when missionaries are weird

When we left for Moscow all those years ago, young and carefree and very American, one of our best friends made us promise we would not morph into weird missionaries.  We have tried our best, Mark, to take your advice. Even so, being back in the States rams home the reality that we have changed, a fact that often becomes evident when we are at dinner.

My best guess is that the average person runs out of things to ask us about 2 minutes into the conversation, right around the time we start to grow multiple eyes and green, scaly skin.  It is an awkward silence around the dinner table at that point.

We basically have two audiences reading this blog:  the scaly, skinned, multi-eyed, half-normals and Mark (the old and new folks that are trying their best to be our friends).  I want to talk to Mark for a minute.

We are different and that is okay – the scaly skin sometimes itches but we are embracing it and we want you to embrace us.  You can poke and pry into our lives a little bit.  We will not be offended.  We want you to ask us questions.  We are dying to share about our lives because we miss it when we are here.  Ask questions.

We still like sports.  Jay is great at trash talk and stats.  We love the Chiefs and Patriots.  Some of us wear their t-shirts and get up at 2:00 AM to watch their games then work the next day.  See … weird.

We have electricity and toilets.  But, go ahead and ask because we have some great and hilarious stories about Turkish toilets.  If you do not know what that is, google it.

We know that you do not know where it is on a map.  That is okay – no offense.  But, we would love to show you some photos and tell you stories of places that you may never get to visit.

We do speak another language and we are in the process of learning. We would love to cry on your shoulder and tell you how difficult it is.  We know that the majority of you have not learned another language and may not even want to.  We could show you ours and explain why it sometimes makes us cry.  All half-normals have reality-show stories of language foibles.  Ask at your own risk and we will be happy to share.

Our children go to school but, like you, there are choices.  This is one of our most passionate topics because it hits at the heart of our struggle.  Please ask us and feel free to offer advice, insight, or a prayer.

We watch t.v., movies, and read books other than the Bible.  You can talk about your favorite show with us and even suggest your favorites.  We keep a list because we like to watch shows as a family.

Yeah, we want to tell you about the hard stuff.  Broken homes, human-trafficking, abuse, homelessness, prejudice are a reality where we live just like they are where you live.  It might be time to send the littles to another room and then ask us.  We have stories we need to share.

We struggle.  Someone said that going to the mission-field is like pouring miracle-grow on all of your weaknesses.  It is true.  We face our insecurities, our failures, our inadequacies.  It would be great if you were willing to hear some of the hard stuff.  You do not need to have answers.

You can support us financially but you do not have to.  We did not come to ask you for money.  We want relationship.  It is an awkward situation, we get it.  The other side of it is that sometimes God lays giving on your hearts and the needs we face might be how God is leading your heart.  Let us figure out together how to address this.  We do not want you to think we are in relationship for money.  We do not want to cheat you out of a chance to give if God is leading you.  It is complicated, true, but we are willing to figure it out if you are.  Regardless, you can pray since it is the best kind of support.

So, there you go – a beginner list:  bathroom conversation, sports talk, and free-time activities.  Not so hard.

Most of the time, you guys do not respond with comments but I am hoping you will this time.  Start the conversation on my facebook page where this posts.  Half-normals, feel free to pipe in.  Mark … what do you think?  Be honest.  Let’s talk.

9 thoughts on “when missionaries are weird

  1. Teanna, this is a really great article–I like you’re writing. Miss you all and hope you are doing well! Would’ve loved to see you guys at General Assembly, but I couldn’t make it up there. Also, I would love to talk to you about spending some time working with you all over there–whatever you need. Grace and Peace!

  2. I was a missionary kid. Now an expat for business reasons. I feel the half-normal thing. It’s tricky ‘fitting back in’ in the US. How do your kiddos find it? How do you help them sort the 3rd culture kid reality?

  3. AHHH! I love it Teanna! Love your honesty, your heart, your words, your pleas, your transparency! Beautiful. And yes I resonate with all of this!! One of the themes I see is “ask, ask, ask”. Even if you don’t understand it, even if you don’t know where it is or what it’s like, ask. Even if you think it’s a stupid question, ask. I love that you also talked about how being home is about building relationships, not about asking for money. It’s so true – we want and need prayer partners. Yes, there are needs, of course there are, but we also need partnership and friendship and prayer! Love you!

    Betsy Scott – fellow half-normals living in Croatia

    1. Betsy, I love all of the half-normal you and your Scott family. So glad that God gives us the chance to make this journey together. You are also a great role model and encourager to me!

  4. Great article!! I am an MK and doing a master’s thesis in Marriage and Family Therapy. The thesis is on stress, burn out and depression in missionaries. May I please quote some of this article in my paper? I would be happy to give you credit for it or leave your name out completely – whichever you wish.
    Thank you! Quita Sauerwein

    1. Quita. You are welcome to use any information that you find on our blog. My name is Teanna Sunberg. My only stipulation is that our countries are presented in a positive light. I love my love as a missionary, the places and people that we have had the privilege of journeying with, and believe with all of my heart that growing up as an MK has been a wonderful experience for our girls. It is not always easy but what in life that is of true value is easy? Good luck with your thesis!

  5. Teanna, thank you for sharing your heart. One of my favorite things on Facebook is reading your conversations with Jay. They are hilarious and make my day whenever I get to read them. If you ever make it to Iowa, we would love to spend time hearing your stories.

  6. Teanna – I found your blog through the NMI Prayer Mobilization Line and have really enjoyed the article about your daughters and many other blogs I read. My husband and I along with our 4 year old son have been living in Cali, Colombia for the past 3 years serving with Extreme Nazarene Missions. I thought you would really like this article as well https://medium.com/repatriation-after-the-shipment-is-unpacked/3b9fd76169f2. You may have already seen it but it really gave me an easy way to explain what we go through, how we change and how we are a blend, now in the half-normal category. My husband and I have been talking a lot recently about the life our son is living. We have been in South America since he was 15 months old. We are also in the process of adopting an 11 year old boy from Bogota, Colombia and what this change will bring to our family. Here we have us as American’s living in a foreign country, raising a son who is a blend of American and Colombian (Cali) culture and then introducing a new family member into this crazy life with Bogota and Cali culture being very different. We are excited and hope our boys will share a bond in being triangles, of not really fitting in 100% anywhere but using all that God has given them to reach other people. Thank you for your truth and honesty in your writing, I have subscribed so I don’t miss out.

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