TAEJON, South Korea (BP)–Loud music, welcome cheers and high-fives greeted 166 middle and high school students to Centrifuge Korea, which for nearly 20 years has ministered to students from U.S. military bases and international schools in South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.
Because children of military and expatriate families live outside their “home” country, they often struggle with different issues than kids in the United States, said Holt Rivers*, an International Mission Board worker who has served as camp director for the past four years. The needs of such “trans-culture kids” must be addressed in specific ways.
“By the time these kids are 15, most have lived in three or four different countries,” Rivers said. “They have a global worldview. They’ve been exposed to things most U.S. kids will never understand.”
Military families in particular deal with different struggles than their counterparts living on American soil. One or both parents may be currently deployed or may have recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan. When parents exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, their teens often struggle to cope. The Centrifuge Korea staff listen and refer kids to those who can help. They also show campers how a relationship with Jesus can provide spiritual stability in an uncertain world.
“We tend to see a large number of kids come to faith in Jesus at this camp,” Rivers said.
The Centrifuge Korea differs in other ways from the U.S. Centrifuge experience, Rivers said.
While most U.S. students attend Centrifuge camps as part of a church youth group, many Centrifuge Korea campers may not be affiliated with a church, Rivers said. As in past years, the bulk of the students at this year’s camp in late June came from Yongsan military base in Seoul. Most are students at Seoul American High School and a few are homeschooled. The Yongsan chaplain’s office subsidizes the cost for students who wish to attend camp.
Another difference is the staff to student ratio, said Lori Mangum, a graduate student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who has served as camp coordinator the past two years. Normally, churches provide the counselors and Bible study leaders, while the Centrifuge staff is involved in preaching, worship and coordinating activities.
“At this camp, every single staffer has a multitude of responsibilities, from cabin counselor to rec leader,” Mangum said.
This year’s Centrifuge Korea staff of 12 included a mixture of LifeWay Christian Resources staff, teachers from Taejon Christian International School, where this year’s camp was held, and IMB personnel.
In spite of the differences, however, the tried-and-true elements that make “Fuge” special are the same across continents.
Like their U.S. counterparts, campers at Centrifuge Korea experienced all the traditional fun and craziness characteristic of Centrifuge during recreation, track times, the A.M. show and Night Life, including the ever-popular “Mega Relay.”
“Camp is the highlight of my entire year,” said Scottie Poole, a staff member at the Taejon Christian school also known to campers as Ted the Tech Man. “I look forward to it all year long.”
Based on the theme “Kairos: Defining Moments,” campers discussed the lives of five Old Testament prophets during Bible study each morning. In worship each night, camp pastor Chad McClurg from Alexandria, La., challenged students with messages from the New Testament.
“A ‘kairos’ moment is a moment when everything changes,” McClurg told campers. “You will never be the same and those around you will never be the same.”
Next year, Rivers plans to take Centrifuge deeper into Asia by offering a Centrifuge Thailand to English-speaking students attending international schools in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand popular with Western expatriates.
“Centrifuge is a great way to share the Gospel with expatriate kids in any country,” Rivers said.
*Name changed. Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board living in Southeast Asia.