Greg and Jennifer were called to Southeast Asia 10 years ago, and after a five-year fundraising process, they recently completed their first term on the field. Their original intention was to serve at an international Christian school, Greg teaching and coaching, but they never anticipated becoming dorm parents to teenage third culture kids (TCKs). After being substitute dorm parents for four months, once they returned to their regular ministry, Greg and Jennifer realized they missed life with their dorm kids. When the school asked them to fill a gap for dorm parenting, they prayerfully considered the Lord’s desire for them, felt his leading, and returned to being dorm parents. Jennifer reflects on the journey that led them to their ministry and speaking into the lives of these girls.
OC: Why have you and Greg chosen to invest in the lives of TCKs?
Jennifer: We have spent the last 31 months intentionally and carefully investing in the lives of these kids through teaching, mentoring, coaching, & dorm parenting. The question of “Why?” is huge. The bottom line is obedience – following Him; watching Him equip us to parent teenagers when we have no kids of our own, so no experience to pull from.
This people group of TCKs is so worth investing in too. As I am a TCK myself I continue to discover the complexities of my “people group.” Strangely enough, sometimes as an unreached people group – even though we have heard the gospel hundreds of times – we have not encountered Jesus in a personal way. Another reason “why” is that we just love these kids. I could begin listing all the reasons why, but I won’t for time’s sakes.
OC: Boarding schools don’t always get the best reputation. Can you shed light on why boarding programs are still relevant and important?
Jennifer: Oh, I’m sure it doesn’t have a great reputation. We encounter that a lot. And yet I feel like it is really challenging to understand the benefits without knowing the context. I feel the programs are absolutely still relevant and important, since this group of children is unique.
I was a dorm student myself growing up, at this very school, from eighth grade to graduation. I desperately needed the opportunity for my education to become something done in community and to have the social growth aspect to be added to the picture. I had the chance to take part in sports, community outreach, drama, music, and other activities that could only be done in this setting.
I also believe that in so many ways it allowed me to prepare for college. If I would have jumped right into college from homeschooling with my siblings, the change would have been overwhelming. I got to “practice” college in some ways by having roommates, group projects, choices, and all while still being on the same island as my parents, so there was security in that. Even though I was a rather independent and responsible student I still was greatly influenced by my dorm parents. I went through several sets of dorm parents in my years there, with both positive and negative experiences, so I get to learn from those as I am now a dorm mom.
In our school community now we have about 30 kids that dorm, and we have some kids whose parents set up a house for them off campus, and check in with them every now and then. We see a difference in those kids lives. I ache for them to be in the dorm. I feel like high school age kids greatly benefit from being part of something bigger than themselves (don’t we all?). A dorm family is just that. It makes you think (even as dorm parents) how your actions or your passivity affect others. How something is missing if you are not there. This family life also creates an atmosphere of safety and “home.” And our girls have flourished in it. Especially right now, in this generation, kids are growing up too soon. And I may even dare say that is especially true of the TCK group. So to give these kids the opportunity to be “kids” a little longer, by still having “parents” who nurture, correct, celebrate, guide, and comfort, then the leaving home and growing up process can be gentler and even more natural than abrupt and extreme.
OC: How would you get the message across that TCK education is a ministry, even if it is a behind the scenes one?
Jennifer: This is a question I ask often. We especially had to think about this as we were, just last month, beginning our first furlough and wanted to share this unique ministry with our friends, family, and supporters. When I would ask other people what they thought I would quickly get the answer of, “Well, yes, because of what you do as dorm parents, you are enabling so many other Christian workers to do the work they are called to do.”
I had heard this before, and yet I just honestly wasn’t satisfied with the answer. So I asked the Lord – sat before him to listen, specifically right before we were going to interview one of our new girls coming in next year. He shared with me that our ministry has some to do with supporting other ministers. Yes, God cares about community. We are the body of Christ. And yet, this was about these kids; this specific people group, made up of MKs & TCKs, needed specific daily ministry. And could it be that God cared this much about these kids – that He would call us to Indonesia nearly 10 years ago, guide us through five years of grueling fund raising, and then direct our steps to this dorm?
So that afternoon I looked at this new dorm daughter, and shared this with her, with her parents right there, which was a little strange to say that this was not all about their ministry, but this was actually all about how much God loves their child, and that she was worth it. This kind of day-to-day discipleship is unique to the dorm setting is so valuable and so specifically needed today for this people group.
OC: In your experience, how has your presence in the country affected the TCKs you mentor?
Jennifer: We have been greatly humbled in the way God has used us in this way. There is a “home” relaxed, open atmosphere in our dorm. We see our girls affected in a positive way by that, but also other students who have come to both Greg and I asking for mentoring or counseling – and we have seen fruit and are excited to invest and see more.
But again, it is all obedience, even in the day-to-day grind. We have seen kids face their own hypocrisy and desire to be true believers. We have seen girls transformed by God’s love, and their fears melted away. We have focused on training them up in knowing and loving God’s Word. Worshiping together. But also being a true family – watching TV together (right now our show is “Once Upon a Time”), making Christmas traditions together, celebrating birthdays, reconciling when there is conflict, confessing when we have done wrong, and that includes Greg & myself.
OC: How can people pray for you and Greg?
- My health – it is a big struggle. Indonesia is a challenging place for someone with chronic health struggles.
- Our marriage – this is the place we minister from. But that we would still learn to and try to minister to each other.
- Energy and stamina – the 24/7-ness of dorm parenting can bring about some weariness.
- Wisdom and grace as we parent these precious ladies.
Would you like to give to support ministry to TCKs by our workers like the Evans in SE Asia and others at schools all over the world?