“This is the happiest I have ever seen my girls,” a father of twins proclaimed with a smile after being asked about their experience with the Refuge 139 team.
Refuge 139 is a VBS-type ministry that serves missionary kids (MKs). Its name was inspired by Psalm 139:9-10: “Even if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Wycliffe missionaries live all over the world and in order for them to work effectively, they’ll occasionally gather together for meetings, trainings and spiritual refreshment. But when all of the adults are attending those events, who can take care of the kids?
That’s where Refuge 139 comes in! By providing a high-quality program catered specifically to the needs of missionary kids, this ministry is able to serve families and Bibleless people groups in a unique way. Teams of volunteers travel from around the world to minister to kids in places like Mexico, Germany, Czech Republic, Thailand, Cameroon and more.
Recently Nat Hall, a volunteer coordinator with JAARS*, flew to Papua New Guinea to serve on the Refuge 139 team during the missionaries’ biannual conference. Many of the traditional short-term trips that involve physical labor had never been accessible to Nat. “[But] I have grandkids!” she laughed. “Dealing with children is something that I can do.”
While the parents attended meetings during the conference, Nat and other volunteers loved and cared for 117 kids, allowing the parents to focus on the Bible translation efforts in the country.
“We want to show we care what our missionaries are doing … and support them in every way we can,” Nat explained. “If, when they are in their conference, they can leave their children with us and know they are safe, entertained, learning about Scripture and playing games, it takes a load off them. It lets them relax and not worry about their children. Flying halfway around the world to do that was a blessing to me.”
Karen Weaver, the coordinator of Refuge 139 in Papua New Guinea, explained the benefits of serving on a short-term trip in this ministry: “Because the Refuge 139 team is filling a short-term need that cannot be filled by either Papua New Guineans or the missionaries, it is a big help. The team is well-trained, very organized, and culturally respectful.”
A mother of two boys agreed. “One thing I liked about this group is that they weren’t afraid to let the kids have fun: lots of physical activity, water games, mud slides… My boys came home every day wet, muddy, exhausted and happy!”
The teams that came from overseas made an impact on the kids. Nat said: “We showed them that we care because Jesus cares. I didn’t understand what MKs were before. Spending that time with them in Papua New Guinea [was eye-opening in] seeing how different cultures and different lifestyles can impact families.”
And the lessons that kids learn in their programs impact more than just their lives; these lessons impact their parents too! After a lesson about the fruit of the Spirit, one mother said: “I was impatient with [my kids], and my 4-year-old came up afterward and said quietly, ‘Mama, God can give you peace when you're angry.’ I was so blessed that he could apply this in real life, and God used it to soften my heart right away.”
The trip changed more than just Nat’s perspective on missionary kids; it changed her perspective of the world. “It broadened my understanding … of the Great Commission in my life. ... I don’t have to sit and be comfortable in my house and just pray. I can go and do something that is effective.”
Today, 170 million people still do not have access to translated Scripture in a language or form they understand best. Short-term trips through Refuge 139 not only help reach the Bibleless with translation but also change the lives of missionary kids with the love of Christ.
“I know how Scripture has impacted my life. And I can’t imagine living without that available to me,” Nat explained. “[This trip] made me realize that the Scripture that says ‘God’s word will not return void’ is very very real. Because the Word of God changes lives.”