Reflections of an Adult MK

Mr. Daniel Borden is a third year student in the counseling program at RTS. His parents were MTW missionaries in Zimbabwe and South Africa from 1993-2011, and from that time they have worked with MINTS (Miami International Theological Seminary) in the United States. Daniel graduated from high school in 2004, and from the Bible Institute of South Africa in 2007. He is married to Melissa, and they have one daughter, Charis.

Home is everywhere and nowhere

Home is a word that encapsulates a sense of familiarity, safety, and memories. Yet when I ponder this word, I wonder where to fully lay my restless feet. My mind begins to reflect on the many places where my feet have rested in the past history of my life. I think back to the summer of 1992 in Detroit, Michigan, when my parents underwent missionary training. I have memories there of the children programs that I participated in before my family made the big move to Zimbabwe in 1993. From that time onwards, the places I’ve called “home” have spread into a plethora of localities. I reflect on living on the campus of a Bible College in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. My mind drifts next to the rural, mountainous, lush countryside of Zimbabwe where my father taught at African Bible College on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This place was home for only two and a half years, but I remember so much from those days. Thankfully, many of those experiences have been saved on my parents’ old camcorder and the collection of home videos at my parents’ house. I continue on and remember home later being in St. Petersburg, Florida, where my parents attended a chiropractor center while on medical leave for a time. I remember home being near colonial Williamsburg in 1996, and then changing suddenly in the fall of 1997 to the tip of South Africa, in a small, southern suburb of Cape Town called Fish Hoek. I could list other “homes” as well, including Harrisonburg, Virginia, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Lynchburg, Virginia, and various places around Atlanta, Georgia. Together, these places hold a kaleidoscope of memories, conversations, friends, cultures, and various forms of other things left behind. My list of “homes” currently numbers around twenty-two.

The hardships

Not everything about my cross-cultural adventures has lent itself to epic tales of excitement and adventure. Sadly, there has been the “darker side” as well, which has created in my soul a kind of wrestling with how I grew up. I’m a sinner, just like the rest of the body of Christ, and my particular sin has often morphed and shifted along the line of contentment. When I came of college age, I began to realize more fully that my history was so very different from many of my peers. This led to a very compulsive-like desire to “fit in” with all those around me. When my efforts did not achieve the desired results, I found myself trapped in a whirlpool of feelings including depression, anger, anxiety, loneliness, and a deep sadness that would not dissipate. I was angry that my life had not been a normal (who knows what that is) upbringing. I was upset that I was different. I envied those who lived in the same location for long periods of time and appeared to be culturally savvy. I remember once the all too real longing of desiring to be in the same place for Christmas two years in a row just so that I could say to those around me, “Remember what we did last Christmas?”

God’s mission is the scene behind all scenes and the end of time.

We are all human and have pasts to wrestle with as we grow in our relationship with the Lord. My past has been unique, yet my heart is not unique. One of my biggest longings has been for God to transform my imagination. Paul Tripp, in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, makes the point that as Christians, we need a vivid imagination that fixes on what is real, but unseen (p. 7). The apostle Paul, right after mentioning momentary afflictions, elaborates on this in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” I need a sanctified imagination. I need to set my mind on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). When I was a child, I had a vivid imagination. When I was about 8 years old, I used to sit on my “thinking rock” in the Zimbabwean countryside and try to figure out eternity in my head after hearing that word in Sunday school. Of course, I never quite figured it out, but I miss those long afternoons of pondering! As an adult TCK (third culture kid), I long to have such an imagination. Even more, however, I long to have a picture of the behind-the-scenes reality of God’s work in the midst of deep heartache.

Yet I pause and realize that my emotional experiences of pain were very real. The culture shock that I experienced in college was almost unbearable at times. The loneliness ate at me like a sinister virus, and remnants of that virus remain even now. The longings for days past sometimes still take hold of my heart, and I begin to believe that the “if onlys” would fix me (for example - if only I lived in one place for years at a time…if only I had not been an MK….the list goes on). Yes, I’ve been angry at the “aftermath” of growing up a missionary kid. There was a time when I was tired of not knowing the rules of football, and sitting during the Super Bowl and feeling as though I was hearing a foreign language. I was tired of sitting in awkward silence because I missed the “normal” jokes and humor that surrounded me when I moved to new places. I was tired of feeling a lack of identity, and tired of trying to figure out the question “Who am I?” Of course, as a Christian, I know my identity is in Christ, but it is still 3 sometimes hard to experience that due to life circumstances that seem to clash against that reality. I desire to rest fully in my identity in Christ, yet I long to be heard when I battle against such things as cultural identity and the very real thoughts, feelings, and emotions that wage war inside my soul.

While there is an inward struggle, another story must take center-stage. It is not that my struggles have not been real, but I pray that another story behind the scenes will continue to grip my heart. I think to the early days in Zimbabwe when my mom used to run the “Good News Bible Club” on Fridays. Fast-forward twenty years, and a letter comes of how one of those boys is now a pastor in the land of Zimbabwe. I also think of a South African pastor who came to get trained in a night class that my dad was teaching, so that rural pastors could further their education. This pastor used to be a fervent preacher of the prosperity gospel. He became friends with my father, was equipped, and is now pastor and principal of a small Bible College that happens to be next door to the witch doctor’s residence in one of the townships of Cape Town. I could go on and on with the many students equipped and families served through the ministry of my parents. I think of Revelation 7 and the wonderful picture of people from all tribes and nations, worshipping and praising God, for salvation belongs to Him. It is not our mission, but His mission. He chooses to use the church, despite the weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings of her members. I’m thankful for my experiences, because though I don’t always feel it, I know that God will use my background in a unique way for the glory of His name. However, it is such a beautiful thing to be heard and validated in the uniqueness and difficulty of my story. It has meant so much in the past to see the arms of the church reach out to my family in my growing up years and even now to my new family as a married man. During my youth it meant so much to have the church pray for us, send Christmas gifts, read the newsletters, and join with us in pain. That was a beautiful picture of weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (I Corinthians 12). I have received grace from others, and out of that grace I hope to be the “hands and feet of Christ” in the lives of others as well.

God’s mission is to bring His elect from all generations into His kingdom, saving them through the death of His Son, and working out that salvation in the lives of His children through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice that He uses broken vessels to accomplish His overarching plan for humanity, and that the church can comfort her members in the continued journey to this reality.