In mid-March, James Dekker led a spiritual retreat in Beatenberg, Switzerland, for missionaries of the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church in America. One afternoon, he had the following conversation with five missionary kids or “MKs.”
An interview with James Dekker
In mid-March, James Dekker led a spiritual retreat in Beatenberg, Switzerland, for missionaries of the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church in America. One afternoon, he had the following conversation with five missionary kids or “MKs.” Abigail (13), Matthew (12) and Elizabeth de Vuyst (9) are the children of George and Sarah, long-time missionaries in Ukraine. Sarah teaches at Kyiv Christian Academy, while George travels throughout the nation in leadership development; both are involved in a ministry of Peace and Reconciliation. Except for times of home service in North America, the de Vuyst children have lived in Ukraine all their lives.
Miriam (9) and Peregrine (6) are the children of Benjamin Groenewold and Tricia Van Dyk. They are partner missionaries with LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania, sharing a teaching job in philosophy. The Groenewold Van Dyks began their first term as missionaries in the summer of 2016.
Christian Courier: When did you realize you were an “MK”?
Matthew: In first and second grade, when we moved back to the U.S. for a year. When I moved back to Ukraine, I realized that it wasn’t normal – all this moving around.
How did you feel or what did you think about that?
Elizabeth: At first interesting, but then I began to question myself: Should I be glad I’m an MK? Or special? Or left out?
Abigail: Well, there’s no one place to call home. I definitely have mixed feelings and sometimes I’m confused. I’m part of where I live, but I’m also part of where I come from. Other kids usually grieve somehow. We talk about that . . .. In school, some have Ukrainian passports, some U.S.
Are you more North Americans or MKs?
Abigail: I don’t know, really . . . both, I guess.
Miriam: When I got to Lithuania, everything felt new. “First times” for things made me kind of nervous; I wasn’t sure what to do. Now I get into things. Like in school I have friends; it was more they who asked to be friends.
One girl, Liepa, is my friend. We don’t speak to each other, but she has interesting things. She beckoned to me to come over. Now we share our things without speaking. We can get along that way.
What does that word “MK” mean to you?
Elizabeth: It means travelling, not being able to do all you want. You’re limited; you can’t take everything everywhere. You have to do lots of things you don’t like, like move places and have Dad gone a lot. We get used to it.
Matthew:To me it means there’s going to be more changes in our family than just staying in one spot. There’ll be harder times, struggles like saying good-bye, leaving friends. But also lots of opportunities to do other things.
Abigail: Well, it means your parents are missionaries and we live abroad. We can go back to the U.S. to live permanently, but we don’t know if we will. If we go back to America we’re still MKs. If we go back . . . well, it’s confusing.
Peregrine: I’m not sure. I guess it means doing God’s will. It’s not hard to do God’s will.
Miriam: I feel like an MK a lot. I think about it when I’m trying to get to sleep. I think about my troubles and pray that they’ll go well. It seems to help me to go sleep. And when I wake up it helps me too. Once or twice I couldn’t get to sleep when things didn’t go well in school. Sometimes I think it’s not that important. Maybe I don’t need to talk to God about that because God knows what I’m thinking anyway.
What do you like about being an MK?
Elizabeth: You can hear different languages and try to figure out what they mean. You explore different things, get new friends. You learn different cultures and histories – cool cultures, odd histories.
Elizabeth: Oh, like . . . I can’t really say now, but it’s all interesting.
Abigail: If you travel different places, you learn languages, meet lots of interesting people with their own stories, well . . . I just like it.
Miriam: I like being an MK because of new experiences, new friends. When you’re REALLY a friend, you get invited to birthday parties; two friends have invited me. My birthday is this week, so I’m not sure how that will happen to have someone over.
Matthew: You get to learn how other people learn about God, travel to new places, learn new things.
Elizabeth and Matthew: There was this four-day long basketball tournament [for Christian international schools around Europe] in Budapest. If you’re lucky, you go for four years, if you’re there the whole time. But if you’re there only two years, you don’t have as much fun. All the games of the Christian International Schools in Europe were streamed. We saw them. Our school got second and third places in two tournaments. They prayed before every game, all stood in a circle, with reps from each school. All the coaches get together and pray too. One night they had a whole worship thing. Lots of cool stuff, but one thing was really sad and they were all crying because it was the last time for the 12th graders.
What do you NOT like about being an MK?
Elizabeth: This is what I really really really DO NOT LIKE: You have to say goodbye to really close friends and sometimes they leave before we even know they’re leaving. Once someone left and we didn’t know that. We thought she was sick and our teacher said she’d gone back to America. She did come back, but it seemed like forever she’d been gone.
Abigail: I don’t like people leaving. Another girl we threw a party for wasn’t coming back, ever. It was a sad time, for sure. Then there’s the thing about home –right now home is where I live, and that’s Ukraine. That’s where my friends are, and Rascal and Ginny, our dogs. I wish all my friends here and in the U.S. could all be in one place. Sure, we stay in touch with Instagram and text. But the culture of my friends in the U.S. is SO different from our missionary community.
Elizabeth: We barely get to see family and that’s very hard. Our uncle and aunt got to visit us, but it was hard to get here because of snow and other delays. We always beg to see cousins, but only get to see them on Skype and Grandpa and Grandma don’t always like travelling. It was really helpful that Grandma came to help us adjust once when we moved.
Miriam: Being far from family.
Do you know what your parents do as missionaries?
Miriam:They teach philosophy. They’re at work and sometimes I miss them.
Peregrine: I don’t know. That’s OK.
Do you ever do anything with your parents in their work places?
Abigail: We go to home service churches with them. We don’t usually go to work with my dad because that’s for older people.
Matthew: On home service, visit 20 or so churches around the U.S. Dad preaches. Mom usually helps with the kids’ service and we help set up.
Elizabeth: This past summer we practically memorized Dad’s sermon. He changes the words, but he says the same thing over and over again and again. For home service we made a video about Ukraine and about our school. We did a presentation for kids in the United States; we’d spell words in Russian and see if kids could figure out what they meant.
What are the deepest memories so far?
Miriam: Last week we went to Neuschwanstein, the castle in Germany. I liked it so much that I was behind the tour several times, because of the paintings that were around. That’ll stick with me, I’m sure.
Elizabeth: I’ll never forget the millionbillion times we’ve gone to the mission retreats and had lots of fun and giggles and laughter.
Miriam and Peregrine, you go a Lithuanian school. Would you like to say anything about that?
Miriam: I like that I can learn new things and I like my teacher and classmates.
Peregrine: In the beginning it was really hard; I didn’t want to go. But then I was sick a few weeks ago and I wanted to go. Because I liked it better. When I started, I was nervous and didn’t get along with other people. I’m missing school now.
Have you ever thought of becoming a missionary?
Elizabeth: Well, yes. Even though I’d probably miss my friends, I think it’s really neat and important to go to different places, teaching the Gospel of Jesus. It’s not easy, though.
Matthew: We had some neighbours three years ago who didn’t believe and lived differently. They were rougher. It was hard to tell them about Jesus.
Elizabeth: There’s a boy in my class who’s not a Christian; he tries to argue with us who are. We try to ignore him, but he always asks strange questions about the Bible. I don’t know yet how to explain things well to him. His family is rich and he’s kind of spoiled. That makes him kind of apart from the rest of our class. He can be nice, but he breaks all kinds of rules in our school.
Did your parents ever tell you about going overseas to be missionaries?
Matthew: Sure, when we were little. It was simple then. Now we kind of have figured it out.
You’ve said that your dad travels for his work. Is your mom a missionary too?
Matthew: She sure is. She teaches all the kids in her classes how to live as Christians and takes them on field trips where that happens too.