There are a lot of questions I’m afraid of. “What music do you listen to?” For some reason, I always draw a blank when someone asks this. “What’s your favorite [insert noun]?” Too many favorites! “Where are you from?” I have dual citizenship, making this complicated. Though perhaps the most terrifying is, “What do your parents do?” I have an answer planned out for this one: my parents work for a nonprofit in Romania. The truth—the whole truth, that is––is that my parents are Christian missionaries.
The reason I’m so hesitant to talk about my parent’s vocation isn’t that I’m embarrassed by it. Even if I did think it was a shameful job, it’s their decision, not mine. It’s just that a lot of college students think that “missionary” is a sex position. If I told my peers that my parents tell people about Jesus for a living, they would probably think of something like this:
Picture Credit: Christianity Today
Picture Credit: Know Your Meme
Despite my sarcastic remarks, I don’t hold a grudge against people who don’t know much about missionaries. It’s a niche community that almost no one learns about in school, which has both its advantages and disadvantages.
My favorite part of growing up in a missionary home was the international aspect. I’m a little different from some missionary kids in that I actually have blood ties to the country I grew up in—my father is Romanian and my mother is American. This meant I grew up in a bicultural and bilingual home, exposing me to diversity early on. At school, the students were mostly the children of North American or Asian missionaries, which helped me gain a basic understanding of the cultures of both of those continents.
In addition, I had the opportunity to travel extensively. Europe is abounding with stunning nature and historic tourist sights, all of which are a short plane flight away. I could get airplane tickets to exotic locations for as cheap as twenty dollars. During my adolescent years, I was exposed to more culture, food, and history than many people see in their entire lives. This gave me the ability to pick up on cultural cues and assimilate at an astounding rate.
Though of course, the missionary kid life had its downfalls. Most of my friends’ parents worked for organizations that moved them to a new country every couple of years, meaning no one stuck around for long. I started to view each new person I encountered as someone who would walk out of my life and lose touch with me eventually. This helped me learn how to make friendships quickly and enjoy them while they lasted, but I can also be somewhat distrustful.
Although I stayed in one place throughout the course of most of my life, I never completely immersed myself in any culture. I don’t know pop culture references or idioms from either of my home countries. I’ve heard it said that missionary kids often feel like they fit in everywhere but belong nowhere. This aptly describes how I feel about both the United States and Romania.
Another unique aspect of my childhood was the intense moral training. For better or for worse, missionaries tend to be black and white people. My parents and teachers gave me the impression that actions were either good or bad, with a little gray area. This gave me an intense moral compass and a drive to always improve myself, for which I am grateful. However, whenever I happen to do something I consider wrong, I feel such crushing guilt that sometimes I can’t even breathe.
That being said, life as a missionary kid has intense highs and lows, often feeling like a wild roller coaster. Through it all, I don’t wish my parents had a “normal” profession that would have given me a more stable life. Although people from my school may have trouble relating to my past, the skills I learned abroad help me find ways around this by finding other things we have in common.