Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye


I have to admit that John Haines’ book about being a missionary kid is better than mine, so if you’re only going to buy one, buy his. Many of you have read mine, which was written from the point of view of a child. His point of view is of an adult looking back with nostalgia and wistfulness at what once was. I like the processing that he went through in a humorous, stream-of-consciousness style. If I ever re-write my own book, I will stop and philosophize from time to time like he did. The memoir of his life made me laugh and cry as I relived my own experiences.

I hadn’t even finished the prologue when I got a lump in my throat and wanted to cry.  It seems that we MK’s have explosively deep emotions that are buried out of sight like land mines. In the book, his land mine was set off by seeing a Moroccan woman who looked so much like his maid/nanny when he was young. It was like he imprinted on her like a mother figure, and then when he moved away from Morocco and hadn’t seen her for decades, he went back as an adult, and the familiar face triggered all the childhood memories. This set off an overwhelming sensation, almost as if he was re-united with his mother for the first time in years.

So I knew by page 4 that I was going to enjoy doing this review, which I agreed to do for compensation. It was the most emotionally satisfying review I’ve done. I wrote notes all over the margins as I pondered why I felt a certain way about what the author was saying (whether grief, laughter, empathy, or whatever emotion was evoked).

The personality (or voice) behind the writing had a detached bluntness and humor combined with the friendliness of a tour guide telling someone the way things are for missionary kids. This is not a religious book, and it is written to believers, unbelievers, and what he calls “innocent ones.” Each category is sometimes addressed separately. The “innocent ones” are not Christians, but they are not against Christians either, so they are taking in the story as impartial recipients.

The author is blunt about everything he experienced as a missionary kid, so I believe that MK’s especially will love the book because he says things with shocking honesty that we would never dare say at the time we were on the mission field.

There was so much MK humor in the book. For example, he mentions “lists of three being a feature of the sermons I grew up on,” and “What better home for an uprooted missionary kid than a boarding school full of missionary kids?” That second quote is from the chapter describing his interesting boarding school experiences.

Many pearls of MK wisdom were tossed out at us throughout the book. Here’s one: “Wandering like the Children of Israel in a land that was not ours, we never got to stop and savor one of life’s most priceless commodities: friends.” As you can see, he uses the language of someone who grew up with what I call church language, and he says things that are profound in a boy-next-door kind of way. The topic itself has poignancy because we constantly had to say good-bye to our friends. Hence the title: Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye.

The book ended in a satisfying way as he returned to the lands of his childhood. I believe that every missionary kid should go back to their motherland at some point in their adult lives to be able to come full circle and heal from all the unresolved grief of having to say good-bye so much in our lives. Last year I did just that, and I felt a sense of completion. I too felt that I had finally come home.

To grab a copy of the book, click here.

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22 Responses to “Missionary Kid: How I Learned to Say Goodbye”

  1. Katie says:

    What a great resource for MKs! Whenever someone shares from honesty, it can impact other’s hearts. Looking back on our childhood experiences through adult eyes can be a healthy exercise for all of us, no matter our background!

    • Susan says:

      It’s especially helpful for missionary kids because we have had to say good-bye so many times. We have a lot of unresolved grief in the background of our souls.

  2. Gail OConnor says:

    Hi Susan,
    Thanks for sharing this! I enjoyed your post. As an MK who has struggled with saying goodbye and all the losses, I definitely want to read this. I blog about books that resonate with third culture kids. Since you have read this, is this a book that is for adult MKs? If so, do you think it is a good resources for parents of TCKs to help their children deal with losses?

    • Susan says:

      It’s definitely for adult third culture kids. I think that parents of TCK’s would find it helpful because it’s the way their kids experience their environment, at least the way they look back on it. It might be offensive to missionaries who are still on the mission field because they might think the existence of the book will decrease their financial support because of the bluntness of the book. It wouldn’t.

      For example, the prayer letter is really the money letter. But it’s the truth. MK’s laugh with relief while they read it because it’s true. He also has alcohol in his hand as an adult to “prove” how secular he was, even though he was a Christian. MK’s know the dynamic of trying to get people from the American culture to drop their walls and not be stiff around them. All of these things resonate with adult MK’s.

  3. Melissa says:

    It sounds like a great book for missionary kids as well enjoyable for nonMKs to get a peek into the world.

    • Susan says:

      Non-MK’s would probably find it fascinating, to see what life for an MK is really like, and how we see the world in general, which is completely different than the average American.

  4. Julie says:

    Sounds like a great book to read. I’d like to read it even though I’m not a MK, but I think it would give me a better understanding as to what missionaries go through!

    • Susan says:

      Missionary kids experience things differently than the parents. To view a life from the point of view of a third culture kid is interesting and different than a person who has lived in one culture his or her whole life.

  5. Alice Mills says:

    An awesome review of what sounds like a great book. I love missionary stories!

    • Susan says:

      Having been written from the MK’s point of view is a great contrast to missionary stories written by missionaries about conversions or miracles. This was from a detached non-religious point of view.

  6. Erin says:

    What an intriguing book. I would imagine that this would be a good read for anyone considering hosting a child from another country as well.

    • Susan says:

      Certainly a child from another country had to say goodbye to their first country and is adjusting to a culture not their own, so yes, in that sense it would apply, I suppose.

  7. Heather Hart says:

    Wow, that’s a glowing testimonial, and it sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow! This is something I’ve never even thought of. I do acknowledge the amount of sacrificing a missionary and their family has to make, but I never thought of having to say goodbye so much. It must be painful, and one could feel a bit homesick! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ann (Neethu) says:

    I m amazed at how you take the circumstances of your life, relate it to the Word and apply the principles of God into and share it. Keep going truly enjoying your write-ups.

  10. Jennie says:

    So glad I read this. This will help
    Me be more gracious with MK’s. I was just watching an interview today with an MK who said when she came back to the States she was so shy because she grew up without friends. I’ve never thought of it that way. Thnx for bringing to light some of the struggles that MK’s have!

  11. Jenny says:

    Hi, Susan! I read the book upon your recommendation and found it very interesting…and yet very sad. I came away sensing that the author holds a deep disdain for the work that his parents did. HIs take away from it all has nothing to do with Christ’s love or grace or compassion or truth..possibly not absent from his life, just from his retelling. I was reminded, though, that every MK’s experience is very unique in the same way that every child raised in the United States has a different journey. You and I have similar backgrounds and yet even the way we process it is different. There are so many variables!

    • Susan says:

      I don’t think the author disdained his parents’ work–he always spoke highly of his parents’ character. He almost became a missionary himself. I think he was just blunt by saying his parents were “converting the heathen,” which is exactly what missionaries do.

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