This past weekend I had an opportunity to travel to a nearby Baka camp where another World Team missionary family is currently serving. While there, I participated in the youth group that they had started with some of the local Baka teens. I was incredibly grateful for the experience; although, it was a very bittersweet experience. Typically, on Sunday nights back in Delaware I would be with my junior higher students at our youth group gathering (called “All-Access” for future reference). Spending this cool Sunday night with the Baka youth was an amazing experience, but definitely had me thinking about my home ministry even more than usual. While I was thinking about All-Access sitting on this wooden bench in the rainforest of Cameroon surrounded by youth speaking French and Baka, I was struck both by the congruence of here and at home in Delaware and by the striking cultural differences.
Distractions. This fact is something that all youth group leaders are painfully aware of and try to combat. The reality of the situation is that there’s only so much you can control and teenagers are distracted by something as simple as their own fingernails—especially junior highers! In the United States, the most common distraction is without a doubt technology. Whether it’s showing your friends pictures of your weekend, getting someone’s Instagram handle, or beating the next level of the newest game, technology is a constant in the lives of many students. We can try to stop this by asking students to turn in their phones, but you can only do so much. The main distraction for our Baka students was the fact that Peanut, the pet monkey, kept on terrorizing the dogs. It would jump near the three dogs sitting on the covered porch and then scurry away while the dogs freaked out spinning around. At one point, everyone was too busy laughing at the scene in front of them to realize that we had finished reading the passage in Luke that we were studying. Same generation, completely different culture.
Roles. Arguably all youth group attendees in the United States share the role of student. The way this role looks may vary from student to student, but they are all students. A typical question when meeting someone new in an American youth group setting is, “Where do you go to school?” Roles in Cameroon amongst youth group attendees definitely are more variable. Student is definitely a role some Baka youth hold, but not all of them. The closest school is a couple of villages away down a road on which many pedestrians have been killed. Sending a child to school is a risk, not a right. Also, some of the youth may be too busy holding other roles. One of these roles is mother. One of the young women at youth group on Sunday night was breastfeeding her child during the message. This is not out of the ordinary in any way; it was just a role for a young girl that is very different than one most youth group age girls in the United States would hold. Same generation, completely different culture.
Icebreakers. At the end of youth group Sunday night we did the human knot and I instantly had flashbacks of being all tangled up with my friends at camp while waiting for our lunch to be ready. Icebreaker games are a pretty consistent feature of youth groups everywhere because they break down barriers and allows kids to get to know each other, laugh, and have a great time. Prior to youth group, I had been asked if I knew any good icebreaker games and while I was thinking I was struck with how much waste we generate through icebreaker games in the United States– such as something as simple as the mummy game, where you have to wrap up a brave participant in toilet paper. For many people here, that would be wasteful because that could be used! The other night the missionary leading the youth group passed out paper at one point as part of the lesson. Many of the youth wanted to keep their paper for school rather than using it on the lesson… we wouldn’t have even thought twice. Same generation, completely different culture.
As Christians, we are linked. We are all part of the body of Christ and that is such a great similarity to celebrate! Many traditions, even things as simple as youth groups, may seem similar in name or on paper; however, as you really truly experience other people’s cultures you can celebrate not only the similarities but also the differences.