I always seem to be on the go. I like it a lot, but most times I am not able to finish my experience the way I would like before leaving again. That can be super frustrating.
Even when I was a kid it was the same. Moving here, moving there…it was great, but sad at the same time. It seemed as soon as I got used to a place it was time to move again. And, if it wasn’t me doing the moving, it seemed it was my best friend’s turn to move.
Someone asked me recently how it felt to grow up like I did, you know, moving all the time. I told her I didn’t know quite what she asking. (Actually I didn’t think she would get my answer.) So I turned the question back on her and asked her how it felt to grow up living in one place. She looked at me with a quizzical look on her face and said “normal”. Then I said, “yep, that’s how I felt too…’normal’ ”. She didn’t get it. I don’t think she understands that my life is normal…for me anyway…and for many of my TCK friends too, it’s normal.
So what does “normal” look like anyway? Doesn’t it have to do a lot with context? I mean, isn’t “normal” what the culture says is normal? I’m not a sociologist, psychiatrist or anything like that, but it seems to me that if a culture decides that a certain thing is normal for that culture, then it IS normal. Hmmm…example…hmmm…okay got one: Japan! When you greet someone in Japan the right thing to do is bow. It is the normal thing…the expected thing. In fact, if you were Japanese and you didn’t bow, you’d be in big trouble or, at the very least, be considered rude.
Lately I have been thinking about the good parts of being so mobile. The hard stuff is easier to name, like losing friends, not knowing what place is mine and longing for what I had that is now history. But there are some really great things too. Knowing lots of people in a lot of places, that’s pretty cool. I think I could go to just about any continent on the planet and find someone there I know…except maybe Antarctica. (Guess I will have to work on that one!) Another great thing is having a wide variety of experiences…like who other but people of our culture tell some of the stories we do, even though half the time “monos” think we are making it up (if they only knew…*smiling*). And being mobile helps me fit right into a new place. Drop me off in inner-Mongolia and I’ll observe, pick up the signals and probably adapt pretty quickly – even though I have never been there.
In my culture, the Third Culture Kid culture, lots of mobility (could be mine or someone else’s) is normal. Okay, maybe 3 moves in one year looks extreme, but it doesn’t make me less normal than my TCK peers. It only feels abnormal when I am with a group of people who haven’t lived this way. Maybe that’s why I like traveling with Libby so much. She hangs out with people who are my kind of “normal”. :-)
Less than a month to go until Christmas! As we head into the Christmas season I wanted to share some of my favorite online Christmas resources.
Season’s Beatings: Live from Downtown
This is a great youth group skit, as characters are one stage one at time, students can play more than one role. My students have heaps of fun doing this one!
“Jingle All the Way”
This a children’s moment that has the same theme as the play. I couldn’t afford to buy bells for all the children, so I printed a bell on a coloring sheet, and encouraged the kids to “ring” their paper bells at the right times. Some of the parents commented they liked this even better! ;) I also had several real bells to use as examples.
Easter Jesus vs Christmas Jesus
The skit combines the imagery and prophecy of Christmas and Easter in a creative way.
The point the Easter vs Christmas drama is what it looks like when we focus only one image of Jesus. While it might not be a Christmas skit, I wanted to share a humorous illustration from Talladega Nights. The version I’ve linked is actually edited slightly, making it more youth group appropriate.
Christmas Caper – Did Grandma get run over by a Reindeer?
This provided a fun base for our Christmas party. We set up stations around the school we met at, although going to other people’s homes would have been fun too. I was afraid my youth wouldn’t catch the American references but all did well. It was a memorable night!
To top off the night, I splurged and bought chocolate covered blueberries (imported for Christmas from the international supermarket) and gave all the youth a gift of Reindeer poop! There are a couple “recipes” (poems to go with the candy) floating around online. I used this one.
Merry Christmas! =D Enjoy
The annual fall camps for expat youth in Beijing are coming up this November. It’s a two day, overnight event for expatriate teens from around China. There are activities, worship, teaching, and a whole lot of fun with 100+ TCKs!
High School camp is for teens in grades 9-12 (approx ages 15-18) and is on November 5th and 6th. Click here to register online.
Middle School camp is for teens in grades 6-8 (approx ages 12-14) and is on November 12th and 13th. Click here to register online.
The camp fee is 500 RMB, which includes accommodation, food, and transport from Beijing to the campsite and back again.
Kids come in from around China to attend, so if you know any teens in China who would enjoy attending, pass the info along! Travel scholarships are available for families without the financial means to send kids to camp (post a comment if you want more info about that).
This post from two weeks ago included some thoughts on asking good questions and listening well, thoughts that were continued in the comments section. Asking good questions and listening well are two really important skills to develop for all who work with youth – whether you’re a youth pastor, volunteer leader, mentor, bible study leader, teacher, or parent.
But no matter how good we become at asking good questions and listening well, kids won’t talk to us about anything meaningful unless they trust us. Several years ago I encountered a situation with a youth I met with that I felt was over my head – too messy for me to handle alone. One of the first people I went to for counsel was my father. I am incredibly blessed to have parents who are a great sounding board for my decision making, and they have helped me process situations throughout my entire ministry career.
During that conversation, my Dad said something that has stuck with me ever since, and helped shaped one of my biggest priorities as a youth worker. He said that he believed, as a parent, that what this girl needed most from me was to be someone she could trust.
I believe that one of the most important roles I have is to be a safe place for students. I want to show trustworthiness – that I am interested in my kids, accept them, do not judge them, and will not gossip about them. My hope is that when something goes wrong in their life, they will feel safe to turn to me to talk about it. One of the most dangerous situations our youth get in is when they feel isolated – that there is no one they can talk to.
One of the biggest compliments I got as a youth leader was when a kid I was mentoring referred a friend to me. She told her friend she didn’t know how to help her, but that she should talk to me. That told me I was hitting the mark – I was seen as safe.
Part of being safe is not preaching at kids. This is part of listening well, really. Sometimes what a kid needs is not the answer, but someone to listen to and empathise with how they are feeling. It’s also better to help them think through a situation and come up with a way forward on their own than to give them the “right answer”. Teaching them to think through a situation to a wise conclusion is far more valuable than telling them what to do.
Being a safe place does not mean watering down truth. What it means is developing a relationship to the point that such counsel will be accepted and listened to. Building safe and trusting relationships with youth is like preparing the soil of their hearts to be receptive to the seeds that are sown in their lives. Unless there are people they trust, no truth told to them will take root and grow.
Today’s short post is a request for your prayers. Next week in Thailand several TCK workers from China and Cambodia will meet for a thee day retreat. Several people had to pull out so it will be a small group, but with a diverse range of roles, working with youth from 5 different international churches.
The goal of the retreat is to provide a retreat space for ministers, encourage networking among TCK workers, and create a forum for discussing some of the unique needs of TCKs. Please think of the group next week and ask that there would be relaxation, connection, and stimulating conversation.
I read this article recently and it got me thinking. The TCK author considers the label “Asian American” and the way culture changes over time.
I consider myself Asian and American, but not Asian-American. What’s the difference? Asian-American is itself a culture, especially for the second-generation Asian-Americans, who are the first to be born in the United States, whereas their parents are the first generation because they immigrated there. Calling their parents non-Americans would be an insult to their struggle to adopt the values, practices, and sacred blue passport the crossed oceans and borders to obtain.
I know so many kids who can claim both “Asian” and “Amercian” for various reasons, but who are culturally quite different to each other.
I know kids who were born in the US to parents of Asian descent.
I know kids who were born in the US to first-generation immigrants.
I know kids who were born in China (for example) to Chinese parents, moved to the US where they gained citizenship, before returning to China as expatriates.
I know caucasian kids who are American citizens but who were born and raised wholly in Asia.
I know kids who were adopted from Asian countries and raised in white American families – either with all adopted siblings or a mix of biological and adopted.
All of these kids are influenced by both Asian and American cultures, but the term “Asian American” does not adequately describe them, and wouldn’t be applied to all of them.
In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time considering the differences between the “expat Chinese” kids I work with in the youth groups here. I was first intrigued to consider this following the comments of a teenage girl who had recently moved to China having spent all her time in a predominately white area of the US. She had been adopted from China as a baby and looked similar to her Asian-American classmates, but soon realised that she was missing something they had – there was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected. She found that she felt more “at home” with Caucasian American teens, even those who had lived in China long term.
I think it’s important to understand that the “Third Culture” of a TCK is not one great shared cultural experience. It is the place of overlap, where various cultures converge. TCKs are not able to relate because they have the same culture(s), but because each of them is juggling the effects of several cultures. They all live the balancing act between citizenship, familial cultures, and geographic cultures.
I sometimes think that a TCK experience (when the kids are exposed to a diverse expatriate environment) can be quite a positive thing for kids who are second-generation immigrants. It gives them an opportunity to mix with a range of people who are also juggling cultures. I think it makes it easier for them to really own and enjoy the cultural traditions of all the peoples that have affected them when everyone around them is doing the same thing. There is a freedom in being one of many.
I recall my sister once said that Americans have no culture of their own because they are just a mix of different European immigrants in one country. It is not just the fusion of cultures, it is the environment that helps birth a new culture, or in this case, cultures. Using the faulty logic of not having any culture, that means jazz music is just a mix of African rhythm and English folk music, which is not even close to what jazz is as a distinctly African-American-originated musical genre. In other words: cultures evolve. . .
As a Third Culture Kid and activist for the Asian-American community, I’ve grown to love them and have a special place for the Japanese-American and Chinese-American communities. When I look at these communities and at the Third Culture Kids, I feel what we have in common is both the struggle for identity and acceptance. Second-generation Asian-Americans in the 1980s and 1990s really had a lot of trouble wondering just who they were, with parents imposing old values onto them, being raised to be individuals with American perspectives, yet being seen as forever foreigners by their fellow citizens, to the point of being denizens.
Third Culture Kids would be lucky to have this, because at least the Asian-Americans have a place to call home, even if their neighbors don’t welcome them wholeheartedly. One day, they can dream of being accepted as fellow Americans in spite of the prejudices felt, but us Third Culture Kids usually need to be told that we are TCKs before we can establish a community of sorts, and even then, what draws us together besides our common experiences?
As Third Culture Kids, as global citizens, as individuals, we need to think of new ways to define and redefine ourselves. A fellow TCK, Brice Royer, told me that he doesn’t define himself based on his ethnicity, his nationality, or the country he lives in, but by the values and dreams he has; and the people he calls his own are people who share those values and dreams, not passports or ethnicity. . .
Culture is not an exclusive club that one can not partake in just because of race or nationality, nor is it something we should shun or see as something the allegorical Other has that makes us different from them. It is also not something that limits us, it is a set of guidelines and foundation for values, morals, practices, norms, ideas, and more. It changes over time, and it has a personal element to it which is why people call it “their” culture as something they can call theirs like a prized possession, for it is a part of how they define themselves. Here’s something we often forget: we can choose whatever we want to follow. We don’t have to do things because everyone else does it or our parents tell us what we have to do. But it is something to celebrate when you understand just what it means to you, which is hopefully more than just the skin color you were born with and the stuff your parents and society tell you to follow.
I saw a post on Marathon Youth Ministry called “4 Reasons People Aren’t Getting Involved“. In it Christopher Wesley lists four “don’t” for recruiting volunteers.
- Don’t Threaten Them With Guilt. . .Most people don’t want to be guilted into a situation they want to be inspired. Even if you do recruit a few chances are they are going to only perform the bare minimum and that’s because guilt is not a key to longevity.
- Don’t Inundate Them With Information. . .Some of us feel the impulse to talk about every single detail pertaining to our ministry, when all that does is overwhelm them. What you want to do is give them a clear and simple explanation. Make it engaging and memorable. After that let them ask questions.
- Don’t Go All Or Nothing: Many people ask how I get most of my ministers to serve week in and week out, the answer is that we paint a clear vision and we give them the ability to take a step back. Someone who is uncertain about ministry could easily burnout…
- Don’t Leave Them Hanging: Always have a next step and always make it tangible. . .The idea is to make the steps clear so that they don’t turn away because they didn’t know what to do next.
So much good stuff there! The “don’t” I would add is “don’t judge”. For a long time I judged those who didn’t jump in as enthusiastically and with as much commitment as I did. God had to gently (but firmly) explain that I was judging their actions by my call – not fair. Youth ministry is my life’s call and so it is my joy to jump in full speed – I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t! Recognising that each volunteer comes to ministry with a different calling, different skills, different experiences, and a different ministry background gives me the freedom to appreciate each of them individually. Rather than be disappointed or frustrated at volunteers who show up now and then, I’ve learned to be joyfully thankful for every person who believes in ministry to youth, regardless of what they have available to give. An attitude of thankfulness and understanding makes you the sort of person volunteers want to work with.
Of course, this isn’t to say that commitment is unimportant. My point, rather, is that we should be thankful for a heart to serve our youth, and then take the time to get to know the person individually – how would they like to contribute? How does that fit with the present structure? Is there something we’re not doing that they could start? See yourself as helping them find a ministry fit, rather than claiming a scalp to fill your ministry needs. Serve potential volunteers – even if you end up helping them find a fit in a different ministry of the Church.
I really like what Wesley says about not leaving people hanging. I’ve seen this happen often; I’ve done it myself. There’s a sense of “ah! we need help!” and the call goes out. People respond, but when they do there isn’t active follow-up. Before asking for help, know exactly what help you need. Have specifics. Then, when someone responds, and you quickly connect them to a practical need or a specific role, don’t just abandon them! Talk to them about how it fits them (see the paragraph above). When they agree to serve, walk with them. Give advice, be available to talk to, check up to see how it’s going.
Ministry leaders are ministering to their volunteer staff as much as to the youth. Without volunteers, the ministry doesn’t happen. We are leaders of leaders, and that is an important role.