A Refuge in Uncertainty

By Karissa Uhlig

COVID-19 has left this world in a state of ambiguity. Adults, though still grappling with the uncertainty the virus brings, are armed with facts and can somewhat understand what is going on. Young children, however, only know that everything is changing—their school looks different, finding activities to do outside of the house is difficult, and their friends and grandparents can’t visit.

Missionary kids (MKs) face a similar sense of uncertainty when moving to the field with their families. Everything is different, and they have to leave everything and everyone they’ve ever known.

Refuge 139, a ministry founded by JAARS, seeks to support missionary kids and their parents in this difficult transition. Its name comes from Psalm 139:9–10: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” Refuge 139 teams seek to encourage missionary kids to have hope in uncertainty because they know that God is their refuge (safe place)—even when they’re in unfamiliar places on the far side of the sea.

When mission workers serving overseas attend training and conferences, someone has to take care of their children so that both parents can fully engage in these meetings. This is where Refuge 139 comes in. A Refuge 139 team travels to the location and takes care of the children while the parents are otherwise occupied.

Elizabeth Franklin, curriculum writer for Refuge 139, with children in Thailand

On these trips, the team goes a step further than merely providing supervision. Instead, its members provide intentional, VBS-style programs that teach the kids biblical principles that support the unique struggles of MKs.

Keith Franklin, the director of Refuge 139, knows firsthand the need that MKs have for hope in the midst of changing circumstances. He grew up as an MK in Trinidad and Tobago. His personal experience with transitioning to service on the mission field has helped him empathize with the children’s struggles during the Refuge 139 trips.

Keith and Elizabeth (his wife) enjoy spending time with an MK in Thailand.

Keith described how faithful God has been to the ministry of Refuge 139, “The Lord always seems to provide the people we need for the teams.” The teams consist of both staff members and volunteers. The work and the planning involved in launching these trips are worth it to Keith and his wife, Elizabeth, who oversees the curriculum, and the rest of the Refuge 139 team. When asked what God has taught her through this ministry, Elizabeth answered, “We are constantly in awe of getting to rub shoulders with [mission workers and their families]. These families that have put everything on the line for Bible translation are in unbelievably hard places. To be able to give them some encouragement and to figure out how better to help them—that really is the crux of [this ministry]. It’s a joy and a delight.”

During one trip to Germany, Elizabeth got to experience this joy in a more meaningful way. A three-year-old boy, who had not yet made a profession of faith, raised his hand to pray for lunch. Elizabeth talked to his mother afterward about the experience, and both were excited about the boy’s interest in spiritual things. Later that night, the boy’s mom read to him the story of Jesus dying on the cross. He accepted Christ as his Savior that night. Elizabeth rejoiced with the mother the next day when she shared the story. His mom said, “Thank you so much for prompting us because we just thought he was too young [to become a Christian]!”

Lives are being changed even in the midst of uncertainty through the ministry of Refuge 139. And God is still using Keith and Elizabeth in the uncertainty of COVID-19. They are holding their plans for an October trip loosely, depending on God to make a way for them to continue their trips overseas.