An Introduction to TCKs

Communitas International starts and shapes communities of faith that love like Jesus in their neighborhoods. As we send people to the field, we are intentional about making sure they are equipped with as many resources as they need. We want each missionary family to make the transition and the journey as smoothly as possible– especially for Third Culture Kids (TCKs). 

Recently, we talked to our dedicated TCK Caregiver, Christine Van Tiem, about the need to support staff with children, and about the unique needs of TCKs. Christine is a member of our Staff Care team. 

Can you briefly describe what Third Culture Kids are and what is important for parents (and teens) on the field (and off the field) to understand?

A Third Culture Kid, or TCK, is someone who has spent a significant amount of time in their developmental years living outside of one (or both) of their parents’ passport countries, usually for the purpose of their parents’ work or education. In Communitas, we have just over 100 children (ages 0-23) from approximately 50 families, and they represent 14 different countries. Most of these kids are TCKs (and the rest will likely be PKs – Pastor’s Kids – a topic for another time!).

The TCK life is different from a monocultural life and is full of unique blessings and challenges. The difficult aspects of these challenges don’t tend to manifest themselves until the TCK is in their late teens or early 20s. I am a firm believer in preventive care, which means that there are things that we (parents, TCKs, and others) can do NOW so that these difficult aspects of the TCK life are not detrimental LATER. Preventive care is full of hope even in the midst of difficulty. 

One of the greatest gifts we can give a TCK is to be aware of what their life might entail and to know how to support them in that. The earlier preventive care is applied to a TCK and their family, the more support they can receive. It is never too early to start this, it can happen even from birth. It is also never too late, even if your TCK is now an adult.

What do you think are the biggest needs of the missionary family?

For parents, I think a lack of access to accurate, helpful, and practical TCK parenting resources is an issue. As parents, we need to be aware of how the decisions we make at work affect our children, and what we can do to raise them in a healthy way. 

For children in foreign countries, there can be a lack of faith community. Most of our staff work in grassroots church planting. Although this is wonderful, it often means that there aren’t robust ways for our children to connect spiritually outside the home. Understanding that and finding solutions in their particular context is important for their faith journey, whether it be zoom calls with other youth groups or kids groups or annual trips with other kids. Helping TCKs see that they are not alone is essential for their spiritual development and growth. (Ed. note: The kids’ program at our annual summer conference is always a critical time for TCK community!)

Another issue for TCKs is their integration back into their home country when they leave home. If or when that happens, TCKs tend to feel lost or unsure about their place and their identity. Although many teens and young adults feel that way in general, the TCK has unique circumstances that make that more true for them.

These are only a few factors that need to be addressed for the life of a TCK and their family. But though there are some negative aspects, there are also many positive aspects of being a TCK.

Can you tell us more about your family and some of the blessings you see about being on the field?

My husband and I have been living in Edinburgh, Scotland for 9 years. We have two gorgeous daughters who are 3 and 7. I also grew up as a TCK in France, so in many ways I feel I have come full circle with raising my girls. One of the blessings of living in Edinburgh is that our girls are being exposed to many different cultures and ways of thinking. This is a unique opportunity that I imagine will serve them well in life as they are able to be open-minded, empathetic, and culturally aware.

TCKs are wonderfully special and have experienced a lot more of the world and life than perhaps non-TCKs. When we help them with the issues they uniquely have, we can see God use them with their gifts and experiences for His glory as they continue to develop into mature disciples of Christ.

We thank Christine and our Staff Care team for their care for our front-line workers and our mission kids. If God is calling you on mission—or you support and pray for a Communitas missionary—you need to know that we deeply care about and care for our missionary families. Thank you for being a part of this Great Commission calling!

Ready for a  First step?

Start by filling out a Discovery Conversation form. A Communitas team member will get in touch with you to walk you through the path to the field.