Wheaton magazine

Volume 22 // Issue 2
Wheaton magazine // Spring 2019
Alumni News
Alumni Profiles

A Paradoxical Pilgrimage

For Ruth Frame Van Reken '69, R.N. '67, the tipping point came when her eldest daughter Sheri Van Reken Underhill '92 left home at age 14 to attend high school in the United States. Home at the time was Liberia, where Ruth and her husband, David '67, served as medical missionaries.

Watching Sheri board the plane, Ruth felt the same “choking feeling” she had experienced decades earlier when, at age six, she left her own parents—Charles '40 and Betty Varnell Frame '39, missionaries in Nigeria—to attend boarding school. 

The sad memory surprised Ruth. She had always loved life as a missionary kid. Ruth explored these contradictory feelings through journaling, realizing that Jesus himself allows for the paradoxical coexistence of pain and faith. Her entries eventually became the book Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey from Hurt to Healing.

Ruth has devoted her life to studying the story of pilgrimage, initially focusing on third culture kids (TCKs). First identified by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the late 1950s, “third culture kids” have parents who live and work abroad and who spend their developmental years outside their passport country. Ruth Van Reken has proposed the alternative, more broadly defined term “cross-cultural kid” (CCK) to describe individuals who have lived in two or more cultural environments during developmental years.

Ruth seeks to help cross-cultural sojourners navigate their own paradoxical stories of pilgrimage, including the challenges of multiple cycles of separation and loss, while at the same time welcoming with joy the many gifts also received. With David C. Pollock and Michael V. Pollock, Ruth coauthored Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, widely considered the “TCK bible.”

At commencement in May, Wheaton will confer Ruth with an honorary doctorate for her legacy.