God Doesn’t Forget: Serving GEM Teens Across Europe

missionary teen challenges

You may have heard that life on the mission field isn’t always easy for cross-cultural workers, but have you considered its impact on their children?

What specific challenges do teenagers face? Do they experience the same highs and lows as their parents? Do they naturally follow in their parents’ missional footsteps, or do these third culture kids (TCKs) have entirely different hopes for their future? 

When God calls believers to serve in missions, He doesn’t forget about their children. Though it isn’t always easy, it’s an invitation for these youth to grow closer to Him––often with help from others.

Understanding the Impact on Teens

With a desire to provide support and tools to missionary families, Greater Europe Mission created a ministry called GEM-K. A ministry within GEM’s Wellness Department, GEM-K caters specifically to the teenaged children of GEM global worker. 

“It had its start at [GEM’s] Annual Conference,” Kristiana, head of the GEM-K department, explains. “It was a place for the teenagers to go and was basically a youth camp for that one week of the year.” 

Eventually, it became a more in-depth ministry for connecting teenagers to each other. As relationships strengthened, cross-cultural kids might feel less alone. “It became not just a program, but a community, an ongoing relational ministry, and a type of pastoral care for teenagers who are often misunderstood both in their host and sending countries,” Kristiana shares.

With devoted and passionate staff––many of whom were previously in the GEM-K program themselves––these teenagers never have to feel alone. Kristiana says, “Our staff is trained to not just understand but really speak into their lives as a source of spiritual input and guidance that’s safe for them.”

Serving GEM Teens Across Europe, missionary teen challenges

In fact, because of this ministry, these teenagers have an opportunity to grow even deeper in their walk with Christ. “It’s a space that allows their faith to become theirs and not [just] their parents’. Because there’s already an understanding [of the Gospel], GEM-K has this chance to go deeper, ask harder questions, and push into things that maybe weren’t getting discussed in other places,” Kristiana says.

With GEM-K prioritising safety, authenticity, and hope, this ministry plays a vital role in the lives of the kids of GEM’s missionaries.

Conversations and Changed Lives

One previous GEM-Ker, Dave, can attest to the value of this ministry.

“He told us a story about how he was very disconnected and far from God, and very angry and unsure, when he was at a GEM-K [retreat] as a teenager,” Kristiana remembers. “During one of the worship sessions, he walked out of the room. One of our leaders found him, and they ended up talking for a long time. Dave told us if it wasn’t for that conversation, he probably wouldn’t be a Christian today. It changed his life.”

The importance and impact of these one-on-one talks are now an integral part of each GEM-K retreat. “The goal is that every teenager has a space to talk about whatever. We let them guide the conversation,” Kristiana says.

Serving GEM Teens Across Europe, missionary teen challenges

“We’ve had teenagers tell us really serious things and sometimes really hard things. There [can be] a lot of crying, but sometimes it’s just really relaxed and fun. Ultimately, it’s a way that we ensure that there’s never a teenager that gets forgotten or dropped through the cracks.”

Kristiana, GEM-K Director

“For me,” Bryce, a GEM-K alumni, shares, “GEM-K was a space to be with other teenagers who experienced the same challenges of cross-cultural living, as well as be poured into and deeply cared for by the staff of GEM-K. It created a unique environment to feel truly known and understood. The Lord used my time at GEM-K to greatly impact who I am today in wonderful ways.

“Much of my faith has grown because of the leaders’ hard work to care for me and teach me who the Lord is.”

Do you have a passion to walk alongside Third Culture Kids as they navigate unconventional lives? Fill out a Contact Form for more information.

Originally published at GEM Canada. Some names were changed.

About the author: Leanne Monge Barrera serves in the GEM Canada office as a storyteller and social media content creator. She also serves at home, homeschooling her four children.