By Tere Canzoneri
The third week of July has special significance in the life of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship MKs (missionary kids) and their families. That week is camp.
As part of the support CBF offers field personnel through the member care and wellness program, we provide a time for the adolescent MKs (who more frequently refer to themselves as Third Culture Kids or TCKs) to spend a week together. We worship, study the Bible, talk about issues all adolescents face as well as concerns specific to folks who grow up with the advantages and challenges of living cross-culturally. We play and have a lot of time for the kids just to hang out with each other. Camp is designed to be fun and also give these kids resources for their lives.
When someone comes to camp for the first time, I am always impressed with how quickly he or she is welcomed by the others. Before long you can’t tell who is a first-timer and who is a veteran.
“As an MK there are few things that are constant in my life. People are always coming and going, and things are always changing. Camp is something that is always there. It is a place where I get to build relationships with people who have shared my experiences and who have the same faith as me, something that is rare where I live. I have found a family in this group and our relationships grow stronger every year.”
“I look forward to TCK Camp throughout the whole year. Spending time with adults and peers who understand and welcome me is really encouraging, and it is amazing how quickly we all connect after a whole year apart.”
“Home isn’t a location. It’s people, the people who make you feel accepted and loved. That’s what TCK Camp is, an atmosphere where you can be understood and accepted.”
Camp is also important to the parents who are more able to live into their long term commitment to their work when they know their kids are doing well.
CBF field personnel and mother of two MKs wrote:
“One of the greatest resources for CBF field personnel is the TCK camp for our teens. Each year, our teens are offered the opportunity to attend a camp designed especially for them. For my daughter, it is a highlight of her year because she gets to “hang out” with her tribe. For me, it is something even more. Each year, I hear the wonderfully funny stories, over and over and over again of what she and the other TCKs did. When I delve a little deeper, I see so much more.
The teens have times of Bible study, group sessions to explore who they are as a child of God and who they are as Americans living in another country. What I see is the one time a year my daughter doesn’t have to explain who she is. These kids get her. They know what it is to live outside their passport country. They get what it is to have parents who are ministers. They understand the Christian faith – as much as any teen can. They share open and honestly about their struggles as well as their joys.
This one week a year is preventative care for my daughter. It is the opportunity for her to better understand who she is as a TCK and gain tools to make the transition to the U.S. one day more successfully. This one week each year is the only opportunity she has to attend a Christian camp. It is her opportunity to develop Christian friendships which she does not have in our country. Gifts to the Offering for Global Missions builds beloved community among the tribe of young people who are the children of CBF field personnel. It is a sacred community full of the richness of diverse cultures and experiences and full of hope for the future of CBF.”
Even our U.S.-based field personnel know their kids need this kind of experience. One mother described it as a “safe, nurturing environment that feeds these kids’ souls like no other church camp or retreat experience can.”
Whenever possible, I use leaders who are adult TCKs. One of these leaders described a profound experience of reading the Model Prayer (Matthew 6) in Creole, Catalan, Thai, Indonesian, French, Spanish, Hindi and Swahili during the final Bible Study at TCK Camp in July. After a lesson looking at the Biblical Greek and discussing English translations, the missionary kids from all around the world gathered in groups and translated the Model Prayer in the language of the culture in which they grew up. Following that, they shared in that language and translated back into English.
“It was one of the most heart opening experiences I’ve ever had,” the leader shared. “David Pollack says that TCKs sometimes ‘miss’ the specialized ways concepts can be expressed across language and culture, so I was doubly pleased to hear them express how God calls people to express truths that translate through cultures and language.”
This is a very special group of people and there is an amazing thing that happens when Christians from a variety of cultural contexts gather together. There is no superiority displayed, only appreciation, there is no prejudice displayed, only joyful curiosity.
What I have learned this year more than others is that one of the best ways to minister to children raised in a culture that is different from their parents is to simply nurture the gift they’ve been given and cultivate the love for other that seems to be a hallmark of that gift. These children to me exhibit no sense that they have somehow missed out by not having been raised in a purely American context. Rather, they have a lot to teach all about grace and the beauty of being created in God’s image.
The last night of camp we have “Prom.” For most of these kids it is the only Prom they have. We have a good meal, read Seuss’s “O the Places You Will Go,” celebrate and pray for the graduating seniors, then the kids dance and sing along to the music they have chosen until the designated ending time.
This year after we had sent the kids back to their cabin, cleaned up a bit and turned out the lights, I headed back to my own room. One of the counselors from the other camp who shared the grounds was waiting for me. I began to apologize for our noise and express concern that we might have disturbed them or kept her awake. “Oh no,” she told me. “In fact I waited up for you. We heard your kids. They were so full of joy that the other counselors and I stood outside for a while just to take it in. This is what the love of God sounds like,” she said. “Thank you.”
Thank you, CBF, for loving your field personnel and for loving their children.
Tere Canzoneri serves as the CBF Global Missions Member Care and Wellness Manager.