FAR FROM HOME
Teaching MKs to cope in America
With heavy feet, Ellie shuffled toward Gate 47. As the airline attendant handed her the ticket stub, Ellie realized how quickly she was moving from the slow pace of her village to the high-speed life of a Western city. The impending 14-hour international flight to America brought with it many unaswered questions.
Moments ago, as she hugged her parents one last time, her mom whispered a prayer, “Please, Lord, bring others to love our Elllie!” Ellie hated good-byes and had choked back tears at home as the arms of her younger siblings were peeled from her neck. Good-byes with her best friend from boarding school and village friends weren’t much easier. With deep sobs she had also said good-bye to her “umma” (nanny), who had become like her second mother. And of course, she said good-bye to Sparkles, her cat.
As Ellie stowed her carry-on bag, she wondered about the strange culture of America. How would she find her way in a place where she knew so few people? She felt so alone.
Several days later, as Ellie entered her campus dorm room, similar questions and doubts flooded her thoughts. How will I deal with school costs? Where do I begin to look for a job? How do I buy a car, and who can I trust? My cavities are bothering me again. What about my dental needs?
But during the first week of college, Ellie was invited to an event sponsored by Gatehouse Ministries. About 30 MKs (missionary kids) were packed into the house. Ellie was surrounded by other global nomads and felt strangely at home.
A Home Away from “Home”
Gatehouse Ministries was established in 1999 when my wife, Janet, and I reentered the United States to help our sons settle into college life. We fully expected to return to our ministry with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Mali, West Africa. However, we had a growing awareness that there were important gaps to fill in our sons’ preparations to navigate American culture by themselves. Our concerns for our sons’ transitional needs were confirmed over and over again by adult MKs and MKs just entering college.
As we sought the Lord’s direction we soon realized He was opening up a new ministry for us in Redding, California. With financial contributions, we leased a house near Simpson University and filled it with donated furniture. It has since become more than a house; it has been home to 41 MKs over the past seven years.
Though it might be tempting to equate Gatehouse with a boarding school dorm, we try to create a family atmosphere where we can live and learn from one another. The college students who live here are emerging adults on a journey of discovering who they really are. We are here to facilitate that journey, but the choices are theirs.
MKs don’t pay to live here, but they do invest in the dynamics of the house. Everyone has chores, which gives us a way to serve one another and reminds us that what we do or not do in community affects those around us.
Entering the Gate
The gatehouse image ties in several significant correlations between what occurred in an ancient city gate and the transitional needs facing college-age MKs as they enter North American culture. For these reasons Gatehouse is a place of spiritual, emotional and physical guardianship at a vulnerable time in a young MK’s life. We want MKs to feel safe here.
A city gate was a place of guardianship. Just as the gate was carefully guarded, Gatehouse Ministries serves as a place of spiritual protection and emotional refuge. As MKs like Ellie leave the protection of their parents’ home and move to North America, they are spiritually vulnerable. They may be emotionally fragile as they process the grief of farewells and separation from family and lifelong friends. MKs may also need physical care. We want MKs to be comfortable in this house.
Access to the city was gained through the gate. The networks of relationships and resources of an ancient city were found inside the city walls. And as MKs transition into the United States, they often lack the relationships and access to resources that are found not only in the broader culture of America, but also inside the church community.
As Gatehouse MKs get plugged into the community, especially the church, they find a deeper meaning and purpose in their faith. As we have spoken with local churches, they have become more aware of the unique challenges facing MKs and their families. Members are excited to assist with the practical needs, like helping a student find a job. As MKs also find ways to serve others in the church Body, their friendships blossom. That is the reciprocal beauty of the Church.
To Another Place
A city gate was also a place of teaching. In ancient times, city elders sat and taught at the gates. At Gatehouse we focus on life skills and leadership development. When Ellie boarded that plane to America, she didn’t understand that her life experience had given her amazing tools. By the age of 18, MKs have seen and done things that most of their peers have never experienced.
MKs have spent much of their lives in another culture. Yet, as they enter college, they are expected to function as North Americans. Their life experience may not have provided them with opportunities to fill out a job application or develop certain life skills an adult in North America needs (such as vacuuming, using an ATM or paying bills). Gatehouse helps MKs learn about mundane but important tasks, which help build their skills as well as their self-esteem.
At Gatehouse, our relationships with MKs build a level of trust, allowing us to speak into these precious young lives. MKs have an amazing ability to see things from more than one vantage point. MKs often have great negotiation skills and value the inclusion of others and their ideas. They have grown up watching their missionary parents lead others in ministry. Subsequently, MKs value diversity and have a breadth of experience in cross-cultural situations and language learning, which equips them to be the next generation of world leaders.
While the worldview of MKs may be very broad, it sometimes limits their ability to relate to this culture. Gatehouse serves as a bridge of understanding as they try to make sense of their lives in the midst of American values.
Gatehouse is an entrance from one culture to another and from childhood into adulthood. At the house in Redding, we welcome MKs from all over the world. Yet, they share common joys, fears, concerns and needs. Gatehouse is a place of refuge where MKs can gain perspective on life in America. It is also a place of challenge from which they are launched into the adult world. It is a place where they are safe, where they are understood.
After she attended our welcome event, Ellie e-mailed her parents. With relief she wrote: “Mom, your airport prayer has already been answered. I have found a home away from home!”
Gatehouse Ministries has been home to scores of MKs during the past seven years. Our desire is not only to provide a home environment for college-age MKs but also to extend that care through the Body of Christ.