Missionary Kids in America

By: W. Bennett Brown

According to LU Serve International, Liberty University is home to 278 missionary kids (MKs), and the one aspect of the worldview that many missionary kids share when coming to the U.S. is: everyone is deserving of love.

Norman Mintle, the dean of the school of communication and creative arts at Liberty University, the former executive producer of the 700 Club, and current owner of Pure Media Group with his wife, had humble beginnings as a missionary kid.

“I grew up into the culture and became part of Latin American culture,” Mintle said. “It created in me a two-world experience that I find incredibly valuable, and I wish that we could get people to have greater world experience rather than just two weeks on a missions trip while in high school.”

Dove Martin, 19, lived in the U.S. from ages one to four. After age four, she spent 14 years with her family in Turkey. In 2015, Martin began her first year at Liberty University studying athletic training.

“I notice that for me I have a wider perspective on people and places than a lot of other people, those who have only grown up in the U.S.,” Martin said. “I’m very much not attached to the U.S., because I’ve been other places … This is not the end all be all of the world.”

Martin grew up in Turkey, an area that has been in the news in recent months, for various attacks on the land.

“It’s definitely not a warzone, and I’ve never felt unsafe over there,” Martin said.

Richard Bright grew up in the tribal area of Naplud in the Philippines, till the age of ten. After living in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and attending school in Manila, he found his way, in 2015, to the rolling mountains of Lynchburg.

“My parents were tribal missionaries for the first 10 years of my life, but they were there for 20 (years),” Bright said. “It’s very different. There are no roads. The only way to go in and out of the village is by airplane or by hiking. You’re the only white person there. You’re also the only guy above 5-foot-6.”

Mintle, Martin and Bright all have one thing in common – they all grew up as missionary kids and that experience has forever shaped their worldviews.

Richard Bright’s life draws some comparisons to Tarzan. Bright wasn’t raised by great apes, like Tarzan was, but he did grow up in the jungle and had two wild parrots named Mac and Jaber, as friends.

Life in the Philippines was not always a fun time for Bright.

“I think back and there were tough things I saw that you don’t really see in America,” Bright said. “In third world countries you get to see man in his darkest moments. I’ve seen kids throw rocks at another kid with no legs and no arms. I’ve seen mothers giving their three-year-old children glue to sniff so that they don’t feel starving anymore. I’ve seen kids literally living off of garbage, and living on a garbage mount.”

Similar to Bright, Mintle experienced the magnitude of poverty in a third-world country, the effects of physical and mental bullying and the love for a pet.

“I grew up being a minority … I was the gringo, and they threw rocks at me, and they yelled and did all sorts of things when I was a little kid,” Mintle said.

During the 1960s Mintle and his family moved to Costa Rica. Mintle was promised a horse, possibly as a bribe to persuade the elementary-aged-boy to go on the family’s trip. The terrain was rough and the language was foreign, but the best way to have fun as a kid was with his four-legged friend named Thunder.

After one year of living in Costa Rica, Mintle and his family moved to Honduras for four years. According to Mintle, at that time, Honduras was the second-most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.

While living in Honduras with very few resources, Mintle saw his three younger siblings suffer from life threatening disease and injuries.

“I saw the power of God, to preserve, to heal and to intervene in our lives when there was no hope for anything else,” Mintle said. “I saw God miraculously heal all three of my siblings, who were close to death.”

Mintle came from a rigid and fundamental thinking family whose thoughts were different from his own.

“All Catholics were doomed to hell and that Baptists barely made it in (into heaven),” Mintle said.

Mintle did not embrace that way of thinking. Through his foreign experience, he gained an appreciation for how people express their love for God in different ways, styles and different looking churches.

“Who am I to judge whether or not you, or anybody who goes to any other of a thousand different kinds of Christian churches, don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” Mintle said.

Mintle, Bright and Martin said that missionaries are sometimes viewed as being holy, or on the contrary, horribly behaved and worse than pastors’ kids.

According to the three MKs, people think that they or their family have some special skill that is necessary to be a missionary. The MKs say being a missionary takes someone who is willing, not someone special.

“I have had people say, ‘I don’t understand these missionaries. They’re kind of out there,’” said Mintle. “I go, ‘You’re right, you don’t.’ Missionaries who are massively and totally reliant on God for everything, are totally and massively reliant on God for everything and that includes sometimes food and sometimes life.”

According to Bright, the religious practices in the Philippines are different from Turkey, Latin America and the U.S. The major religion in the Philippines is Roman Catholicism with a mixture of animistic traditions, as well as Folk-Catholicism.

“You’ll see a lot of things that Filipino Catholics do, that most Roman Catholics in the western world don’t usually do,” Bright said. “One of the big things is during Easter or Holy Week they actually would do crucifixions on people. They will reenact it and have volunteers whip themselves and actually be crucified with nails on the cross.”

Now in their 27th year of working in the mission field, Bright’s family continues to serve in the Philippines.

Bright lived around those with different versions of Christianity and Martin says she was comfortable growing up in a Muslim culture.

Martin understands what it is like to live in an area where your beliefs are different from those around you.

“I think the big misconception is that all Muslims are terrorists and ‘be afraid’ is everybody’s natural reaction to those people,” Martin said. “I grew up around Muslims and they’re the most hospitable and nicest people I have ever met. It’s discouraging because the moment you start to fear something, that’s going to ruin your ministry.”

According to Martin, Turkey is 98 to 99 percent Muslim.

“God has a heart for them and really loves them … Not all Muslims are terrorists,” Martin said. “Not all Christians are crusaders … There is such a double standard there. God loves Muslims and you should too.”

Martin says it is most important to understand someone else’s worldview rather than force your own worldview and beliefs onto them.

“If I was a Muslim I would rather have someone get to know me on a friendship level than try to have someone try to convert me … Make sure you are loving and caring for a person, and from that you’ll have the desire for them to know Christ out of a genuine love for someone else,” Martin said.

The worldview of a MK includes the ideology that God’s love is for all people.

“My experience was amazing and glorious and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Mintle said. “It left me with two languages. It left me with a deep-deep appreciation for the rest of the world and an understanding that the United States is not the center of God’s universe … A lot of Americans and a lot American Christians seem to think that God created the whole universe just for this country. Well, this country is going down hill pretty fast. My concern is not only for this country, but my concern is much broader. I have a world vision for what we can do in our school and with our students. And I think that all comes from being a missionary kid. It comes from a deeper understanding that we are not alone in this world. There are people of value.”

Hear from Bright, Martin, Mintle and the author in the audio version of the story below.

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