Mont and Shannon Weniger shared a passion for missions and working with youth. Mont was a youth pastor, so they frequently lead groups on short term missions trips. They both felt drawn to full-time missions overseas. But how could their skills contribute to Bible translation?
The pieces started to come together when Mont and Shannon had lunch with a Wycliffe missionary couple they had known for many years. During the meal, the conversation turned to the various opportunities that are available for people to support Bible translation. The couple mentioned a critical need for boarding home parents.
Since 1959, boarding homes in Papua New Guinea have allowed Bible translation projects to move forward. Translators often visit remote villages for four to eight weeks at a time. Meanwhile the translators’ teenagers can stay at a boarding home in Ukarumpa, a Bible translation linguistic center that is home to an international school. These teens receive consistent, high-quality education while living in a safe, nurturing environment.
Mont and Shannon loved interacting with teens, so serving as boarding home parents in Papua New Guinea sounded like an excellent chance to use their gifts to make an eternal impact. “We were really moved,” Shannon said. “It was an aha moment.”
Over their 10 years as boarding home parents, the Wenigers have welcomed 78 teens from 16 countries into their home. They typically hosted about eight kids at a time. At the start of each school term Mont and Shannon had a family meeting to determine how to best support the teenagers in their home. They quickly discovered the job as boarding home parents was about more than making meals or setting up household rules. Instead it was about pouring into teenagers’ lives in meaningful ways.
One of those ways was by helping the teenagers learn healthy time management skills. Shannon explained: “A lot of missionary kids ... want to serve other people, be involved in good causes and help with things. But they also have homework, friends and extracurricular activities.” The Wenigers helped the teens realize the importance of balance.
The Wenigers needed to practice what they preached to the teenagers and maintained balance in their own lives in a number of ways. For example they took time to exercise, read or rest while the kids were at school each day. The community around them was also very supportive. “We had a rotating schedule of people, so we could ... get time away together, as well as attend weekly Bible study,” Shannon mentioned. The teenagers went home to their parents during school breaks, which offered the Wenigers time to recharge.
Becoming a Family
The Wenigers focused on building life-changing relationships with the teenagers through trust and flexibility whether that was by having chats around the dinner table or engaging in their weekly worship nights. “We would set up fun game nights at the house,” Shannon mentioned. “Sometimes we’d just clear out the living room and ... dance!”
Mont and Shannon also found ways to get involved with extracurricular activities like sports and theater. Mont explained, “When I was a youth pastor, I had just windows of opportunity to engage with students. But doing life with a teen is a whole other level of ministry; it’s a lifestyle.”
Even though each teenager came from a different family background, the group became a family. But when Mont and Shannon first decided to serve as boarding home parents, they were nervous for their two children. How would their son and daughter handle moving to a new country? Would they be comfortable sharing their home with other kids?
But their children didn’t just adjust; they thrived. Shannon said, “Our high school son absolutely loved it. ... And our elementary school daughter loved having all these different big brothers and sisters.”
Many of the teens who stayed in the Wenigers’ home are now married or in ministry, but they stay in touch and try to come visit. “It is so great. ... We have this huge family!” they said.
Living with Purpose
The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people while supporting Bible translation work was very fulfilling for Mont and Shannon. “We can have a direct effect on the progress of Bible translation by doing life with teens, which we love!” Mont said.
“If you want to make a big difference in a critically needed job, this is an opportunity to influence so many lives,” Mont and Shannon noted. “This has probably been the most rewarding and the most challenging job we’ve ever done. ... They were the best years of our lives.”