I’ve been thinking about my childhood as a “Missionary Kid” quite a bit today, mostly because I’ve been in the kitchen preparing my contributions for a Caribbean-themed potluck later this weekend, but also because I’m still reflecting on two movies I had on this morning about the missionaries to Ecuador who were killed in 1956. I would highly recommend that you do the same, as the stories of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, et al., are told in both “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” and “End of the Spear,” which are available for free viewing on Hulu, the poor person’s Netflix! Thankfully my own family’s missionary experience, though trying, did not involve murderous villagers or loss of life. Of course I do not directly compare them, except to note that both stories show sometimes making “big” sacrifices or steps of obedience as a Christian can turn out in a way that makes you feel like you’re falling flat on your face if you don’t have a wider perspective to see beyond the moment. And by “beyond the moment,” I mean it might be well beyond your own lifetime that anything comes together, even. This is a hard thing to grasp hold of!
When I was eight, my family moved to Trinidad so my parents could serve as professors at a seminary that was a part of their church denomination. We were there for two years, moving back to the US when I was ten. Here I am with my two younger sisters. We’re next to “Sister Ross,” the woman who cooked for all the faculty and students (probably ~30 people a day?). This picture is out the side door of the cafeteria – notice there is no glass on the windows? And no doorknob? We were truly in “the bush,” experiencing near 3rd-world conditions! I am especially remembering Sister Ross’ hot, steamy kitchen as I saute sliced plantains and boil chayote squash on this outrageously humid June afternoon
Just some commentary on our appearance: We all had hurache sandals, but mine were multicolored because there were no more white ones in my size when we got them. I didn’t like not matching my sisters in our shoes, and I was really frustrated that I had outgrown the sweet acid wash denim outfit that Beth so fashionably models in this photo. But seriously… isn’t little Naomi the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? She was probably 3. And that poor cat is probably the most pathetic animal to ever walk the planet. I think I remember that we were not allowed to play with her.
Experiencing significant life upheaval at a young age, like if your mom begins working outside of the home while you are all adapting to another culture, has a way of changing how a child sees the world. I was a precocious girl, very conscious of the culture shock we faced in both directions – moving to Trinidad and moving back to the States a few years later (the move back to the US was infinitely harder) – and I can’t remember much about life before this time. Plenty of my memories are of fun and carefree kids: playing outside in the rain (even the rainwater was warm!); eating fresh mangoes; our first puppy “Scooby”; seeing parakeets perched in the trees and telling my mom “I didn’t know those actually lived anywhere for real… I thought they were from the pet section at Meijer!”; little lizards everywhere; and our special trip to the one McDonalds in the whole country where I got a Polly Pocket in my kids meal. But there were challenging aspects that I remember, too: We went down there with practically nothing – personal belongings like clothing, homeschool books, toys, etc., for our family of five fit into eight trunks, and yet the neighborhood kids thought we must be princesses because we each had a Barbie; We could barely understand the “English” spoken there; Some of the food served to us was really gross, like pigs foot soup, and yet we obeyed my mom’s “look” that said finish your plate and if you say anything I swear I will kill you on the way home; cockroaches the size of my nine-year-old hand and toads the size of a dinner plate; and on several occasions our small home was burglarized while we were sleeping.
One of the other frustrating things about life in Trinidad was that church took FOREVER. I mean it. Like 2-3 hours. And we would sing the same songs over and over and over. No air conditioning. Some Sundays it truly felt like torture – the hard pew, the sweaty back, the people behind us petting our pretty blond hair. And yet, I have to smile every time I think of this chorus we must have repeated at the beginning and end of each service for two years worth of Sundays:
The name of the Lord is a strong tower,
The righteous run into it and they are safe.
While I was old enough to know about some of the difficulty we all faced, this was an experience that has made my life richer and brighter, and I’m enjoying the memories these tastes and smells trigger for me.
For Thy Church which evermore, lifteth holy hands above.
Off’ring up on ev’ry shore , her pure sacrifice of love.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!
– For the Beauty of the Earth, Folliot Pierpoint 1864.