Has your child recently shared with you that they are feeling the call to enter the mission field? If you are anything like me, then you were instantly bombarded with a wide range of emotions, everything from joy in their willingness to serve the Lord to panic over their future well-being. Perhaps they mentioned that they were considering joining an organization called Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, and as you learned more about this group’s radical approach to missions work, you began to hyperventilate even more. When my son first told me that he was thinking of joining Servants, I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that he felt called to be a missionary. Oh, I had known for some time that he felt called to fulltime Christian service but in my mind, I had already placed him safely in some suburban pulpit with me beaming proudly from a pew in the sanctuary. I had never heard of Servants or “incarnational ministry.” It certainly didn’t follow the traditional missionary model of our denomination.
It’s been over three years since my son first approached me about joining Servants. Since those initial conversations, he has joined the Servants Vancouver team and met and married a wonderful Christian girl who also serves on the team and shares his same heart for missions among the poor. In less than a year, they will most likely be heading off to an overseas assignment. I can’t say that it has been an easy journey for me, as his mother, to see him move into drug (and bedbug) infested neighborhoods but at least he has been on the same continent. I’m still struggling to wrap my mind around them heading to the other side of the world. However, God has faithfully walked alongside me on my journey as a “parent of a missionary.” Here are some things I’ve learned that you might find helpful.
- 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.
- Conditions can be quite fluid in a missionary’s life. There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” in a missionary’s journey. They don’t just feel the call to a foreign country and then head out. They have to determine what organization God is calling them to join. They have to raise support and obtain visas. Countries that were open can become “closed” and missionaries are diverted to other countries. Assignments are changed and you get sent to different places. Unlike friends and relatives, missionaries usually don’t own a home or a lot of possessions because they never know how long they are going to be in one spot. (This means they might not want Great-Aunt Maxine’s bone china set that you’ve been saving for them all these years.) There are times when our missionaries can’t always tell loved ones where they are nor communicate regularly with them.
- Be prepared for a lot of surprises, twists, and turns as your child’s 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. They might have one particular country in mind. 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 Vancouver, British Columbia. It could be a call to go to medical school and then head over to Cambodia to help local slum communities establish better sanitary practices. There are many forms that a missionary call can 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.”
- 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 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. Acknowledge 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.
- 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. Are there any in local churches? If there isn’t a local support group set up for them, why not start one? Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor has an online support group on Facebook for the parents of Servants missionaries. It has been set up as a secure group which means we can talk openly about where our missionaries are posted. It has been a real blessing to be able to share openly and honestly with other parents who have gone through the same struggles AND to be encouragers to each other. 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 travel to visit your missionary child. That means you need to take steps now to be healthy enough to travel, if at all possible.
And here’s a bonus one….
- Remember, you, too, have received a “call.” You have been called to be the parent of a missionary. I am convinced that this is a very real call. You may not be living in the slums with your child, but you are part of your missionary’s support team. If you can see yourself as part of your child’s team, you will be surprised how your heart will start to change. 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 with you for the entire journey.
[Dee Porterfield’s son has been with Servants for the past two and a half years. She runs a confidential Facebook support group for parents of Servants workers. Contact us for more information.]