A missionary kid, sometimes abbreviated MK, is someone who grew up abroad because one or both of their parents were missionaries.
Missionary kids are either angels or devils, depending on which stereotype you believe. They can be angels because they grow up in a milieu of starting new churches around the world and evangelizing the least-reached and most far-flung people around the planet. Their parents are schooled in the Bible and are actively living out what Christians refer to the “Great Commission,” which is one of Jesus’s final instructions to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). When you grow up in that environment, it’s hard not to practice what is preached and become a beaming choir boy or choir girl.
And yet there’s another stereotype too.
It’s the stereotype of the missionary kid as a misbehaver, a rebel, a kid who struggles to keep it together because he or she is constantly in the spotlight or at least on the edge of the spotlight and that’s a lot of pressure for a kid to take. It’s the kid who picks up on the expectations that everyone in the church has for them be a perfect saint, and they can’t help but start cracking under the pressure and acting up and acting out.
As is so often the case with stereotypes, there are MKs of both varieties. If you’re an MK, you already know whether you were an angel or a devil or somewhere in between when you were growing up, and perhaps you feel that you’re still dealing with the aftereffects of your childhood experience one way or the other. And if you know an MK, then you might ask them sometime what it was like to grow up in such unusual circumstances and learn about an interesting and indelible aspect of how they became the person they are today.
Sociologists have long been interested in what it’s like when a child grows up so utterly surrounded by a culture other than the ones that their parents came from. There have been studies done on kids in this situation, studying missionary kids, army and air force brats, and the kids of oil executives who had to move their family to Saudi Arabia and other places. The studies show that these kids develop some interesting strengths in the areas of quickly developing rapport with others and in accepting a wide variety of cultural values as “normal.” Those are the pluses. Then there are the minuses: the aforementioned pressure to excel and be above average, the instability that comes with frequently uprooting and moving, and the difficulty of having friends for more than a few years at a time. As an army brat myself, I’m familiar with some of those benefits and hazards.
So, if I might insert a suggestion here, try to extend a little grace toward the MKs in your life. And if you’re an MK yourself, then you have my appreciation for the unique life you were brought up in, and I hope you’ve made peace with any parts of that upbringing that brought more difficulty than delight.
On the linguistics side of things, the term missionary kid is about 100 years old, with the abbreviation MK clocking in at about 75 years old. You’ll hear a few variations on the term: missionary’s kid (with the possessive) and mission kid. Note that mission kid can refer either to the child of a missionary or a child who receives services from a mission. (Check out the definition for more on this distinction.)
In the course of researching this term, I found a term I’d never heard before: MKK. It’s a tongue-in-cheek abbreviation for missionary kid’s kid. Yep, that’s right. It’s when one of your parents as well as one of their parents were both missionaries. Talk about a legacy!
Have a look at the definitions I wrote below and let me know what you think! Any nuances of meaning that you think I left out?
missionary kid n. Occasionally missionary’s kid (see citations for 1968, 1980, 1987, 1997, 2008) or *mission kid 1. Often abbreviated MK. A person who grew up abroad because one or both parents were missionaries.
Similar terms are *pastor’s kid (*PK); *preacher’s kid (*PK); *evangelist’s kid (*EK).
Sociologists sometimes classify missionary kids by the more generic terms third-culture kids (abbreviated TCKs or 3CKs) or cross-cultural kids (CCKs).
See also *pastor’s wife (PW); *preacher’s wife (PW).
• 1925 The Christian Century XXXII. 1244 : Good Lord, when will those missionary kids quit their yowling. 1935 Wilson Broken Journey 128 : The only fellows who don’t treat me just like any of those half-castes are a few of the holy missionary kids. 1939 Annual Report of the Am. Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions 36 : [photo caption] More Missionary Kids! 1948 The Friend 118/5 18 : One of the first Americans to reach Dr. Denton after the U.S. Occupation of Japan was a young Army Officer who, as a boy, had been a “missionary kid” right in Kyoto. 1957 White “Mark of Cain” Harper’s Bazaar (Sep.) 301 : “Why don’t you and Hersha beat it off to church like good boys, Sammy…. I don’t want any dumb missionary kid around lousing things up.” 1968 Hefley Peril by Choice: The Story of John and Elaine Beekman, Wycliffe Bible Translators in Mexico 30 : The deal was arranged. Gwen Hummel, an M.K. (missionary’s kid) and Elaine’s girl friend but no relation, made the formal introduction. 1970 Hillis “The Other Generation on the Field” World Vision (Jan.) 19 : An M.K. back in the States admitted, “The strange and new social pressures of America threw me for a while.” And what did they say about the advantages of being a missionary kid? One said, “I would probably still be living in a forgotten little Minnesota town if Daddy and Mother hadn’t obeyed God. I am glad they did.” 1973 Kane Winds of Change in the Christian Mission 125 : One missionary kid, when applying for a scholarship, was called in by the college financial officer and questioned about the annual income reported by his parents. 1980 Wise God Knows I Won’t Be Fat Again 3 : Or you may be a preacher’s kid, an evangelist’s kid, or a missionary’s kid who is fighting hard to understand a lot of things. 1983 Japan Christian Quarterly vol. 49 170 : A “missionary kid” ought to be especially appropriate for serving in Japan because “he or she grew up here, knows the sights, sounds and smells, often speaks the language, knows the psychology, customs and culture, and needs no long orientation period.” 1986 Sand Travels of Faith iii. : I recall the first day we met. It was in the dean’s office of the School of World Mission. There she was—tall, open, direct, and very intelligent—an “MK” (missionary kid) with 15 years of missionary experience behind her in Brazil. 1987 Mayers Christianity Confronts Culture: A Strategy for Crosscultural Evangelism 189 : The missionary’s “kid” (MK) must leave his host nation and in essence “reject” it. 1997 Hunt You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less 136 : The main obstacle that keeps would-be missionaries off the mission field is grandparents. That’s right—grandparents. Take it from a missionary’s kid. 1999 Helton Authentic Marriages: How to Connect with Other Couples Through a Marriage Accountability Group 23 : I (Lora) have the double honor of being a MK (missionary kid) and a PK (pastor’s kid). I attended a Christian college and graduate school. Although not raised in a pastor’s or missionary’s home, Jeff grew up very involved in church activities. 2001 Storti The Art of Coming Home 182 : “I very quickly found other MKs (missionary kids) on my campus,” one teen noted. “They became my closest friends and support group, although we came from different countries. If you are an MK, you are automatically accepted as a friend by other MKs, no questions asked.” 2003 Burnham, Merrill In the Presence of My Enemies 50 : He said that if you ask a group of missionary kids, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever had to eat?” you will get all kinds of different answers, depending on the country where they’ve grown up. 2008 Rosin God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America 10 : It’s not just that Derek was a missionary’s kid and knew how to say the right things. Patrick Henry prides itself on not being your run-of-the-mill Bible college: It doesn’t give automatic preference to MKs, who can be just as rotten as any kids.
MK n. See various senses.
1. Abbreviation for *missionary kid.
• 1952 Farmer Hitherto: Hist. of North Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union 136 : The gratitude of students and parents is richly rewarding, and the record of the service of the “M.K.’s” (Missionary Kids as they have dubbed themselves) is indeed gratifying. 1976 World Vision vols. 20–22 84 : Encouraging yourchild to correspond with an “MK” (missionary kid) will give new insights to what being a missionary is really like and cause more interest in the missionary’s work. 1987 McElrath Bold Bearers of His Name: Forty World Mission Stories 123 : Like many others before and since, Lula was an MK (Missionary Kid) who grew up to become a missionary in her own right. 1995 Tomlinson The Post Evangelical 59 : The first is about Barbara, an MK (missionary kid). Although she grew up going to church with her folks, she had also been taught from quite an early age that she would need to come to a faith of her own. 1999 Helton Authentic Marriages 23 : I (Lora) have the double honor of being a MK (missionary kid) and a PK (pastor’s kid). 2003 Anderson Jesus Sound Explosion 64 : I was the pastor’s kid (P.K.) from St. Paul. Justin was the missionary’s kid (M.K.) from São Paulo. I don’t know how else to account for the fact that we became loyal friends for that year.
2. Abbreviation for *mission kid.
mission kid n.
1. Sometimes abbreviated *MK. Syn *missionary kid.
• 1952 Burma News 320 : On being asked how it feels to be a Mission Kid returned as an adult missionary, William D. Hackett laughed and said, “Advantages or disadvantages?” 1958 Elder Vindicating a Vision: The Story of the Am. Mission in Egypt 259 : Along with the Sidi Bishr sands where mission families spend their summer holidays the Schutz School arouses nostalgic feelings in the hearts of most “mission kids” long after they have returned to America. 1963 Alley Our Seven, Their Five 49 : She would not be called back to attendance, unless Siao Dee Dee called one of the mission kids “yang wawa”—foreign kid—which for some reason or another was considered a fighting epithet. 1978 The Lutheran XVI. 417 : The mission kids grew up with this philosophy. Now we have diplomats’ and businessmen’s kids, mixed in with kids from all cultures. 1982 Brown Gold vols. 40–42 21 : These schools are for our Mission kids (MK’s). What a wonderful way to multiply your life in the lives of our future missionaries. We have well over 300 MK’s back on the field serving, or, in our training, planning to return to the fields. 1985 Princeton Alumni Weekly LXXXVI. 82 : R. Park Johnson, 1928 Class secretary, kindly writes that Ken Kepler, who was a “Mission Kid” in China before coming to Princeton and was later a missionary there, has lived in partial retirement for some years. 1992 Missionalia XX. 158 : The author addresses the great challenge of breaking out of two “bubbles”: idealised perceptions of the local culture and church, and an imported evangelical ghetto and worldview, with which many mission kids (MK’s) grow up.
2. A child who receives benefits from a mission such as an inner-city mission or a mission for the benefit of Native Americans or other Aboriginal peoples.
• 1947 Gillham Raw North 51 : We stopped at Providence for ten minutes, and a Nun came down the bank with a couple dozen Indian Mission kids at her back telling her “Goo’ bye.” Poor little devils, many of them are orphans and looked quite pathetic. 1967 Indian Historian vols. 1–4 40 : He was snubbed by the BIA and camped out at the Holy Family Mission on Two Medicine River, where he began to make friends with the “Mission kids.” 1976 Farwell Ghost Towns of Australia 208 : This was one of the problems of encouraging the aborigines to come to town, for most of them lived at a mission across on the other bank. He told me of four mission kids who had wanted to cross a little while before. 1989 Starkell, Wilkins Paddle to the Amazon 269 : I woke up several times, relieved to be safe in my little mission bed. Dana, too, is better, and yesterday afternoon felt well enough to play a brisk game of soccer with the locals and mission kids. 1992 Rennick Kodiak 51 : We were mission kids, not belonging with our parents and not belonging at the mission. 2000 Bin-Sallik Aboriginal Women by Degrees: Their Stories of the Journey Towards Academic Achievement 56 : Once a mission kid always a mission kid, regardless of age or institution, whether it be compound, mission or reserve. 2002 Swierenga Dutch Chicago: A Hist. of the Hollanders in the Windy City 206 : In 1941, the congregation purchased Bethel Hall on West 13th Street from the Chicago Hebrew Mission to carry on the work…. Some sixty neighborhood youngsters attended the mission Sunday school, and more than fifty came out fore the gospel meetings. Although the “church kids” and “mission kids” played in the streets together, the church elders kept them separate in religious activities.
MKK n. Abbreviation for missionary kid’s kid; the child of a *missionary kid.
• 1987 Land of the Guaraní iss. 70–96 79 : Some of the names are marked with an asterisk, which means they are an MK (missionary kid), or second-generation missionary. One name has two asterisks, which stands for MKK, or third-generation missionary.