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Area Retreat Kids Program: An Oasis for Missionary Kids

By Christy Kriaski, Aug 23, 2018

Have you ever thought about using your vacation days for missions? I hadn’t until I heard a young adults pastor encourage singles to do just that. I cared about international missions, but felt disconnected living and working in the U.S. With extra vacation days (and no clear plan in mind on how to use them), I decided this mission trip idea was worth looking into.

A few weeks later one of my mom’s friends told me she was leading a team of volunteers to do a conference for missionary kids in Malaysia, and I immediately thought “This is the opportunity I have been looking for!” It sounded like a great fit. I had been volunteering with children’s ministry for years and I love kids. I was also interested in traveling to Asia since I had never been before, and I knew almost nothing about Malaysia. (I definitely had to look it up on a map).

I also have a little bit of a history with missionary kids: I was raised by one. I grew up hearing stories about life in Brazil, where my mom grew up. She took a river boat to school, encountered more anacondas and piranhas outside of a zoo than inside one, and didn’t use a hair dryer until she was in college.  Her stories are funny, heart-warming, and heart-wrenching all at the same time.

Living between two worlds
My mom and her four brothers grew up in two vastly different worlds: American and Brazilian. They often felt like outsiders in both. They were pointed at for their light skin color in Brazil, but felt unable to connect with their American friends who knew nothing outside of suburbia. My mom’s youngest brother found furloughs (now called Home Ministry Assignments) to be particularly trying. Each time they came to back to America, he’d forgotten his English and couldn’t talk to his American friends, but by the time they got back to Brazil, he’d lost his Portuguese and couldn’t talk to his Brazilian friends.

Times have changed, and today’s missionaries are better equipped to handle the stresses of cross-cultural life, but many of the challenges of being a third-culture kid remain. Instead of the Amazonian jungles where my mom grew up, many missionary kids now live in the concrete jungles of major cities, where there’s limited space for outdoor play. Many families choose to homeschool on the field due to limited options in their area. And children can find it hard to understand why they are randomly poked and prodded at by strangers.

This is one reason I am so excited that MTW offers area retreats for its missionaries. Area retreats are opportunities for missionary families to step away from ministry for a week and attend a retreat with other missionaries who serve in their region of the world. At the area retreats, parents attend daily large group sessions, while kids attend a VBS-style program. It’s an oasis of understanding for kids in a world where they struggle to find their place.

Area retreat kids

Often the time opens talking about where everyone lives. Kids are asked to share “I’m from America, but I live in __________________.” Where they live, they’re usually the only ones “like them.” But at the area retreat kids program, we build a sense of community, and kids understand there are other kids out there just like them. Life-long friendships are often built as kids connect with other kids whose lives are just like theirs. And then they get to reconnect at future retreats.

At the retreat, a little boy came in and was very shy on the first day, but he was befriended by a kind and outgoing boy. By the end of the week, he boldly sang on stage with the rest of the kids for the week’s finale. Another little boy at a subsequent retreat said to one of the other children, “I don’t have any friends.” The other child responded, “I’ll be your friend,” and the two walked off together to find a seat. They were inseparable the rest of the week!

There is a huge need for volunteers to serve at these retreats. It’s a rich blessing to these children and families for them to have this time of rest and worship, and it’s just as much of a blessing for those of us who come alongside them for the week. We need people who love Jesus and love kids to befriend and disciple these children at MTW’s area retreats. 

Volunteers are always needed for the kids program at MTW area retreats. Please contact [email protected] if you would like more information or are interested in volunteering. 

Christy Gyger Kriaski and her husband Jason live in Atlanta, Georgia. They serve with children and youth at Atlanta Westside Presbyterian.

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