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Annual retreat helps MKs transition from mission field to college life

Children of missionaries (MKs) entering college in the United States for the first time, attend the 2022 MK ReEntry Retreat and learn about “Reentering” well. Photo courtesy of Candace McIntosh

COOK SPRINGS, Ala. (BP) – More than 50 children of missionaries (MKs) preparing to enter college in the U.S. this fall gained insights and encouragement for “reentering” well during the annual MK Re-Entry Retreat held at Alabama WMU’s WorldSong Missions Place.

Each year, Woman’s Missionary Union partners with the International Mission Board to host the retreat, providing a setting where MKs can process the transition to college, envision what life in the U.S. will look like, learn skills to help them adjust to living in the U.S. and navigate university life. State WMUs take turns hosting the retreat.


Josh Holliday said he enjoyed seeing friends from South Africa while making new friends during the week.

“For me, it was a great way to reconnect with God before heading to college,” he said. “I definitely learned more about living in the U.S. and that has really been beneficial for me.”

MKs from around the world participated in the Aug. 1-6 event and were prepared for the transition to U.S. and college life spiritually, academically and emotionally, said Candace McIntosh, Alabama WMU executive director.

“Missionary children face their own set of challenges as they enter a culture many have not grown up in,” she said. “The MK Re-Entry Retreat gives these students a place to ‘adult in’ for one week to prepare them for the days, weeks and months ahead. [This year] they learned to change a tire, check the fluid levels in their cars, search for a job using the unique skills they have from overseas and better navigate the college culture in America.”

While learning these skills is important, McIntosh said, the relationships forged during the week give MKs a foundation as they head out alone to begin a new journey.

According to Ben Brinkley, education program manager with the IMB, this year’s retreat focused on “reentering” well, looking at ways MKs can reenter spiritually, culturally and relationally.

“Relationally, we discussed how we are now called to America,” Brinkley said. “Previously, [MKs] were called to a certain people group. Now, their people group is the Americans around them. To transition well, [MKs] have to come at the relationships with [Americans] with the grace [they] showed to the nationals.” 


Finding a good, solid church is a vital part of the adjustment, Brinkley said, and the students were encouraged to connect with a body of believers near their school.

“Chapel is not church,” he said. “We need to be involved and minister with the church.”

The transition to college and life in the U.S. provides an opportunity for MKs to make a “totally new life,” Brinkley said. They were reminded that everyone around them is in the same boat – leaving family and moving to college, trying to figure out life.

“The distance to home may be different but they’re learning new things too,” Brinkley said. “MKs heard the message, ‘We must identify areas in our life that God wants us to leave behind and strive to make our faith our own. It’s not mom’s or dad’s faith bestowed on you. Mom and Dad are not in your dorm to encourage you to do your devotions, go to class, get up and go to church.’”

MKs who already transitioned to college served as retreat leaders, providing firsthand guidance.

Trusting others

“I went [into the retreat] unsure of what to expect, but everything started to fall into place after I met all of the high school graduates and those in my small group,” said MK leader Lydia. “As the days progressed, I loved watching my group grow closer, opening up and becoming vulnerable as they learned to trust one another. 

“Seeing the way they connected brought me fond memories of my own reentry, which served as a last connecting point with close friends and other TCKs (Third Culture Kids) who understood me.”

MKs still need prayer as they navigate a new phase in their lives, McIntosh said.

“During the [retreat] I was reminded of how very important our prayers are for these children,” she saiad. “One night … I was slipping out to head to my room [and] encountered one of the precious students. They stood and then quickly took a seat.

“The trembling of their hands and rapid breathing helped me know they were experiencing a moment of anxiousness. I went in and retrieved a trusted leader, [and as] I walked away, I thought how grateful I was this precious MK had a safe place to deal with the heavy things on their heart.”

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  • Lanell Downs Smith/The Alabama Baptist