Refuge 139 - Our Name

Refuge 139 gets its name from Psalm 139:9-10 which we refer to as the missionary kid Psalm. “…even if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me…” MKs live in a variety of contexts often away from their parents’ home country. Refuge 139 is a program that creates a safe environment for these MKs to grow together and grow in their relationships with God.


R139 Story

Wycliffe missionaries live all over the world serving the needs of the Bibleless people. In order for them to do their work effectively, occasionally these missionaries need to have area meetings, training, and most importantly an opportunity for personal spiritual refreshment.

In order for all the adults to fully participate in these meetings, the major obstacle is, who is going to take care of the kids?
For many years, Wycliffe Associates (WA) had been helping meet this need by running a wonderful program called KidZone International. Volunteers from the States would travel to where these conferences were held to watch the children. However in 2014, KidZone was discontinued as WA refined their focus and made hard cuts. This left missionaries overseas once again asking, “What about the kids?”

Hearing the cry for help from its field partners, JAARS ( responded to the need by creating Refuge 139. It was developed with the help of key partners including Wycliffe USA, Wycliffe Canada, and a collaborative effort of the Missionary Kid Caregivers Summit (MKCS). The aim was not only to make Refuge 139 meet the child care need, but to create a high quality VBS type program catering to the specific needs of missionary kids (MKs).

In 2016 JAARS launched its first three pilot Refuge 139 programs in Cameroon, Thailand, and Malaysia under the leadership of Keith Franklin. The response was tremendous, and word quickly spread to other Wycliffe partners who were excited to have this option for their kids.

What Makes MKs Unique?

The Life of an MK

Story based on accounts from actual missionary kids.
By:  Bret Taylor


In fourth grade, John is a “National.”  He looks physically like his classmates.  He wears similar clothing, is similar height and blends in ethnically at his school.  He also thinks like his friends, enjoys similar sports playing on both competitive baseball and soccer teams.  He does relatively well in school.  John also gets excited that Santa is going to visit during Christmas and has had a relatively normal middle class life.

Transition begins to take place for John when his parents begin to travel to raise support to become missionaries to Kenya.  Because of their traveling schedule, he misses a lot of soccer and baseball games.  He struggles with meeting so many new people at the different churches and wonders why so many people and churches don’t support his family.  He begins to feel the pressure of having to behave because his family is “working for God.”

A radical transition takes place when his family is fully supported and they move to rural Kenya.  Immediately, John is in the “Foreigner” stage.  He obviously looks different.  His skin tone and dress are significantly different than the Maasai people.  Kenyans of all ages stare at him and his family.  The spotlight is always on them no matter where they go.  There is no blending in.  John also thinks differently.  He is told that it is rude not to finish eating all the goat and rice he is served at the villages.  That food is precious and not to be wasted.  There are no baseball teams for him to join and the village kids often play “soccer” barefoot.  He has to adjust to his mom being his teacher as his education is now home schooling.  He struggles with kids and adults asking him for money to buy medicine or food.  He doesn’t know how to raise goats like the other kids his age in the village.  And one day, the difficult topic comes up when the village kids discover that John is already circumcised even though he was never a warrior.

However, after a few years living in Kenya, he transitions into the “Adopted” phase.  Although he still looks different in many ways, he now wears some of the bracelets like the other boys.  He has also learned to speak the language relatively well.  He most importantly begins to think like the Kenyans.  He understands and respects the work involved in raising cows and goats for a livelihood.  He doesn’t hesitate to finish his mounding plate of food to the last bite, and has even developed the taste for a Maasai favorite… sour milk.  He still has to pay a higher price at the market than the Kenyans do, but not as much as the tourists.  During the course of the last three years, John has learned to live without watching TV, using the internet and has become proficient at playing soccer barefoot.  He has two pet goats of his own.  He understands that people can survive with very little and that even as a poor missionary family, he has a lot.  John is proud when his village friends give him a Maasai sword just before he leaves for furlough.

When his family flies back to the United States for a one-year furlough, his 10th grade year, John is abruptly transitioned into the “Hidden Immigrant” phase.  Although John and his family are coming “home,” a lot has changed over the past 4 years.  Several of John’s good friends have moved away and many of the others are involved in destructive behaviors from which he had been completely sheltered.  Although he may initially look different with his bracelets and outdated clothing, he is able to make outward appearance changes to help him blend in more.  But by blending in on the outside, unexpected challenges come his way.  People his age are incredulous that he doesn’t have a cell phone, hasn’t seen “any of the good movies” and can’t play any of the video games.  He embarrasses himself when he asks the meaning of slang words, and occasionally stumbles to find the right English words that he can only describe in Maasai.  John’s mortified as he watches people scrape their food into the trash can.  John searches on the internet to try and get news about the severe drought in Kenya that is never mentioned on the news because of some trial being hyped on TV.  He misses his goats, doesn’t like playing soccer with shoes on, has his Maasai sword confiscated by a youth pastor because it is a dangerous weapon, and hates it when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”