TCK Voices: Street Kids in Bolivia and Why Your Story Matters

Today we have Abby with us! Welcome, Abby!

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the different cultures you are part of?

I was born, was raised, and spent most of my life in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is located in South America. Bolivia is split geographically into two regions. The northern/eastern part is cold due to being at the end of the Andes Mountains. The southern/western part is the end of the Amazon area, so it is warm and tropical-like. Santa Cruz pertains to the southern/western part of Bolivia. 

Bolivian culture is warm and friendly. They have a saying, “Mi casa es su casa” (“My house is your house”)! They love sharing and, to a certain extent, take it personally if they can’t share. For instance, if they invite you to eat with them, they expect you to eat. Not to lightly eat. There also is no concept of time. For example: If you were invited to a birthday party at 6 p.m., don’t show up at 6 p.m. Or at 6:30 p.m. An hour or more late is acceptable! 

Bolivians are excellent cooks. Sure, there are fast food restaurants. But there are also mom-and-pop restaurants that are equally delicious. More so, in my opinion! Chicken cooked over an open fire is an all-time favorite, along with rice! White rice is a staple in Santa Cruz. 

Sure, there are the two major regions, but there are also minor ones as you travel within a region. I was able to go visit some of the indigenous people, the Guarani. I had fun spending about a month with them! In their culture, they let American guests eat first, and then the family eats the leftovers. I enjoyed my time spent with them; however, they were sure I was an American, and I had to convince them daily that I was a Bolivian by birth.

What is the strangest thing you have done as a TCK? 

One of the strangest, and yet one of my favorite, memories is drinking yerba mate hot. For those who don’t know what that is, you put tea leaves in a cow’s horn that is hollowed out. You put sugar and hot water in with the yerba mate leaves and drink it. Where I lived, the hostess drank the first serving and then passed it around the circle. 

Eventually, the yerba mate would come back to the hostess as we all sat in a circle. She would serve herself before passing it back around. For the most part, the hostess would just fill the cow horn with hot water and sugar before passing it to the next person in line. However, there were a few times she actually cleaned off the straw with hot water from the pitcher before passing it to the next person.

What is an advantage of being a TCK? 

One advantage is you can see the world. You spend time learning another culture. And you have really cool stories to share.

What is the hardest thing about being a TCK?

For me, whenever I would go back to my passport country, I had to make new friends and try to learn the culture, as it had changed from the last time I was in America.

What is one thing you learned from being a TCK? 

Being content. I grew up on used clothes. I was one of two girls in our mission group, and we didn’t have a lot of hand-me-downs to go around. So I wore used clothes and loved every minute of it. Moreover, I didn’t know what to do when someone gifted me a piece of clothing that was brand new!

Who was someone that you met in your passport country that made a difference in your life and how?

When my family moved to our current location in Nebraska, God provided us with a wonderful church family. One of the members took the time to listen and care for me. Since then, others have done the same. However, Cora* took the time and played the role found in Titus 2:3–5 where an older lady teaches/encourages a younger lady in God’s Word. Since then, Emily* has become close as well, as she has taken the time to listen, challenge, and pray for me in my walk with the Lord. Meanwhile, I’ve been thankful for my time spent in Bolivia as it has taught me to listen and value the friends I have. It hasn’t been easy as I grew up very conservative: I still struggle to this day to relate to a lot of the things modern kids do as I don’t see those actions as God-honoring. 

(*Names changed for privacy reasons.)

How has being a Christian made being a TCK easier/harder?

Being a Christian as a TCK has its easy and its tough moments. Being told that you can’t be “played with because you are a missionary kid” is hard to hear as a kid. You see yourself as “normal,” yet that term ends up haunting you, in a manner of speaking, as you try making friends in a new country. 

It isn’t easy to have toys ripped out of your hands when, in your home country, people’s treatment toward you was much the opposite. It isn’t easy to be placed first in line at church potlucks when you are an introvert and dislike the spotlight, despite it being done out of kind intentions. And it isn’t easy when the kids you try hard to relate to are the exact same kids who make fun of, laugh at, and act as if you are a ceramic doll that can be easily broken. 

I had a hard time understanding why the things I saw as special and unique were the exact same things that got me pushed aside and left out. I was viewed as the “special” missionary kid rather than a kid with a unique story God had written into my life. 

Yet, God is Sovereign. His will is always best! If I could, I would totally tell my younger self to stay strong. To cling to God, that there is a greater purpose. Due to my being pushed aside, it is easier for me to notice people who are alone and to go over to hang out with them. Because I didn’t have friends my age, I can easily communicate with adults. 

Am I always perfect at doing those things? Nope. But I find grace each day as a daughter of God. And I firmly believe, because of the trials I walked through, that God was leading me to stand up as an advocate for orphans as I’m doing today. I passionately try to reach out and encourage others that the least popular people, especially if they are from another country, are “cool kids”!

What is one thing you would like to tell your fellow TCKs?

I don’t know why God has placed you in another country. But don’t be afraid that you won’t be accepted or that your story isn’t “cool enough.” As a kid, I struggled as my ministry was watching the children of parents who were on the street or canals. The children who had a drunk father/older sibling etc. The children who had more things going against them than for them. Those were “my kids.” 

But people in America didn’t see or understand why I loved these kids. They didn’t see why I would associate with and love these kids so dearly. As I mentioned earlier, Cora, Emily, and so many others love my story of my time in Bolivia. They care about every detail, from the snot-streaked faces of the street children to any memory I have. 

Besides, there are people in America who want – genuinely want – to hear your story. It may mean you have to share it five thousand times. Don’t give up. It may mean you have to go through a form of rejection, but you may end up being a testimony to others. God is writing your story. So spend time in His Word and spend time in prayer. God will never leave you or forsake you. That is a promise I held onto in my toughest times once I started relying on Him for strength.

Don’t get discouraged if people initially don’t like your story. Keep sharing and shining God’s goodness!

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Abby! 

Have some thoughts?

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