Some quick info about EPIC 2013 – a conference for TCKs:
- EPIC was a 2.5 day conference – that’s 50 hours to cram in a lot!
- 5 worship sessions, 3 talks from speaker Jonathan Trotter and a LOT of activities.
- There were about 100 participants, including 80 students (ages 12-18)
- This made it the largest gathering of TCKs in Cambodia (outside a school setting) that we know of.
- Host city Siem Reap started their youth ministry less than a year ago, and have about 15 students involved.
- 70 students travelled by bus from Phnom Penh to attend.
- I led a band full of boys for the worship times – from Beijing, Tianjin, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They also span four continents (home countries being US, UK, New Zealand, Korea).
- EPIC was spread over 3 locations – group meetings were in the Korean church where the Siem Reap international fellowship also meet; high school students stayed at Baray prayer retreat; middle school students stayed at Hope International School. We are so thankful to all three venues for helping us out.
- There were a lot of activities, like: glowstick minigolf; silk worm farm; group photo at Angkor Wat; balloon towers; Family Feud; and, of course, a whole lot of manicures :)
- 83 bottles of nail polish (the girls counted them)
The theme of EPIC 2013 was “Got Home?” Obviously, this is a bit of a loaded topic for TCKs. Our speaker, Jonathan, did a fantastic job. He handled a senstive topic gently, in a way that was both challenging and encouraging. In his first talk, he raised the idea that Jesus understands the feeling of dislocation that comes with an international life – “Where am I from? Well, my mother is Jewish, and my Dad is God, so…” Kidding aside, it was something I’d never considered. In the natural, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, moved to a foriegn country (Egypt), then “returned” to his parents’ hometown – where he’d never lived. In the spiritual, Jesus left his home in heaven to live in a place he would never really belong. In the second talk, Jonathan discussed how God wants to make his home in us – that he gets homesick for our hearts. In the final talk, Jonathan shared his own stories, about losing “home” while still living in the same house, and explained why we need to be honest in our grief, and grieve our losses. It was very powerful for a room full of teenagers who have lived a lot of loss, and often without feeling permission to fully feel the sadness of it.
And now, some stories!
You may have noticed the kid in the cast sitting in the middle of the front row of the above photo. Yeah, that was a souvenir from the conference. Thankfully we had wonderful parents (including our camp doctor) who took fantastic care of him – complete with two trips to the hospital. That’s only the second broken bone at the nearly 30 youth camps/conferences I’ve helped run in Asia, which is a pretty good record, I reckon.
The prayer centre at Baray, where the high school students stayed, was a beautiful location. It was rustic – two shower stalls, and 3 toilets, for the group of 50 – and we all slept on the floor with whatever bedding we brought along. Some of the boys slept on the balcony outside their house, under mosquito nets. Everyone had a good attitude, and we really enjoyed the quiet and the waterlillies. The worship night was done in the hut by the pond – with the sounds of all sorts of crickets and insects and frogs…
My big role at EPIC was leading worship for the conference. Spending time with the worship team was probably the biggest highlight for me – they are all fantastic guys. Each one is a blend of silly and spiritual which I, of course, relate to ;) It was really special to have Caleb from Siem Reap join us; he was super-helpful, as well as a great musician. I also really enjoyed working with Sehyun and Jonbon again (they played on last year’s worship team, too – and I’ve known them both for years). And a late night conversation with James, sharing stories, was special time.
And, as always, manicures were big! Manicures are one of my best ministry tools. At lunch/free time one afternoon I sat on the grass and started lining up bottles of nail polish in front of me – and middle school girls just gravitated to them. When the high school students would get home at night I would bring out the bags and a group of kids would spring up around them, doing each others nails. The fancy patterns were pretty impressive! One fun thing was seeing a kid who looked so uncertain having his nails done, who quickly turned into the nail artist, drawing panda faces that I totally intend to rip off in future ;)
Finally, in the wrap-up session of the conference (both years) we handed out paper and pens and asked each person to answer three questions:
- What is something you enjoyed?
- What is something you learned?
- What is something that was special to you?
The responses were typed up and put on the website (one of my favourite “chores” for the conference!) where they’re available for people get a feel for what happened and what mattered to the kids who attended. I’m going to finish this post with a few responses that stand out to me; to read the rest, visit the EPIC conference website.
- I enjoyed bonding time and when in free time we sat down, did each other’s nails, sang worship songs and played cards. Also I enjoyed how connected we were with each other.
- Spending time with my friends and preparing myself before I leave in 6 months. Appreciating how blessed I am with such amazing people.
- Family Feud – fun, team building. Worship times – especially the more upbeat ones, but then also the last night when most of us could really FEEL the Holy Spirit. The different activities (mini golf, etc.)
- I really enjoyed the worship times where I felt I could be myself.
- Worship/night worship; sense of community and fun.
- Games with small groups and painting boys’ nails.
- The friendliness of other people. Also making new friends.
- Hanging out with other teens with a similar background to me.
- Though we may lose our physical home, God is with me and that is home.
- I learned that wherever I am, God is with me. God is not only with me, he is within me. I am his temple/home. God is homesick too! He’s homesick for me and my heart.
- I learned a lot about what home really is and understood myself more as a TCK. Being a TCK, home is not one place. But my true home is heaven.
- That outlawed grief will kill you in the end. It’s okay to cry and still be a tough person/man.
- It’s okay to grieve, it’s good to grieve.
- The significance of walls, that it is absolutely detrimental to you and people around you if you keep your pain to yourself. For a community to grow it is absolutely essential for people to be frank and honest with each other.
- God also had to grieve because he had to say goodbye to Jesus (his son) and that he knows what we are going through. That Jesus was away from his home for a long time.
- It is hard to say goodbye but you shouldn’t deny it, you should let it out.
- To always Praise God with all your soul, strength, and mind.
- I learned a lot about experiences that other TCKs around me have that I can actually RELATE to. I learned about worship (and what it really is) and also about how to connect with God (the different ways that people do that).
- Meeting with other TCKs
- Everything! (especially that I got to worship God however I want)
- I could be myself and I experienced being close to God and knowing that God is always there.
- That I am God’s now, that I have taken his invitation.
- I don’t normally have a connected feeling with God but I really felt connected to GOD!
- Jesus can identify with nomadic lifestyle more than I’d realised.
- The second night and the presence of God and praying for people.
- The night session when my friends were around me singing, praying and crying to God.
- The thing that was special was the last night of EPIC, and we sat down and started crying, we couldn’t stop and we shared all our memories about our past life.
- I feel really touched by the speeches. I feel relieved to share with other TCKs the stuff I’ve never told anybody before.
- How I felt able to spill what I wanted to keep a secret because everyone doesn’t care what it is they always feel for you.
- Thursday worship session; spending time sharing with friends. Giving up to God one of the last bits of my heart that was closed.