Cami Robbins has served with her husband in several Central African countries. She writes from the perspective of an TCK who grew up in Africa, as well as a mother who has raised her children there.
As a Child
I lived with my family in a village in Central African Republic until I was 16. After about age 12, I noticed that my African girlfriends were now expected to act as adults in many ways, and they were no longer available to hang out with me. Because I have two brothers and two sisters, this was not such a problem for me in terms of loneliness. I was also away in boarding school most of the year.
When I was home on vacation as a teenager, I spent most of my time working with my parents. I worked in the kitchen with my mom. I worked in the office with my dad, helping him make books with the stencil machine. I learned to type. I learned to play guitar so I could sing choruses with and for the people. I taught a kind of vacation Bible school when my parents traveled to other villages. In other words, I joined in my parents’ work.
When I related to the people, I related to the women and sat around the fire with them, rather than with the girls my age. This provided interesting activities for me and kept me from being in a dangerous setting. My brother did many activities with my dad like car maintenance and repair and road trips. I think it was a valuable experience for us to work side by side with our parents and get to know some wonderful, godly African adults.
My parents communicated to me how to behave around African men more in the context of how to conduct myself appropriately as a Christian in my home culture. I never felt afraid. I have tried to do the same with my children, not in the context of fear, but in the context of a good testimony and common sense. I was frustrated at the rule about never going out alone, but I understood its importance and cooperated.
Of the five children in my family only my brother and I were teens in the village. Now both of us are adults ministering in Africa.
As an Adult with Children of My Own
Our daughter Cara was 12 the last time we lived in the village. It was already difficult for her friends to have time to spend with her. One of the things she did was set up a little sewing corner under the trees. There she mended by hand the torn clothing of the small village children, replacing buttons, mending tears and seams, and putting on patches. The mothers of the village loved her!
But we could see that the village was no longer a good place for her in terms of social needs, so we arranged for her to go to school in the city after the summer. We ended up staying in the city because Larry was needed in administration. We visited the village a couple years later and found most of her girlfriends with babies of their own on their hips. We were glad we had moved her out of the village when we did.
It is also hard for 12-year-old boys in the village. Tremendous pressure is put on them to start adult experiences in order to “prove their manhood.” This can be very traumatic for young boys. Thankfully, our son Caleb was only nine when we left the village, so he was spared.
One possible solution, one I would recommend, is boarding school for both boys and girls starting at junior high age. They would still spend time at home in the village, but they wouldn’t experience as much pressure. The advantage to boarding school at junior high age is that the kids learn to relate well with people of their own age and culture. This is extremely important when they return to their home country so they won’t feel quite so “out of it.”
However, boarding school is not for everyone. I think that raising godly teenagers in the village could be one of the most powerful things we could ever model to the people. Seeing with their eyes that young people can, by God’s grace, conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ would do more than a thousand Bible studies on the subject. However, given that teens are often seen as ready for marriage in the African culture, this option would require much wisdom and parental creativity.
Because I grew up in Africa, I know how aggressive young African men can be. I think it is important that girls be taught the same things we teach women in Africa Orientation Course: Do not look men in the eye. Do not show any interest in them at all. Never be alone with a man. Do not go out to the market or wander around the village alone.
Interestingly enough, since we have been in the States on furlough, I have noticed my kids still have to deal with aggressive young men and women. The things they learned about how to deal with this in Africa are standing them in good stead here, too!
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