Published August 23, 2012
CLAYTON — They came from all corners of the world for 72 hours, descending on Pinnacle Retreat Center for a few days of rest and relaxation. And then, just as quickly as they arrived, were scattered across the nation like being spun from a whirling centrifuge.
They were 83 of Southern Baptists’ brightest youth, sons and daughters having grown up in distant cultures as missionary kids. And now they were returning to what for many would become their newfound homeland.
Emily arrived from Europe, enroute to California Baptist University. Marianne flew in from Southeast Asia for the respite before enrolling at Liberty University. And Georgia’s own Anna Shaw, whose parents are on stateside assignment in Dahlonega, came from southern Africa on her way to attend a wilderness Bible college in Montana.
Every year the International Mission Board brings the students – sometimes also referred to as TCK or “Third Culture Kids” – to a U.S. site for debriefing on how to adjust to American culture and the college scene. This year Georgia WMU hosted the group at Pinnacle Retreat Center and Georgia Baptist churches pitched in with adopting each student.
The MKs were in Georgia for only three days but they will remain in the hearts and on the prayer lists of the nearly 120 churches for the next year and beyond. With family thousands of miles away and homesickness a reality, Georgia WMU plans to offset those low points by sending baked goods, birthday cards, occasional notes, and spiritual encouragement.
Kaylee, who considers Alabama as her home state through she has grown up in eastern Europe, said she was thankful for the retreat and the opportunity to bond with other MKs in the same boat as herself.
“I discovered the other girls and guys are just as nervous about going to college in a different culture as I am, and that’s reassuring,” she said while leaving the Pinnacle chapel. Fortunately, her brother Shane will be attending Liberty University with her so she will have a family member nearby.
“Home is just so far away,” she said, wistfully thinking of family she left behind.
At a question and answer session with other MKs who went through the orientation last year and are now well-entrenched in the college scene, some of those fears showed a common level of concern.
Questions ranged from how to adjust to a roommate, what to do on weekends when you don’t have a car or relatives to visit, and how to balance a social life with a spiritual life. One of the students serving as mentor cautioned the freshmen not to jump into U.S. society with the expectation that they are returning to a Christian nation.
“You may be coming to the U.S. from a less Christian nation but you are not coming to a spiritual safety net that reinforces your values. America is not that kind of place,” one student, who needed to remain anonymous due to where his parents are serving, explained to the group.
One of the questions dealt with how to deal with the values of the American church without becoming mad or bitter.
IMB representative Linda Whitworth, who oversaw the retreat, said that is one of the more serious crises that MKs experience.
“The cultural values here are so different from what many of them have experienced in less affluent societies,” she explained during a break in afternoon workshops.
“Some of these students have grown up in house churches where members have placed their lives on the line simply by attending. Other believers struggle to exist on a few dollars a day, if that, and struggle to support their families.
“In that setting, relationships among members are very deep and personal.
“On the other hand, the students suddenly find themselves in a church culture that appears very structured and somewhat superficial. People in the church may complain about the thermostat or offer prayer requests for the new 4,000-square-foot house they’re considering buying.
“That can be hard for a student to accept when they have friends who walked three or four miles to church from a house that’s very substandard, or even a lean-to,” she explained.
That’s part of why the retreat is so important – to help the young students overcome those bumps in the road and make an easier transition into a society many have rarely visited and only seen through television or movies.
“We want to have these three days to love on them and assure them they are going to be OK and that Southern Baptists all over the world – and especially here in Georgia – will be loving them throughout the year and supporting them with their prayers.
“We are so grateful to Georgia WMU for their assistance in providing Pinnacle Retreat Center, as well as all the bed linens and campus supplies and gift cards the students will need as they set up their home. We would not be able to do this without their help.”
Georgia WMU Executive Director and state missionary Barbara Curnutt expressed her appreciation to the churches who participated in the outreach.
“We want to thank Georgia Baptists for loving our MKs so extravagantly. The overwhelming response to our adoption initiative far exceeded our expectations.
“One MK summed it up well when he said, ‘God has really blessed us through you all. Thank you for showering us with His love.’”
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