Culture & Race

From Tree Forts to Castles; one MK’s Transition Experience

by Kathleen Johnson

One brisk October evening in 2005, my 12 year old son and I made a visit to our soon-to-be home in the Netherlands. As is the norm in Holland, our rental house had been stripped bare, leaving behind only dingy walls, cold cement floors and bare windows. Loose wires hung from the ceilings where light fixtures once were. I became aware of an eerie familiarity between the emptiness of this house and the state of my soul.

We had been living with Charlie and Lisa, new friends from the church we came to pastor, until we could move into our own place. Their home; bright and cheerful, stood in stark contrast to this barren house that would soon replace the safe haven we had come to love.

As we walked into what was soon to be Kenny’s bedroom, he stomped his feet and slumped to the floor informing me that he was “never moving again”, unless it was back to our home in Minnesota . I had to ask myself, as I had many times in the past four weeks, “What in the world was I thinking in agreeing to leave my home, family, friends, and country to make a difference for Christ here?”

My son and I bonded that day. God acted on our behalf, as he did in one way or another on almost a daily basis during the early months of our transition. I asked some friends from the states to pray for Kenny, that his move to our own house would go well. Within 24 hours of my call for prayer, one of the women from our new church called to ask if she could surprise him with a Lord of the Rings bedroom. What was one of his lowest moments turned into one of his highest, as he entered his new room a couple weeks later to find its transformation to Middle Earth complete.

Even with his new room, Kenny’s first 6 months were pretty rough. He missed his home, school, friends, his two older sisters, his dog, the woods in the backyard, sliding in the snow… you name it. But slowly it changed as he made friends and adapted to his new school and life. Before long he was biking 10 km to school and riding public busses by himself. By the end of his first year he told us he hoped to graduate from high school in the Netherlands rather than returning home to the states at the end of our four year commitment.

Now, almost 30 months later, I am fully aware of the gift we have given our son through this experience. He has adjusted well. We have given him the gift of an expanded world view. Since Kenny goes to an international school he has friends from all over the world, many who are fluent in two or three languages. Our lives are enriched with opportunities we would never have had living in our home country. Every time we travel we are awestruck, whether we are seeing a 15th century church, crawling through an underground tunnel of a 12th century castle, or snowboarding in the Swiss Alps. But most of all my husband and I are modeling living lives dedicated to following God’s call. Our son has experienced both the sacrifices and the blessings of that choice. His Middle Earth bedroom is just one of the many ways Kenny has seen God at work in tangible ways. He is a part of making an impact for Christ in a part of the world where only a small percentage of the population claim any affinity to God, church, or faith.

The first year when the adjustment difficulties were at their peak, empathy and understanding with one another were key in pulling our family through the difficult emotions. Every hurdle our son crossed was cause for celebration, whether it was his first invitation to a sleep-over or seeing him make the choice to get involved in an extra-curricular activity at school.

Though we have experienced many high points in our transition, there remains a pervasive sense of being away from home, and a quiet heartache that accompanies it. As I ponder our transition to the mission field I can not overlook the profound impact our experience has had on my faith. Raising a third culture kid and being separated by an ocean from our two older children has afforded me a tiny glimpse of the sufferings of Christ Jesus. How intense the Father’s love was, to ask His only Son to leave his heavenly home and come to dwell among us. It is more than my finite mind can even begin to grasp.

Kathleen Johnson, along with her husband Kevin and son Kenny, serves on the mission field in the Netherlands, where Kevin pastors Crossroads International Church of the Hague. Having lived and ministered in the United States up until August of 2005, Kathleen has first hand experience on the roller coaster of crossing cultures. Kathleen and Kevin also have 2 daughters and 1 grandson living in the states.


3 thoughts on “From Tree Forts to Castles; one MK’s Transition Experience”

  1. Weird… I’m an MK named Kenny and my dad is Kevin and my mom is Kathy and I have two sisters…

    But that aside, good for you… I’m glad you’re surviving the transition. I had it easy… I was 2! But I’m glad you’ve added your son to the ranks of TCKs; (IMO) it’s not easy but it’s worth it.

    And crawling through castles is a special bonus… (I’ve been in a few. =D)


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