GEM-K: Providing Space and Care for GEM Teens
“I just wanted to ask you… What do you think I should do?”
I struggled to hide my surprise at the question and the confession that preceded it. 48 hours after meeting me for the first time, this teenager poured out her heart to me. She asked me for advice as we trudged down the winding mountain road, snow-laden trees dripping quietly around us.
She knew and trusted what many missionary kids before her experienced—that GEM-K, our mission’s ministry to the teenage children of GEM’s missionaries, is a place of safety, authenticity, and hope.
For missionary kids (MKs) growingup in Europe, life sometimes feels like a paradox. On one hand, they grow up visiting idyllic places like the snowcapped Alps, the ancient streets of Rome, or the quaint French countryside. From a distance, their lives may seem like a luxury vacation. Yet European MKs also face a host of less-visible challenges that go along with growing up overseas.
Statistically, kids who grow up internationally go through an average of 8 major moves by the time they turn 18. Many missionary kids are faced with a sense of rootlessness. They shoulder the grief of many goodbyes and find it difficult to answer the question, “Where are you from?”
Of course, during their teenage years, all young people wrestle through life’s big questions and begin establishing their values, sense of identity, and core relationships with family and friends. As they do this, missionary teens often find themselves caught between more than one country and culture.
To address the unique needs of these precious young people, GEM-K ministries serve GEM families in Europe and North America in a variety of ways, under the umbrella of GEM Member Care.
We bring GEM teens (ages 13 to 18) together twice a year for conferences where they can connect with other MKs, our committed GEM-K staff, and God. We prayerfully choose a theme for each conference based on a truth about God, leading daily teachings and small groups that aim to challenge teens to ask hard questions about God and the Bible.
But it isn’t all serious!
Many of these teens face a variety of pressures living in their cross-cultural contexts and, with GEM-K, they can find space to relax, laugh, cry, sing, shout, dance, play and connect. We enjoy scenic outings, crazy games, talent shows, worship music, small groups and intentional discussions.
Often, the most vital part for these kids is getting to be with friends (old and new) who understand them and speak their heart language. To simply experience togetherness in a safe space.
One GEM-K says, “It’s nice to have a place where we can all be ourselves. I know that I don’t really fit in where I live. But when I’m with other GEM-Ks, we can all fit in—because we know what it’s like to not fit in. We are different but, at least here, it’s okay.”
In addition to our biannual conferences, the GEM-K staff works hard to support kids and families through ongoing relational ministry.
We offer home visits, attend smaller GEM gatherings across Europe where teens will be present, stay in touch through electronic communication, and provide resources and support for parents. Our staff is passionate about walking alongside these teenagers and their families to help them thrive in any way we can.
It is important to note that GEM-K staff members raise their own support so they can lead and contribute to this ministry throughout the year. The only participation cost to the GEM-Ks and their families is paying their way to attend conferences. Sometimes, churches and individual supporters choose to give donations or scholarships to make it possible for teens to attend.
We can’t know how God will write the story for these teens in the future. But many of them stay in touch with us after they move into adulthood and have shared what a powerful impact the GEM-K family has had on their lives.
Above all, our desire is to lead these precious MKs to the God who created them and to the hope and wholeness that only God offers. And perhaps to also have a little bit of fun along the way!
To sponsor a youth for a future GEM-K conference or give to the GEM-K ministry, click here.
About the author and photographer:
Hanna Weinheimer is part of the GEM-K staff and serves with the Frankfurt Focus City team. She and her husband Paul love doing life with and serving their local church family in Frankfurt, Germany.
Photos by GEM worker and GSM staff Ryan Taylor.