International Youth Ministry at Black Forest Academy
Outside a small town in the Black Forest of Germany, twenty high school boys circle up on a basketball court. As the sun sinks below the hills, they yell affirmations at the birthday boy in their midst. Finally, their voices call out in unison: “We challenge you in humility, bravery, and respect!”
These boys temporarily call home to Black Forest Academy (BFA), a boarding school in Southern Germany. BFA serves Christian workers worldwide with a space for their children to receive a strong and globally-minded Christian education in preparation to launch young people into universities across Europe, North America, and Asia.
Those twenty boys have grown up across the globe as missionary kids but now live together in one dorm as brothers. They represent any number of ministries that serve the impoverished, plant churches, fight human trafficking, translate the Bible, or provide humanitarian aid. Each boy has his own unique story of life experiences from the far reaches of the earth, and yet they all share an understanding of what it is to be a child growing up abroad. Somehow—forged from families around the world, unified by a shared faith, and living under one roof—a brotherhood emerges that is wild and precious.
I work on a team of caregivers to these boys, comprised of a married couple (“dorm parents”), and several young, single adults (“resident assistants”). I’ve been spoiled by how rich our dorm family is, with more than 15 languages spoken and over 25 countries and even more distinct cultures represented. Our dorm is resplendent and diverse, but much of my job is just normal family life.
On any given day the music of our home is a cacophony of pick-up basketball on the court, shouts down the hall, someone practising piano, epic Super Smash Bros battles, bursts of laughter, and the clank of weights from the little home gym we have set up in the back. It’s all the chaos of a big family in close quarters mixed with the tension of progress, growth, and learning—of boys taking their first steps into manhood.
After years of observation, I’ve found that boys possess a magic that is entirely their own. It’s made up of their curiosity and drive to discover and understand; their joyous pursuit of adventures, however grand or seemingly insignificant. Their endless quest to push the limits: who can throw their rock the furthest into the lake, or make the biggest splash, or skip it the most times across the surface? They’ll never know unless they try, and they’re relentless until they’re satisfied. At any given moment, ordinary experiences become escapades and mundane achievements are transformed into triumphs.
These are some of the hallmarks of boyhood that have captivated me as I’ve reveled in the magic and music of my boys these past years. I’m grateful for the many ways they’ve welcomed me into their hearts with their questions and lame jokes and utter conviction that they don’t need to shower. But for all my bedazzlement with boyhood, for all the time I’ve invested in listening to them, for all the hours spent loving them…I will never have been a boy.
I imagine it’s similar to someone who works at NASA versus an astronaut who has been to space. A scientist could log hours upon hours pouring over data and analysing the images sent back from satellites, but still not know what it’s like to be in space.
Likewise, I’ve read books, watched TED talks, and listened to podcasts. I’ve loved and lived with my boys through some really hard things. I’ve read over their English assignments for them, coached their volleyball team, and driven them to doctor’s appointments—but I don’t know what it’s like to advocate for myself in a school system that has been shown in many cases to be biased towards girls. I have never experienced the kind of pressure a boy feels to perform athletically or how they process competition, wins, and losses. I’ve never been told I fall into the overwhelmingly male demographic of attention deficit disorders.
Men can offer something to my boys that I simply cannot: that simple kinship of “I’ve been there.” Not every man has firsthand experience with everything my boys face, but there is a shared trust and easy comfort of knowing that the big things are covered and already understood. There’s less to explain.
Even more than being able to relate to my boys’ present struggles, men can offer a personal, accessible picture of the future. In my experience, there is simply no duplicate for a man calling a boy up into godly masculinity. There’s no substitute for a man’s voice saying, “Here’s how you follow Christ as a young man,” or “Here’s how to honour the women in your life,” or “Here’s how to leverage the strengths God has given you to advocate on behalf of those around you.” These are challenges all boys deserve to be issued from other men, and then instructed and raised up into Christlike manhood thereafter. The Bible is clear in its many exhortations for us to disciple those younger than us, to walk alongside them, and show them the example of Christ by being Christ to them.
Frankly, my boys need more men. Our school is constantly searching for more young men to come and serve and be Christ to our boys, to lead them into manhood. It doesn’t always feel as grand as that—it’s often a matter of cutting up carrots for them to take in their lunches and doing what feels like endless loads of dishes. And inexplicably, it’s every bit as grand as that. After all, what else did Christ do but meet us in our everyday, in our extreme ordinary? Why not join Him here, in the crossroads of daily teenage life and the beginnings of our next generation?
About the author:
Maggie Green serves with Greater Europe Mission Canada at Black Forest Academy, a boarding high school in Southern Germany. She loves Jesus, her boys, and the colour pink. According to her boys, her greatest ministry achievements include learning how to cut men’s hair, play basketball, and make a lot of different foods from around the world. Maggie graduated from Moody Bible Institute and thinks you should pray about coming to work with her in Residence Life at BFA.