This is My Story – The Teenage Years
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Let’s pick up where we left off from the early years. Our family moved to South America. We would spend the next three years in a department of France – French Guiana (located to the north of Brazil).
Though the mission board had done their best to prepare us for culture shock, one can’t fully understand until it’s experienced. The noises, smells, foods, cultural practices and even the French dialect were much different from Quebec or anything we had ever known.
We lived in the capital Cayenne. The city was crowded with various people groups as French Guiana is a melting pot of cultures. French, Asian, Haitian, Indian, and Brazilian are just a few of the people groups there. We tasted amazing (and some questionable) foods. My favorite was a dish called Roti because you're not supposed to eat it with silverware. Instead, we tore pieces of a tortilla-like bread to grab the curried chicken and potatoes. It is so, so good.
Our home backed up to the jungle. We saw the beautiful wildlife found in the rain forest and hiked in it regularly. We adapted to the heat which was a good thing because our home didn't have air conditioning. We experienced the dampness of the rainy season. We swam in the brown river that was home to piranhas. I loved looking up at the night sky to gaze at the Southern Cross.
We saw the old world and modern technology paired together oddly. There is a European space center there and rockets were regularly sent up. One of the strangest, but amazing, things to see is a space rocket rise out of an uncivilized jungle tree line in its ascent out of the earth’s atmosphere.
I became aware of poverty in a way that no picture book could have ever educated me. There was one house, in particular, that I remember visiting. It was no more than a tin square in which a large family lived. I remember sitting in their home with a dawning of comprehension of how wealthy we were in comparison. However, that family had so much generosity and shared what they had for refreshments without reservation.
Living in French Guiana and among people groups in which I was the minority was a gift that I did not recognize until many years later. At the time, my only concern was for my own well-being and desires. I was more concerned about what I felt was missing, than thankful for what I had been given. For example, when I turned sixteen, I couldn’t drive because the law required one be 18. All I focused on was the wish to be "home" so that I could drive like the friends I'd had in the States.
What I remember most from that season in life was the inward struggle and doubts I had concerning God. I never doubted His existence. To me it takes more faith to believe He isn’t there when studying science and observing the world, than it takes to believe in Him. Where I wrestled was in recalling a decision I had made as a child in Oklahoma City.
At the time, a good friend of mine had asked Jesus to save her. I watched her be baptized and then participate in the Lord’s Supper. I wanted the same, but for the wrong reasons. As a teenager, I began to question whether or not I was truly a Christian. I started to realize that I did not have a love or desire to spend time with God, but knew the stories from the Bible and the answers to questions about faith. How could I, a pastor's and missionary kid, admit to doubts or exposer as a phony? My pride wouldn't allow it. And, I reasoned, maybe that prayer I'd said as a kid counted.
So I played the Christian role and did it well. I led Bible studies with my peers in French Guiana, handed out tracks and Bibles with my parents, and participated in helping with kid clubs. Still, I couldn't escape the nagging fear of facing an uncertain eternity while in the midst of evil that revealed itself in ways I had never experienced in the States.
The years in South America came to an end and our family moved to Tennessee for a year of furlough as our mission board required. It was a hard time as I was, again, resistant and resentful of change. I was unprepared for experiencing culture shock upon the return of our own country. I was desperate to belong but didn’t seem to fit in anywhere – a foreigner no matter where I went.
At the conclusion of the furlough year, I was entering my senior year of high school. Per my request to more efficiently prepare for college, I lived with my grandparents in Illinois while my family moved to the Caribbean island, Guadeloupe. Finally, I thought would experience what it was to be a “normal” teenager.
I missed my family, but I embraced more fully life in the United States and formed some sweet friendships in the small school I attended. Graduation soon came and went.
I craved more freedom and looked forward to starting college in South Carolina.
What was to come would be the end and beginning…