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MK mental, emotional health a priority for IMB

IMB missionary kid Trey Haun climbs rocks on the Gambaga Escarpment at sunset in Ghana’s Northeast region. “Everybody in the family has given up a lot to be there. The missionaries are blessed, but the whole family is highly challenged as well,” Chris Martin, the IMB’s director of member care, said while emphasizing how the IMB is focusing on caring for missionary kids. IMB Photo

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — You are loved. You are cared for. You are valued. Your experiences and emotions matter.

That’s the message the International Mission Board wants to send to its third culture kids (TCKs) – also known as missionary kids (MKs). The IMB is taking steps to let children, pre-teens and teens know that they have an advocate by providing member care consultants specifically for them. Member care consultants for the IMB provide pastoral care, counseling and counseling referrals to best care for missionaries and their families.

“Our charge – our mission – is to keep missionaries healthy and on the field so that they can thrive in their places of assignment,” said Chris Martin, the IMB’s director of member care. “That includes the children who reside with them.”

Martin continued, “We want to take care of the whole family and bless the missionaries in that way. Everybody in the family has given up a lot to be there. The missionaries are blessed, but the whole family is highly challenged as well.”

Missionary kids hang out with a student volunteer team from Texas A&M University. The IMB is focused on the mental health of its MKs, and is taking steps to let children, pre-teens and teens know that they have an advocate. IMB Photo

Emotional disorders are rampant among teens and pre-teens today. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 3.6 percent of 10-14-year-olds and 4.6 percent of 15-19 year-olds experience anxiety. WHO also reports that 1.1 percent of 10-14 year-olds and 2.8 percent of 15-19 year-olds experience depression. Children on the mission field are not excluded from these challenges.

In addition to the typical pressures that children and teenagers face, TCKs often experience cultural challenges and added grief from leaving family and friends behind in the United States. Overseas, some have been abruptly relocated due to conflict in the areas their families live and serve. Frequent transitions often lead to increased anxiety and challenges in daily life.

The IMB recently established TCK member care consultant roles to alleviate some of these pressures and give TCKs somewhere to turn in addition to their parents.

While TCK member care doesn’t end with the consultants, they have a unique role of being able to connect with the missionary kids and hear about their struggles. From there, they can point them to ongoing counseling and care services. Sometimes it’s enough for consultants to listen or to offer coping skills for anxiety or depression.

Rose Elliott is a TCK member care consultant in Sub-Saharan Africa. She understands that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact on kids. She wants to build relationships with the families she serves to help alleviate the pressures they face.

“We’re all about building up all the positive to combat any of the negative the kids may experience,” Elliott explained. “In the long run, I see huge differences in them as they enter the adult world, as they transition back to the States.”

Elliott understands that, just like any teen or pre-teen, a TCK just wants to know where they belong.

“God teaches throughout Scripture that His presence is where we belong,” she said. One of the delights of her job is telling TCKs that they belong in God’s presence. She prays this gives them the stability they need as they become young adults.

TCKs also need someone to help them debrief all the changes they go through or simply help them prepare for more changes up ahead. These consultants are uniquely poised to support them through those changes. Some of the TCK member care consultants are adult TCKs themselves, so they uniquely understand some of the challenges these kids face.

Elliott grew up in Sub-Saharan Africa. She especially enjoys spending time with students who go to her former boarding school. There, they just have fun with the kids, building that relationship of trust that is so vital to this role. As she becomes another trusted adult for the TCKs, they begin to turn to her, and in conjunction with their parents, she and her team can offer them support.

The IMB is constantly seeking other ways to support TCKs, Martin shared. All TCKs go through age-appropriate security training like their parents do to ensure their safety, even as they go to the edge of lostness right alongside their parents. Both parents and kids are given personalized educational support to ensure that they receive the same caliber education on the field as they would back in the U.S. And when they do finally leave the field and return to the U.S. as a young adult to enter the workforce or attend college, they’re given emotional, financial and practical support to do so.

Pray more member care consultants are called to serve the needs of the 3,511 missionaries on the field and their 2,850 children. TCK member care consultants are specifically trained and focused on meeting the needs of the children of missionaries. For more information on the role, contact [email protected].

Some names may have been changed for security reasons.