I was just sending off an email this morning to a mother of a young teenager who has felt the call to be a missionary. She had asked for advice, wondering how she could be an encourager to her son. Well, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that my son IS a missionary and it has not been an easy journey for me, as his mother. I’m probably NOT your typical parent of a missionary. Then again, maybe I’m just more transparent than most. At any rate, since this is Friday and time for a “list of five”, I got to thinking about five things you should consider when your child wants to be a missionary.
1. If your child has been called by God to be a missionary, your desires are secondary. I say this without bitterness. God’s call on a person’s life is going to trump a parent’s wishes or hopes every time. And if you stand in the way of that call, shame on you. I have had to remind myself over and over since my children were born that they are not “mine.” They were given to me by God for a season only…to nurture them until it was time to release them.
2. Conditions can be quite fluid in a missionary’s life. There seem to me to be a lot of parallels to life in the military and life as a missionary. With the military, there is a lot of “hurry up and wait.” There is a lot of that in a missionary’s journey, too. You don’t just feel the call to a foreign country and then head out. You have to determine what organization you should join. You have to raise support. You must obtain visas. Countries become “closed” and you are diverted to other countries. Orders are changed and you get sent to different places. You don’t buy homes because you never know how long you are going to be in one spot. You might need to be sent off for additional training. You can’t always tell loved ones where you are nor communicate regularly with them.
3. Be prepared for a lot of surprises, twists, and turns as their missionary call is defined. Many parents (and the child being “called”) immediately think overseas when they think they are being called to the mission field. But over time, as they pray and listen to what God is directing them to do, that missionary call could be to work with the homeless in Camden, NJ or with immigrants in San Antonio. Or it could be a call to go to medical school and then head over to Paraguay to be a missionary doctor. There are many forms that missionary call could take. And a child’s missionary work can change over their lifetime. God will use them when and where He sees fit. You, as their parent, will become quite familiar with the word “adaptable.”
4. You might feel angry. Shocker, I know. Folks at church will probably be hugging you and congratulating you once they hear that your child feels called to the mission field. Little do they realize that you might be experiencing a whirlpool of conflicting emotions, not the least of which is anger. You’ve been throwing your whole life into keeping your child safe. Now they want to go somewhere where they will be living in terribly unsanitary conditions, where people might want to harm them, in voluntary poverty, away from loved ones for long periods of time…….and you’re supposed to SMILE about this? Are they nuts? Take a deep breath. What you are feeling is normal. Acknowlege it and then you can work through it. Personally, I worry more about those parents who are giddy with joy when their kids want to be missionaries. Are they counting the cost? Be prepared but then pray that God will keep you pleasantly surprised.
5. Start developing a support network. When your child becomes a missionary, you will most likely not see them for long periods of time. Seek out other parents of missionaries. You can find them through your denomination or the missionary organizations. Become familiar with the computer and long-distance communication tools like Skype and email. Stay connected with your friends and church family. Let them know if you are having a tough time with loneliness. Get that passport up-to-date and then make plans to do some traveling to places near enough to connect with your missionary child. That means you need to take steps now to be healthy enough to travel, if at all possible. And at the risk of sounding trite, remember that you can talk to God about what you are feeling every step of the way. He’s along for the entire journey.
Here’s a short excerpt from the email I sent to the mother this morning: “Above all, you can encourage your son to continue to prepare himself by studying the Word, reading all he can on the lives of missionaries (any of the biographies of past missionaries are very good. My son couldn’t read enough of them.), beginning to think about future coursework that could be helpful to his call, and letting him know that you will continue to support him in prayer and encouragement. And just as an aside to you, be prepared to some twists and turns to his call. In his early teens, my son felt he was being called to be a youth pastor. Now he lives in the worst part of a big city with drug dealers and prostitutes as neighbors as he ministers to the homeless and addicts. By next year, he and his wife (who is expecting our first grandchild) will most likely be moving to live in a slum in Asia. It’s not an easy life but it is where God wants them. And it isn’t an easy life for the parents of missionaries either but that is what makes groups like this so important…..knowing that there are others who sometimes struggle with the same anxieties, loneliness, worry, AND joy.”
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