The vision for Youth in Asia is “resourcing and support youth work in Asia”. My personal slice of the vision is to see “career” youth workers planted on the field across Asia to serve TCKs, and to keep them there long term.
I’m coming to the end of my 6th school year working with TCKs in Beijing. I’ve connected with TCKs from around China through youth camps and conferences in Beijing, and with TCKs in Cambodia (and most recently, Thailand and Vietnam) through short term work in south east Asia. TCK work is not a hobby or side project for me; it is what I do – my career, if you will.
I’m becoming somewhat of an expert on the lives and needs of TCKs living in Asia, and it is my goal to serve them and minister to their needs. When I plan events or trips to visit youth groups, I do it with this goal in mind. I have come to the conclusion, however, that the best way I can do that is work toward placing and keeping TCK workers on the field across Asia.
Longevity is an effective factor in any ministry (or any job, for that matter). We all know that. The longer you do something, the more you learn about it, and so on. I would argue that in TCK work longevity is vitally important.
When it comes to TCKs, I would take a young and inexperienced youth worker who will stay 5 years over an experienced youth worker who will stay 2 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the 2 year guy as well! I’m just saying that I think that longevity will provide for a deeper impact on kids than almost anything else.
Most TCKs take a long time to open up to new people. In most cases, I’d say it takes 18 months of consistency to get a platform to speak to long-term TCKs. If you stay 2 years, you only get 6 months where you can really speak into their lives. If during those 6 months they know you’re about to leave, chances are you lose a lot of that impact, too.
Not all TCKs are the same, obviously, but there is definitely a huge barrier to trust when they are accustomed to seeing people come and go constantly – why bother investing deeply in a relationship when the person isn’t going to stay? Why put yourself in a vulnerable position and come to rely on someone who will leave you?
I believe it’s possible to learn a lot from someone you know a short time, and to really benefit from a mentoring relationship that lasts only a month or two, but that’s from a mature perspective. For a TCK who is in the midst of a million losses, that’s a difficult conclusion to come to emotionally.
There are two exceptions I would make to this: ATCKs and teachers. A youth worker who grew up overseas themselves will be accepted in much more quickly – they have a platform to speak from because they “get it”. A teacher who teaches TCKs in school and then works with a youth group outside school will get more space to speak into kids’ lives than someone else because they have far more face time with the kids.
I had been a youth worker in Australia for years before moving to China. In fact, I started mentoring teenagers when I was still a teenager myself. When I moved to China I had no intention of continuing in youth work; I was transitioning to “real life” – finishing university so I could start climbing the corporate ladder.
When I visited the youth group ReGen for the first time in 2005, I felt like I was home. By the second week, I was hooked. Within months it was clear that THIS was the reason I was in China. I loved (still love) those kids! But I could feel this…resistance. There was a barrier between me and them that didn’t match up to my previous youth work experiences. I started to listen to their stories, trying to understand their lives and what made them different to kids at home.
I began to see how transient life can be for them – how many people leave. I realised that unless they believed I was around for the long haul, there was little reason for them to trust me or let me in. I took two weeks to pray and think so that I could come up with a date – so I could say I will be here until x.
I chose a date a little over three years in the future, based on when a certain group of kids would finish high school. Then I started telling them. I was clear that I had no certain plans, but that I would be around at least until the summer of 2009 because that’s when you graduate. I thought it was important to be clear that I was staying for THEM, not for a job.
I was amazed at how quickly that made a difference. I wasn’t instantly bosom buddies with everyone, but I didn’t sense that same resistance all the time.
As I’ve discussed this idea with TCKs I know, I’ve heard a range of timelines – how long before they’ll trust a youth leader. Those timelines have ranged up to 3 years. That seems so long, but then I think back – how many kids did I engage with weekly for 2-3 years before they first opened up about real and significant hurts they were carrying? It took that long for them to trust that I was staying, that I was going to keep being there for them. How many kids did I think I knew, only to discover there was so so so much more going on beneath the surface where so few adults were ever allowed?
Therefore, regardless of how harsh it may make me sound, I will keep saying this: I believe longevity is the most vital factor in TCK work. It might not be comfortable for youth leaders to hear, but I believe it is the heart cry of many, many TCKs all over the world.