Missionary kids experience a 3rd-culture world

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ivory Coast is the country of focus for the current International Mission Study by WMU. Find resources to support the study at wmu.com/IMS and imb.org/ims. See additional story (below) on child labor and exploitation challenges facing Ivory Coast.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (BP) -- Mike McAfee took his daughter Karis to work with him on a Tuesday morning in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan.

His work that day happened to be visiting a Muslim friend, Seidou, to talk more about Jesus. Karis, 11 at the time, was going to play with Seidou's niece Sadia. Her hopes were dashed, however, when they arrived and Sadia wasn't there. Her uncle told Karis that she was now an apprentice in a tailor's shop.

Even though Karis, now 12, and her brothers -- Caleb, 14, and Benjamin, 4 -- live in the same city as their friends, sometimes the lives of those friends, though the same ages, are decidedly different. It's part of being MKs, missionary kids.

Most of the time, the differences fade away when it comes to mutual interests such as playing soccer for the boys or braiding hair for the girls. During long church services at the Baptist church in Abobo, with no Sunday School classes to involve the children, the girls play in front of the church building under a shady tree. Karis patiently sits as girls cluster around her, stroking her silky hair with a texture so different from their own. Caleb, meanwhile, sits in the back of the dirt-floor sanctuary with a friend, making seats out of large overturned plastic buckets. During songs, as others clap their hands, the boys join in, hands beating on the buckets, keeping time with the drums at the front of the church.

'Third-culture kids'

Caleb, Karis and Benjamin are MKs, but they are also TCKs, "third-culture kids." By leaving their "passport" country to grow up in a foreign country for an extended time, they develop a cultural identity from their home country and their host country -- a sort of third, unique culture of their own.

The foreign country they live in, however, isn't "foreign" to them. As Caleb points out, he's lived more than half his life in Ivory Coast, giving him a different perspective than an outsider would have. For instance, a decade of violence in Ivory Coast left its mark in various places throughout Abidjan. Caleb matter-of-factly tells of finding a bullet hole in the side of his family's roof.

"It went into the roof, hit something metal, came back down through the roof sideways and hit our metal pole," Caleb said. It punctured the hollow pole and fell to the bottom. "So I took a sledgehammer and busted out the bottom and got the bullet," he said.

The McAfee children, like most MKs, assist their parents in ministry. When volunteers fly into Abidjan, Karis likes to go to the airport with her father to meet them. As volunteers visit a local artisan's market, she acts as a translator to help them bargain in French for keepsake items.

Karis is homeschooled by her mother, Heather, and sometimes her father when Heather's work commitments take her from home. Caleb does his schoolwork through an Internet-based homeschool curriculum. Karis and Caleb put up with plenty of interruptions during the school day as visitors pass through their home.

Here & there

So how is living in Abidjan different from living in the North Carolina town that the McAfees moved from? For one thing, there's no spring, summer, fall or winter in Abidjan.

"The rainy season is just like three months," Caleb said, "and the hot season is nine months or so.

"In the hot season, the dry season, there's this thing that's called harmattan" -- the hot, dry trade wind that blows from the western Sahara, carrying large amounts of dust through Ivory Coast and out over the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. "I actually got really sick from the harmattan one time," Caleb said.

In contrast, downpours during the rainy season can turn the city into a flood zone. Though the rain brings welcome cooling to the oppressive West African heat, local streets flood and people have to wade through the water to get some places. The rain fills their yard with water as well, Caleb said. "It got up to our doorstep last rainy season. All the cockroaches and bugs got up onto the walls. We went to town with the bug spray!"

An awkward question

Perhaps the most awkward question MKs hear when they visit the U.S. is "What is it like to live in ... [insert country name]?" It's a difficult question; growing up in their host country is normal to them. The McAfee children live on a mission compound that includes their family's house, offices, guesthouse rooms and other apartments. The children are fortunate to have a yard in which to play where mango trees and flowering hibiscus grow.

Outside the compound's gate, Caleb knows the vendors who set up their businesses along the road. "There's the tailor and the guy who sells attiéké [a side dish made from cassava]," he said. There's "the brochette guy," who grills meats over a charcoal fire, garnished with onions and tomatoes and served in a sliced baguette.

For fruit, the family doesn't go to a grocery store.

"We get our fruit and vegetables from the fruit guy that walks by, and he'll have it on his head in this box. He has apples and oranges and grapes and sometimes he has bananas," Caleb said. "But then we have a different person that comes by and sells bananas. He'll come and knock on our door, and we'll buy by the kilo. We buy our stuff by the kilo."

Karis added, "There are lots of fruits here. Most of them are good. My favorite is called papaya. It's small ... and it's got lots of seeds in it so you take all the seeds out and you just eat the meat in there. I like to put some lemon juice on it."

Another difference between the U.S. and "over there" is the way the family worships.

"The music is really lively," Caleb said. And sometimes, "when they sing, everyone gets up and does a conga line around the [church] in a circle in the space between the pews and the pulpit. They really like to dance in church." And there's no passing the plate. "They'll usually play music while they do the offering; then [row by row] they'll go up to put their offering in the basket."

Southern Baptists make it possible for families like the McAfees to follow their call to reach the people of the Ivory Coast, supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions as well as Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program.

And from Caleb's perspective as a 14-year-old, that's great. "Being an MK is cool because I get to live in another country, and I can speak another language and meet new friends."


Child labor cuts

Ivorian childhood short

By Elaine Gaston

Keywords: Child labor, Ivory Coast

Twitter: Child labor and exploitation remain key concerns for Ivory Coast

RSS: Children in Ivory Coast rarely have the opportunity to stay in school, without having to at least come and go into the workforce to help their families make ends meet.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (BP) -- Missionary kids Caleb McAfee, 14, his sister Karis, 12, and even 4-year-old brother Benjamin often are among children in the Ivory Coast who face a vastly different life.

A 2013 UNESCO report showed that 39.8 percent of children in the 5- to 14-year-old age range work. Only 58.6 percent of children complete a primary education. And about a quarter of children age 7-14 combine work and school. A compulsory education law does not yet exist in the country, and many children are taken out of school to work at a young age.

Some jobs are worse than others. In 2012, the government adopted a "national action plan" targeting child labor, exploitation and trafficking, and updated a list of "hazardous activities" prohibited to children. The "worst forms" of child labor include hazardous work in agriculture, particularly in the production of cocoa. (Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa exporter.) In a study on child labor in the cocoa sector, Tulane University reported 819,921 children working in cocoa-related activities in Ivory Coast. Half of those, age 5-17, reported injuries related to using machetes or pesticides or carrying heavy loads.

Other child labor issues include girls working as domestic servants, sometimes starting as young as age 9 and working 12-14 hours a day. Some of the girls are subject to mistreatment, beatings and sexual abuse. A U.S. Department of Labor report on Ivory Coast says some boys, in return for food and education in Quranic schools, are forced to beg on the streets up to 10 hours per day. The report says before the 2010-11 civil unrest from a volatile national election, "thousands of children worked on the street in urban centers, especially in Abidjan." Families separated during the violence, and the report says now even more children are sleeping on urban streets.

Trafficking of children within the country is a problem as well, as boys are trafficked for agricultural labor and the service sector. Children from neighboring countries also are trafficked into Ivory Coast: boys for agricultural labor, mining and construction, and girls for domestic labor, street vending and commercial sexual exploitation. Few effective programs exist at this time to help children found in what are termed the "worst forms" of child labor.

Elaine Gaston writes for the International Mission Board.
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