meets early. I’m not so hot on the service that follows it. There you have my story; I’m going on two and a half years.

I’ll now pull on some tendencies to sin that I’ve encountered, and I think all of us do. (If you think of more, please respond to this post below!):

1. Giving in to generalizations about Americans that we have applied to form generalizations about the church.

2. Letting our high (or at least culturally-tailored, specific) expectations make us picky about churches.

3. Letting our misery in transition hinder our action in participating in the American church system.

4. Claiming our cultural upbringing as an excuse to give up on churches in our passport country.

To all you TCKs out there, I challenge you to ask yourself, “where has the church lost me?” Then, PRAY ABOUT IT. The church in America has major, MAJOR issues, but make sure you offer the things you see before the Lord so you are not tempted to judge and think falsely. I applaud our Slovak MK’s open, wise words here when he repeats throughout his post, “I am confused about_________in the church.”

Daniel: It takes time. Don’t give up on this flawed church. I believe that all those verses in the Bible that instruct Christians to meet together are yet embodied in the church system in America, and it’s therefore our responsibility to keep trying to participate in it, to engage in spiritual warfare there because the over-equipped, materially attractive sanctuary with the comfortable seats and stage lighting system is still the hotly contested ground, the spiritual battlefield.

Thoughts on the American Church / part 2

church blog series

Continuing with our discussion on the American church, here are some thoughts from Daniel. You can read his original blog post that inspired this series here.

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“I am culturally and theologically confused by the American Evangelical Church, specifically as it relates to the mega church scene.

To a foreigner like me, the worship time looks like a concert in what is meant to be a house of the living God. (In the mind of this European TCK, concerts and cathedrals don’t mix.) It seems to be more about attention than worship. In addition, it was far outside of my comfort zone. I worship God silently and stoically. They worship God loudly. I was willing to learn the songs, but in my mind, many of them did not hold much significance to me, and there are so many of them.

To me, the materialism of America is repulsive. To see it within the church is heartbreaking. To see that clothing, books, paraphernalia, CDs, food, and drinks can be sold so readily in some of the mega churches I have been to seems very convenient to be sure, but not unlike the Temple about which Jesus said “My House shall be called a House of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers.”

It is difficult for me to see such little ethnic diversity within the church. Granted, America is made up of mostly white Europeans of mixed ethnicities, but the churches I grew up in were almost as ethnically diverse as the United Nations. There is nothing wrong with the monoculture in churches in America, but I miss the diversity of my childhood.

The churches I have attended since I moved to America a few years ago seem like they do not really care about missions very much. It is not in the preaching, and aside from some people going to Central America for a few weeks every summer, there seems to be very little mention of the Great Commission and discipleship, especially in the context of the nations. To a person who spent his childhood as the son of missionaries overseas, this is frustrating.

Sometimes I see people in church worshipping God, and again in the parking lot getting into their Mercedes and BMWs. Seeing wealthy people in church looks like a paradox, and not a nice one. There are so many verses in Scripture that I could use to support this view, but then I remember other passages, like when Jesus said “Judge not, lest you be judged.” and “First tend to the plank in your own eye, so that you may see clearly to tend to the speck in your brother’s eye.” Every man sins, but to judge him is to sin like him.

I am confused about the politics within the church. It seems in many places, to be a Christian is to be a Republican, and I do not understand this. I had thought that America was meant to be a separation between the Church and the State, which is how countries work in Europe. But some Christians are outspoken about agreeing with a certain political party. To a TCK who does not have a definite political identity to begin with, and who can empathize with many aspects of both Democratic and Republican values, it merely serves to make me feel more like a foreigner than I already do.

There is much about the church in America, specifically as it relates to the mega church scene that confuses and frustrates me about the church, and in some significant instances it feels very alien and alienating. I have struggled to find my place within American Christianity. It is a tiring process into which I have poured sweat and tears, and sometimes I feel like giving up and just leaving. And while this may seem drastic, there are some key steps that I have had to go through in order to make this a plausible solution. 1) I have seen God as a Deity who is separate and above the church. While he dearly loves his Church, how they act and what they say about him do not necessarily represent the truth of his character. 2) My reliance for a relationship with God stems from his Word, not the Church. When you rely on a human institution to reach and commune the Divine, you shall be sorely disappointed, for only the Divine can be relied upon to be able to reach and commune with the Divine. 3) I realize that I need community of some sort. This could be people at a church, college group, Bible study, or friends who can encourage you and keep you accountable. But a community of believers is very important for spiritual growth.

I have not left God, and by his grace, I never will. I think about ceasing to attend church almost every Sunday.”

 

Thoughts on the American Church / part 1

church blog series

A few weeks ago, I saw this link pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was a link to a blog post written by a fellow MK, Daniel, about his experience with the American church. I could tell it was a topic he was really passionate about and his words made me think about my own experience with the church over the past few years. I’ve never considered how being a TCK could change your view or experience with church so this week I want to spend some time reflecting on that.

Along with my own thoughts, I asked Daniel to share some more about his experience and I also asked Lizzy to share her thoughts as well. Both Lizzy and I read Daniel’s post before writing our own so if we reference his points negatively or positively, it is not in critique but simply because our thoughts were propelled by his. I hope this series makes you think about your own experience…feel free to share your story with us!

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When we first moved back, I was so excited for us to find our new church. Our church in Italy was wonderful but there weren’t any other teenagers and the sermons were completely in Italian which, though expected, made it difficult to grow. The church we ended up joining in Austin was great for my two final years of high school. I really liked the teaching and the people were so nice. I struggled with feeling at home in youth group though – it never felt like a community to me. If my few friends weren’t there, I’d feel so lost and awkward. And that feeling never went away, even after two years. However, there were so many great things too. One of my favorite memories was planning the spring retreat my senior year with four other friends. The church I’m now going to in college is similar and I’ve absolutely loved it so far.

This is why I was a little surprised when reading Daniel’s blog post – I’ve never encountered the church he’s describing. I think some of his points are quite accurate, but others not so much. I remember I used to sometimes struggle with some of the things he mentioned (specifically the worship) until my pastor said something along the lines of this: “It’s not about you. It’s not about what kind of music you like or how loud it is. A lot of people tune out when they hear a song they don’t know which is wrong for two reasons, 1) it’s about God, not you and 2) it could be perfect for someone else.”

Ever since I heard that, I’ve thought about church differently. Not to say that you shouldn’t have any standards of preferences when choosing a church, but it’s not so much about us. People are messy, so churches are messy but we are called to live in consistent community with other believers.

The Road Home

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{click here to watch the full film}

The other night, I watched a short film made by a TCK and written about a TCK, called “The Road Home.” Lizzy was the one who first found it through this review from Denizen  and we both thought the film was beautiful and thought-provoking. Since it was a short (only about 25 minutes), it was more of a discussion opener than a deep delve into the TCK psyche.  The main character is a British-Indian boy who struggles with accepting both of his cultures. It made us wonder if it’s possible to only live in one culture, to flip the switch between two worlds. I know that my brother has always been able to do that – speaking flawlessly in Italian to following the latest American trends – but is it positive? Is it possible to ignore and shut out the influence part of your life has had on you? The film sought to loosely answer this question, which we had a great time discussing over Skype.

Lizzy: In the film, the line my heart responded most to was the free-flowing, French backpacker-hippie’s announcement to the boy: “You can be both.” Pico, a British kid with an Indian appearance, considered himself exclusively British. He fought to make everyone else believe he wasn’t Indian and eventually developed doubts himself. For me, “The Road Home” brought up the question of choice. Can I choose how much Chinese and how much American is inside me? Can I choose just one or the other? Do I already try to? I think I try to have a lot of control over the parts of my identity as they make up the whole, measuring and dividing them. I think I often want to choose how much and how little, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other TCKs compartmentalized the effects their countries have had on them in the same way.

In sum, we came up with three major takeaways:

1. It’s ok to be angry when you feel frustrated and confused with your TCK story. 2. You can’t always just choose one culture to live in. 3. Live in the present; live where you are.

I hope a full-length film is developed from this – I’d love to see more TCK themes explored against the sweeping backdrop of rural India. We recommend you check out the film by clicking the link!

Keep On

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A few weeks ago, in one of my classes, we had a guest speaker. From her first carefully pronounced word, it was evident that she was not a native English speaker. As I listened to her throughout her talk, I was struck by how well she was speaking. I mean she was doing such a good job speaking English, which she should since she was teaching a college class with an English-speaking audience, but still. I was impressed.

I’m not sure if anyone else in the class thought much about her accent, but I did. I thought about all the work that went into knowing the phrases and colloquialisms she was so fluidly using. Behind each word was probably a moment of confusion, a fear of never being understood. All of that work had paid off though and I hope she feels that.

I often mention the importance of truly connecting with the culture you live in on this blog, but I don’t always talk about how stinkin’ hard it is to learn the language you need to connect.  I clearly remember sitting in an Italian classroom, my neck aching from stress, struggling to understand the words being spoken to me. I know how hard it is, but as time has passed I’ve forgotten how truly difficult it is to live in a different language.

So, for those of you who don’t speak your country’s language and haven’t had the opportunity to fully learn it: I understand how hard learning a new language can be. You don’t have to know the language to be valuable.

And for those of you who are in the moments of confusion and translation and vocab charts: keep on.

Guest Posting

Happy Friday! Today, I’m guest posting over on “Travel Lite,” an awesome new blog for MKs…

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As of now, I’ve been in college for roughly a month. Before college, I knew what it meant to be a TCK. I had been “schooled,” even, to know how I was supposed to feel; I knew what I should struggle with, what I should excel at. But coming to college changed that.

I have met numerous TCKs in the past month and I’m never sure what to say. One girl told me she grew up in Germany and I wanted to yell, “Me too!” and throw my arms around her and be best friends forever. The problem is, I didn’t grow up in Germany – I just understood all that came with that simple statement. When I tried to explain my life in Italy and that I got it, she didn’t seem to care.

That’s what it’s been like with a lot of the TCKs I’ve met. In my mind, we’re supposed to have a stronger-than-glue instantaneous bond, but they didn’t seem to get the memo. This became most apparent to me when a girl I’d been spending a lot of time with told me she was born and raised overseas. I excitedly told her that I was a TCK too and she gave me a blank stare. I explained to her what the term meant and she didn’t believe me. Let me repeat that. SHE DIDN’T BELIEVE ME. She thought I had made the term up! I gave her example after example of ministries and websites and magazines that reached out to people like us and she asked this simple question: why do we need to be reached out to? And you know what? I didn’t have an answer.

Read the rest over on Travel Lite!

Coffee Cups and Silhouettes

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This past weekend, two of my friends came to visit me and I did my best to show them the city. Being a tour guide of somewhere you love is both so fun and so stressful – I wanted to make sure they saw its best! One of our stops was Caffè Medici, something on their list, not my own. I’d never been, but instantly I liked it.

And I liked it for reasons no one else would understand. I don’t drink coffee. I couldn’t care less about their fancy machines and blends (is that even a term?). And the kind of people who go there are probably way too hipster and cool for me. What I loved was their logo: the silhouette of an old, hook-nosed Italian man who is dear to my TCK heart.

You see, once upon a time, the Medici family ruled Florence and they left an unforgettable mark on the city and country as well. Their faces are oft seen in museums, on the sides of buses, engraved in buildings, and apparently on a little coffee shops in Austin, Texas.

Every time I pass under this man’s ancient nose, I think of Italy. And every time someone pronounces their name wrong I cringe. It’s interesting how many heart triggers we encounter that no one else knows about. For them it’s a coffee shop, for me it’s an old life.

I imagine that when I walk by, he winks at me and in raspy, rich Italian tells me to keep walking. He too knows what it’s like to move from Italy to Austin. Dai! Andiamo! he says. And I so walk on.

10 Things to Do with a Barf Bag

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  1. Collect the bags from every airline you’ve been on.
  2. Scrapbook.

  3. Reuse as envelopes. (use www.instructables.com for inspiration) this is a thing in Australia, according to Wikipedia.

  4. Write a letter to a friend on it.

  5. Make a hand puppet.

  6. Use for storage. Don’t forget, the bags seal!

  7. Use as a lunch bag.  (heh heh. Snicker snicker.)

  8. Place damp food leftovers in, seal, hold at arm’s length and proceed down entire aisle of plane looking green.

  9. Create a poster for that friend or teacher you have with the middle school sense of humor.

       10. Put on feet to make airplane slippers. Proceed down aisle again.

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Look for more airplane activities from Lizzy in the upcoming issue!

Reflections on National Schooling

C blog 9

{Claire’s class at graduation}

I remember my first day of entering a new school in the Czech Republic. I had already been going to public school in a different city in Czech since 1st grade, but we moved when I was 7, so in 2nd grade, I started all over again. I remember not knowing how things worked, how to sit right, how to even make friends. I had been speaking Czech for a few years by then, but I still felt it was a bit of a foreign world.

Though my experiences in a local school were different from most MKs, I still went through the culture shock. My parents did too! But I can’t express enough how much I value not only my education through Czech school, but also the community I was able to be a part of because of it.  There would have been no way I could have learned the language as quickly had I not gone to school, forcing me to speak Czech for 6 hours a day.

I’m on my way to college today. Yes, I am flying today to the States, where I will for the first time in my life go to an American school. Looking back on my Czech schooling experience now (and being finished with it – I passed those last exams!! Woohoo!), I thought I’d share a few tips with you on how to excel, when everything in your head says you can’t:

  1. Invest in going to a tutor – I have been going to tutoring since 2nd grade. My tutor was not professionally trained, but he has a knack for explaining things. He helped me with my Czech (drilling vocabulary and grammar), and then later on, with anything I needed. If I didn’t understand a biology assignment, he worked through it with me. If I was struggling with history, he was there. I always felt so comforted knowing that I wasn’t in school “alone”, and plus, it took off pressure from my parents who didn’t understand it any better than I did!

  2. Listen, observe, and mimic – these are TCK skills that I think you all have! But I put it in as a reminder. On that first day, if everyone stands up at the beginning of class to greet the teacher, do the same (yes we did this!). If everyone is writing with a ballpoint pen, go buy one too.

  3. Ask lots of questions – teachers realize you’re a foreigner. And usually if you show interest, they will be extremely kind and gracious, especially if you are respectful and kind to them too. This also shows you’re trying, and teachers value that!

  4. Let your parents sit in on a class with you – sometimes it helps if your parent understands your world a bit, and it’s safer too that they see what you’re in. Some schools have “visiting” days, but in Czech, they were always willing to work with my parents.

  5. Talk about it – there are going to be hard things. I guarantee it. People won’t understand you, you will always be different from everyone else, and goodness, you’re speaking your second language all day! Talk to your national friends about it – help them understand; tell your parents about your day; gush to your best friend about the hilarious things or the really tough moments.

  6. Laugh – try not to take things too seriously. If going to national school doesn’t work out, it’s ok! There are other options. If there’s a misunderstanding (yes, totally arrived at the bus station for a field trip at the wrong time once), make the best of it. Be willing to humor a situation, and humor yourself too.

Here are some of the things I value most about those 13 years in national school:

  1. I can speak the language without thinking! Not only is this good for me, but it meant a lot to Czechs that I cared about their language and was committed to them, and their country!

  2. I had Czech friends. Making friends in school is much easier than having to do it any other way. You are with the same people every day, and you experience the ups and downs together.

  3. I understood Czechs better. Experiencing what kids my age were going through in everyday life helped me know them better.

  4. The ministry opportunities were there. Most of my classmates weren’t believers, so I got to share about Jesus with my friends. What a privilege!

  5. Close-knit family. My dad worked with youth, my mom stood by him, serving with him. And us kids (me and my two older brothers) were in it with them! We didn’t stand apart, but felt like we were all missionaries together.

I know that national school is not the best option for everyone. It doesn’t always work out how we want it to. But, for me, as an MK who has gone through the Czech schooling system, I can say, it was worth it. I hope you consider trying the same at least for a year, or putting your own kids in national school some day if you live overseas!

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Read more from Claire on her blog!