Same Generation, Different Culture

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 27971859_2085358338156099_6997083648192866618_nthem. 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.

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Learning Baka One Phrase at a Time

For any of you who know me personally, you know that the thing I was most nervous about with regard to coming to Cameroon for four months was the language learning. I’ve never taken quickly to learning a foreign language (which is incredibly unfortunate given my love for travel), but part of my role here this semester is to try to learn Baka. The emphasis here, of course, is on try and that is the word that has helped me struggle through two months of language learning and will hopefully get me through two more.

When you’re starting to learn Baka or any other language that doesn’t have a ton of resources, it’s going to be overwhelming. All of my team members have been here for over ten years and have a pretty good handle on the language at this point. They also have lots of different ideas on the “best” way to go about learning Baka. Considering I am only here short-term, I have to keep reminding myself that my experience is going to be different from theirs and I need to figure out what works for me. Here are some of the tricks I’ve discovered to help keep my language learning ability moving forward.

Don’t put too much pressure on myself. I’m probably not going to learn a ton of the language in only four months, especially considering I’m not coming solely as a language learner. I have lots of different tasks that I’m working on and language learning is just one of them. I’ve learned to not put too much pressure on myself to learn the language and to focus on having a balance of all things. I’m using language learning as a way to enhance the other activities in which I’m participating. So that means learning words that I will hear at church or words that come up often in Bible studies. I’m learning the words that will make my relationships with the people stronger, even in only four months.

IMG_0593Work on it when I want to/have the motivation. Obviously, I’ve set some goals for myself and have ways of tracking my progress, but I also just work on language learning when I have the motivation. Language learning is something that can be stressful and overwhelming for me, so I try not to make it more stressful by forcing myself to work on it when I can’t focus. One of the cool things about the whole process is that as I begin to learn more, the more readily I will be able to find that motivation to power through.

Count even the little things as successes. Part of being out in Baka land is to engage with the people. I count the little things I do week-to-week, like going to Bible Study, prayer, or church as language learning. That being said, I make sure I am being intentional about those things. I always carry my phone or a notebook with me to jot down words that I hear over and over again. I also make sure to sit next to one of my teammates who can translate for me. They translate by not only telling me the meaning of what is being said, but by telling me some of the key Baka words in the sentence so I can listen for them the rest of the time.

Find things you enjoy and incorporate language learning into those things. This idea ties in nicely with the idea of motivation. I am more motivated to work on language learning when it helps me with things I already enjoy doing. I love working with kids, and luckily there are a lot of kids living at our campsite. Also, Annabella helps me as an unofficial kid translator! I’ve designed some games like “Simon Says…” to learn some action words and it is fun to play with them, too! Finding ways to incorporate language learning into things that bring joy makes the process less of a chore and more exciting.

If you ever have the opportunity to go and learn a different language by living in the culture, I highly recommend it! It’s not something that is easy, but it’s so rewarding when you start to understand. If you have any tips on language learning without a formal curriculum, share below!

The International Language of Sports

Soccer, or as known pretty much everywhere else in the world, Football, is probably one of the most universal sports. It is also, sadly, a sport I never really got into playing much. My soccer career started and ended at the age of four while attending a weeklong soccer day camp. A mere two days in, I came home crying about how I was tired of wearing those stupid shin guards and the whole sport was just stupid. Soon after that, my mom signed me up for Tennis and Basketball promising, “All you have to wear is shorts and a t-shirt.”

If you’re still not convinced that soccer is NOT my thing, let me try to convince you one more time. I am a very clumsy person (thanks, mom)., especially when it comes to my feet. I can play the clarinet, dribble a basketball pretty well, type decently fast, but if it comes to having control over my feet, I’m at a loss. I can run and walk while staying upright (for the most part).

Now that you’re thoroughly convinced of my lack of soccer ability, I’ll continue. Despite having a very strong dislike of soccer as a four-year-old, those negative feelings

IMG_0544
Me with my friend, neighbor, and “teammate,” Omo

dissipated over the years. I grew to see soccer as a fun sport to play when people had zero expectations of me; however, I was always slightly intimidated because unlike most kids, I never had those couple years of soccer when I was younger.

 

This past week, the kids of the family with whom I’m staying came out for their Fall break. They grew up in our little village, so all of the local kids were thrilled to have them back. One day, when I got back from a walk, some of the kids were playing soccer with the family’s two boys. I stood around and watched for a while until finally, I saw everybody stop playing, look at me, talk in Baka, and then look at me again, expectantly. Eventually, someone translated and let me know that they wanted me to play. All those nerves and anxieties that I had about soccer came rushing back up to the surface. Because everyone was waiting for a response, I shrugged, smiled, kicked off my shoes, and jumped into the game.

It was intimidating for sure, especially because, since I had a decent amount of height on everyone, they kept on passing me the ball. I was okay at getting in people’s way, so I tried to stick to the defensive side. In the end, though, it was an absolute blast and I continued to go out almost every day for the rest of the week despite the bug bites, bruises, and cuts that I accumulated all over my body.

I think I enjoyed it so much because sports are a way of communicating that requires absolutely no verbal skills. When you’re in the game you’re all feeling the same emotions. You score? Everyone is happy and you can celebrate together through hugs or shouts or high fives. You miss a pass? You’re frustrated, and the rest of your team is probably frustrated with you as well. And once you play once, you’re in. If they see you come out of the house the next afternoon while they’re all on the field, they squeal with excitement because that must mean you’re playing.

Out on the makeshift soccer field was probably the closest I have felt to the Baka yet. Even with two months to go, I knew these will be some of the memories I am going to hold close for a long, long time.

Where There is Love, There is Joy

Each year, White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church does a missions trip. Last year, I had the opportunity to experience my first trip with them and travel to Mexico. I had heard that this year the church was planning on going back to Emmaus Biblical Seminary in Haiti like they had done in the past. However, none of my friends really wanted to go back. They had a variety of different reasons that they didn’t want to go this time, and I respect their opinions and reasoning; however, this was really hard for me. As Christians, we are called to serve and I saw this as an opportunity to serve. That being said, the trip did become slightly less appealing to me when I heard all of my friends weren’t going to go. Thus began my journey to Haiti.

I kept praying through whether or not I was supposed to go, although I kind of knew that I was and it was more my own personal apprehension that was keeping me from accepting that. Through the encouragement of two of my friends though, I finally made the decision to go. My friend and co-junior high leader, Drew, was going to serve in Haiti for a couple of months, leaving at the end of April and not coming back until the end of June. Going to Haiti towards the beginning of June would give me an opportunity to see him! I also knew how important the ministry in Haiti was to him, seeing as how he had been down before and now wanted to go back and serve for an extended period of time.

The other source of encouragement came from a slightly more unlikely place. My friend Adam and I were definitely in the same friend group at church but were never super close. I was driving him back to campus from Bible study one night and we were talkingIMG_9471 about Haiti. I told him some of my apprehensions in going to Haiti and he encouraged me saying how he too felt that similar heart for missions and to him, serving was serving. Hearing him echo the things that I knew were true and had been thinking to myself was enough to get me to commit to going.

That being said, that didn’t mean I was super confident in why God had me going there. I knew I had to fundraise for Cameroon, so I didn’t want to ask for too much from my church family. Through prayer and the support of my immediate family members though, I was able to get the money for Haiti together no problem. I vaguely knew the people going with us, but I knew they all knew each other better than they knew me. Even on the plane ride there, I still felt kind of like an outsider floating on the outskirts of the group. I knew it would get better as time went on, but at the onset I was nervous.

As the trip progressed God kept giving me signs that this was where he wanted me to be. Surprisingly, Adam and I ended up spending a lot more time together over the course of the week than we would have thought. It was cool to see the continuity between him being the one to really convince me that I should go on the trip to him being the person I got to know the most. I also got to know the three other girls on our team well, which was encouraging. By the end of the trip, I had made a new group of friends that I knew I would carry with me throughout the rest of my time serving at WCCPC. I was able to have great conversations with some of the missionaries living at the seminary and hear their testimonies. I knew my purpose being there and I was excited to share it.

On the last night of the trip, I had my opportunity to share my testimony while around the campfire. When I finished, the word that God kept putting on my heart for the week was “preparation.” This week was preparation for what He had in store next, whether that was the changing dynamic of our youth group or my time in Cameroon. Our t-shirts from the week say, (in Creole) “where there is love, there is joy” and I believe that sentiment is representative of what I experienced during my week in Haiti. Through loving one another, there was endless laughter and joy.

The Joys and Trials of Tutoring on the Missions Field

As anyone who reads my blog regularly or knows me personally knows that I am in Cameroon for four months with a missions organization World Team. One of my main tasks while over here is to tutor a second grader named Annabella. I have worked as a college public speaking tutor and taught preschoolers Sunday school, but this was my first time teaching this age and teaching an actual curriculum. As I learn there have been many joys and many trials. I decided to share some of them with you all and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to homeschool on the mission’s field.

Joy: Really feeling as though I am doing my part to help out. On one of my first days in the rainforest, a visitor we had told me how tutoring was one of the most helpful things a short-termer could do. The reality of the situation is that even in four months, there is only so much I can do to help out. However, by tutoring missionary kids, I am able to help out the missionaries by allowing them to do what they came here to do. For example, Jenn helps out as a nurse. By tutoring Annabella in some of her subjects, I am giving Jenn time to help others on medical day without worrying about keeping up with school, or I’m just giving her downtime that she might not get otherwise.

Joy: Seeing progress close-up and personally. Tutoring or homeschooling is unique because you really get to watch the child grow. Even in just the month that I have been here thus far, I have seen Annabella’s skills get stronger in several different areas and that is so rewarding. It’s different from being in a classroom with lots of children at different levels because in this situation it’s way more intimate. I get to personalize what we’re learning specifically to her and because of that, I get to see her growth! It’s a really rewarding experience!

Although there are many more joys than the two I mentioned above, there are also someIMG_0494 struggles that I face.

Trial: She has other tutors to compare you to…and she WILL compare you. This was especially difficult to deal with the first couple weeks I was here. I had never tutored for homeschooling before and a lot of the first couple of weeks was just figuring out the best way to do things. Annabella has had many other tutors, including her mom, and as an outspoken second grader, she’s not afraid to tell me when she wants her old tutor or her mom back instead of me. It’s definitely hard to hear, but I just allowed it to push me harder to find different ways we could make homeschooling fun! 

Trial: FOCUS! This is definitely the biggest struggle for Annabella and probably for most kids in school. The most frustrating days for me as a tutor are the ones when I watch Annabella struggle with something that I know she knows. This happens often in reading. She won’t be focused so she’ll look at a word for half a second then start looking at me and guessing what word is on the page. I think these are the moments I get most frustrated because I know things could go by so much faster if she just focused. Some of the ways I’ve found around this though are giving her (and myself) a 10-15 minute recess or having her do jumping jacks or spin around to get some of her energy out!

There are definitely some days that I walk into the house and know it’s going to be a long day, but I thoroughly enjoy teaching and most days it brings me joy that I can only try to put into words. Is homeschooling something you’ve done? How has it gone? If you haven’t ever homeschooled, what are your thoughts on it?