For students around the world, school can be an exciting place of learning, discovery and growth. They make friends and learn new things while progressing from one grade to the next. New students come, and others move away. For the children of cross-cultural workers, these elements of transition are amplified. Families just arriving are bombarded with everything new: language, culture, food and a different rhythm of life to be understood and embraced. At times, other families leave temporarily for home assignment. Sometimes, circumstances require families to pack up and return to their home country for good. There is no set course when serving—or studying—overseas.
Christar worker Jenna* helps students navigate transition. She teaches in an international school in Albania that educates both local students and children from the expatriate community. Many of her students are from families of cross-cultural workers, and for them, her offer of sympathetic support is as crucial as providing them with good education. Jenna explains,
There is not always a warning when families have to leave. It often happens suddenly with no time to prepare students for the change. It really helps when we can be involved in the process and are able to walk with the students through it. A huge part of our ministry is to pray for our students—whether they are just coming in, or on their way out!
She remembers one particularly difficult season of transition for one of their classes.
Right at the beginning of the school year, a family with twin boys announced that they would be leaving for a year of home assignment as soon as school finished in the spring. Many of the students in this class had been together since kindergarten, a rare thing in transient international schools. The brothers lamented missing long-anticipated milestones like the eighth grade lock-in. They would miss their chance to be the oldest students at the kindergarten to eighth grade campus. The rest of their small class wondered who they would sit with at lunch or who would answer questions and tell jokes when these boisterous brothers were missing.
While these concerns might seem small or insignificant to adults trying to handle the logistics of moving a family across oceans, for these young people already living across and between cultures, this announcement cast a spell of gloom and grief over the entire school year before it even began.
Rather than minimizing their concerns, their teachers rallied around the class. “We had the eighth grade lock-in a year early so everyone could participate. When the students worried about missing their friends, we prayed together. We asked God to prepare special friends at the next school the twins would attend. We prayed that God would give the students staying behind courage to face the changes ahead. We asked God to make the year a special time in which they all would grow,” recalls Jenna.
As the story unfolded, both teachers and students saw God use this transition to work in their lives and grow the entire class in maturity and faith. Jenna shares,
The two students who went back to America loved the chance to play football and participate in a larger school with more activities. The remaining class of five students grew closer together and developed new relationships with kids from the other grades. When the time came for the twins to return, the class needed reassurance that they could keep these new friendships.
As ninth grade began for the now reunited class, I was surprised with a transition of my own. Staffing needs changed, and I became this class’ high school English teacher. Several new students joined the class, and it grew from five to 13! I prayed with these students every day. Together, we would thank God for leading us through middle school and into high school. We thanked Him for being with us across the ocean and around the world and for bringing us back together again. We thanked Him for growing us through the ups and downs of transition and life.
Transitions can be painfully scary or exciting adventures. Sometimes they are both. For families serving overseas, transition is often part of everyday life. Christar workers like Jenna fulfill a crucial need, both by making quality education available to families on the field, and building up the body of Christ by walking with students. They come alongside students as friends and mentors, teaching them how to navigate seasons of change and transition and pointing them to the unchanging and eternal God who knows them, loves them and will never leave or forsake them.
How can I get involved?
Every year is different in an international school. Pray that students will be open to new situations and not get stuck mourning the past.
Ask that students will sense God walking through transition with them. Pray that they would realize they need Him to be the friend who never leaves.
Pray that students would look out for others and compassionately minister to their hurts.
Your gift to the Christar Training and Education Fund allows Christar workers to offer educational programs that benefit least-reached communities, open doors to share the good news and train followers of Christ.