You may have heard that life on the mission field isn’t always easy for a missionary, but have you considered its impact on their children? Do they experience the same highs and lows their parents do? Do they naturally follow in their parents’ footsteps, or have entirely different hopes for their future? When God calls believers to serve in missions, He doesn’t forget about their children! Though it isn’t always easy, it’s an invitation for these youth to grow closer to Him – often with some help from others.
Understanding the impact missionary work can have on children of missionaries, particularly with feelings of displacement, and desiring to provide support and tools to missionary families, Greater Europe Mission created a ministry catered to missionary children – GEM-K.
GEM-K is a ministry within GEM’s Wellness Department that reaches to the teenaged children of GEM missionaries. “It had its start at [GEM’s] Annual Conference,” Kristiana, head of the GEM-K department, explains. “It was a place for the teenagers to go and was basically a youth camp for that one week of the year.” Eventually, it became a much more in-depth ministry for connecting teenagers to each other so that their relationships could strengthen, and they would feel less alone. “It became not just a program, but a community, an ongoing relational ministry, and a type of pastoral care for teenagers who are often misunderstood both in their host and sending countries,” Kristiana shares.
With devoted and passionate staff – many of whom were previously in the GEM-K program themselves – these teenagers never have to feel alone. Kristiana says, “Our staff is trained to not just understand but really speak into their lives as a source of spiritual input and guidance that’s safe for them.”
In fact, because of this ministry, these teenagers have an amazing opportunity to grow even deeper in their walk with Christ. “It’s a space that allows their faith to become theirs and not [just] their parents’. And because there’s already an understanding [of the Gospel], GEM-K has this chance to go deeper, and ask harder questions, and push into things that maybe weren’t getting discussed in other places,” Kristiana says.
One previous GEM-Ker, Dave, can attest to the importance of this ministry: “He told us a story about how he was very disconnected and far from God, and very angry and unsure, when he was at a GEM-K [retreat] as a teenager,” Kristiana remembers. “During one of the worship sessions, he walked out of the room. One of our leaders followed and found him, and they ended up talking for a long time. Dave told us that if it wasn’t for that conversation, he probably wouldn’t be a Christian today, and it changed his life.”
The importance and impact of these one-on-one talks have been noted and are now an integral part of each GEM-K retreat. “The goal is that every teenager has a space to talk about whatever – we let them guide the conversation,” Kristiana says. “We’ve had teenagers tell us really serious things and sometimes really hard things; there’s been a lot of crying, but sometimes it’s just really relaxed and fun. Ultimately, it’s a way that we ensure that there’s never a teenager that gets forgotten or dropped through the cracks.”
“For me,” Bryce, a GEM-K alumni, shares, “GEM-K was a space to be with other teenagers who have experienced the same challenges of cross-cultural living, as well as be poured into and deeply cared for by the staff of GEM-K. It created a unique environment to feel truly known and understood. The Lord used my time at GEM-K to greatly impact who I am today in wonderful ways. Much of my faith has grown because of the leader’s hard work to care for me and teach me who the Lord is.”
With GEM-K prioritizing safety, authenticity, and hope, this ministry has played, and continues to play, an important role in the lives of the kids of GEM’s missionaries. If this ministry excites you, and you have a passion to disciple youth and walk alongside them as they navigate their unconventional lives, especially at their annual retreats, contact us! GEM-K is always looking for help from responsible believers.