One of the best letters my children received while we were serving in Cameroon was a letter from friends at our home church. It was only one page printed, had a few pictures and a simple focus: our friends’ dog, Maude.
After sharing a cute story about Maude, our friends posed a few questions: “Do you have any pets? What kinds of pets would you like to have?”
My daughter tacked the letter to the wall in her room (who can resist colorful pictures of an adorable dog?) and immediately wanted to email our friends to share about our pets and the animals she encountered regularly: lizards, giant snails, snakes, birds and more.
When we returned to the U.S. for furlough, she couldn’t wait to go visit Maude and her family!
Our friends understood something about missionary kids (MKs) that it can sometimes be difficult to remember. Despite being world travelers who live in different (sometimes exotic) places and speak several languages, they’re still just kids with “normal kid” likes and interests!
Although It might feel easier for you to connect with your adult missionary friends, their children value you and your partnership just as much as their parents do! It’s likely that they pray for you by name and would really appreciate a deeper relationship with you. Here are a few ways you could connect with them.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
“Tell me about” is a great phrase to use to engage with an MK of any age! You’ll get to learn about their lives from their perspectives without asking them to compare. With a few follow-up comments, you’ll be able to have a robust conversation. Try saying things like:
- “Tell me about your school.”
- “Tell me about your church.”
- “Tell me about your best friend.”
- “Tell me about your flight.”
- “Tell me about your Christmas/school break/vacation.”
If you want to connect with a younger MK, it’s better to keep your questions simple and open ended, and then follow up with another question. You can ask things like:
- “What’s your favorite book? Which character do you like the most?”
- “What’s your favorite subject in school? Why do you like it?”
- “What’s your favorite food? How do you make it?”
- “What do you like to do to have fun? What do you like most about it?”
Many MKs don’t think of their passport country as “home.” Instead, home is where they live, go to school and hang out with their friends. Traveling to the U.S. isn’t returning home; it’s visiting. And if they return to the U.S. to stay, they may feel like they have left or lost their home.
With this in mind, if you ask MKs to compare the different places they have lived, you may inadvertently stop a conversation instead of starting it. And while some older MKs may be comfortable with deeper questions like this, others (including younger MKs) might be unsure how to answer. They may lack the experience or the vocabulary or wonder if you’ll be upset if they prefer the place they usually live to the U.S. They might not want to criticize either location and might have very strong feelings, either positive or negative, that comparison ignites.
MKs do often have unique perspectives that they are excited to share, and asking open-ended questions like those above will give them the opportunity to comfortably share with you.
It’s great to learn about MKs and their lives, but if you really want to connect with them, you have to have real conversations. If they share about their school, tell them something you remember about your school (or maybe even about where your kids or grandkids go to school). If they tell you that they love the music in their church, share your favorite worship song with them.
The letter our friends sent to our kids about Maude opened a door for relationship because it shared something personal that they could relate to. That’s what made them excited to write back. Other emails we received for them that contained a list of questions weren’t nearly so appealing — those communications didn’t initiate relationships.
Making a Difference
Whether you’re sending a letter or an email to MKs on the field with their parents or you’re talking with an MK after a church service, your investment of time and care makes a difference! Many MKs are accustomed to their parents having long talks with other adults about their ministries and lives, but they often don’t get the chance to share in those situations.
Psalm 127:3 reminds us that “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him,” and Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:5, “… anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me” (NLT). The time you invest in connecting with MKs is valuable, and you’re likely to hear some very interesting stories!