(We are in the middle of a three week trip to Africa teaching on marriage and parenting. While we have been privileged to do a lot of teaching while here, the Lord has been teaching us a few things along the way!)
For many Christian today, their end goal is that their children would obey and follow God. But do we really parent in a way that makes it easy for that to happen? We’ve been spending time in Africa visiting missionary families from our church. These friends have chosen to give themselves away to further the Gospel in a faraway country. We talked extensively about life on the mission field and what the ramifications were for their family and friends back home. I watched. I wondered. I prayed. What kind of parent would I be if my child felt called to the mission field? I believe in missions. I believe that God calls us to “Go, ye therefore and teach all nations”…but what if He calls MY child, MY grandchildren to missionary life far, far away from me?
The reality hit hard. I knew God was doing a work in my heart and mind. I coach parents all the time about various issues associated with parenting their children, but we have not said much about this issue…preparing to send your child into the mission field. What did I learn? Here are 5 things that stood out – 5 Things I need to do as a parent. These are 5 parenting lessons I learned from Africa!
- I need to enthusiastically support my children no matter where they are. Whether my kids are next door or half way around the world, I want to be connected to them. If they were far away, I would hold to the verse,”God gives back what the locusts have eaten”. I would trust that somehow, time apart and location would not define my relationship with my kids and grandchildren. I would trust God to lead me to ways to stay connected to them in deep and meaningful ways (ie visiting, Skype, praying, pictures, care packages and furloughs).
- I need to trust God in the area of our children’s finances. in joy and generosity we’d financially support our missionary kids as much as possible and we’d boldly encourage others to do the same. I would not be irritated at the struggle of raising support or the time they spend doing it or the stress it causes them. Instead, I would count it as part of their story and anticipate how God would step in to provide for them. I would encourage them to be wise stewards as they endeavor to live out the call on the mission field, not without a plan but believing God would be with them every step of the way.
- I need to live for the line and not the dot. This would be the hardest for me (just being honest). In his book, Dominion, Randy Alcorn explains as believers we have a decision to make. The dot represents our time here on earth; the line our time in eternity with Jesus. We get to choose whether we are going to live for eternity as our goal (the line) or this brief time on earth called life (the dot). Someday I may sit in church and be envious of grandmothers sitting with all their grandchildren week after week. My suffering is changed if I think of an eternity with my grandchildren compared to this short life apart!! It also motivates me to pray without ceasing for each of their spiritual journeys.
- I need to know my children may suffer in this life. We heard stories of missionary children and grandchildren suffering on the mission field. The world is becoming a hostile place for Christians. Historically, many faithful servants have given themselves to missions and paid the ultimate price. This does not go unnoticed or understated to me. I cannot imagine the pain and loss the families of those who have perished have felt. I know there are stories of great redemption and reconciliation such as Jim and Elizabeth Elliott after the loss of Jim’s life. Regardless, I would need the love and support of my family, church, and community to process something of this magnitude. Ultimately, this would challenge my faith like no other. But God is good and His sovereignty will prevail.
- I need to be okay with my grandchildren not fitting in for the sake of the gospel. Missionary kids are often referred to as “third culture” kids. That’s because they don’t feel fully a part of their culture of origin nor do they fully feel a part of the culture they are called to serve; instead they are part of a “third culture”. If those were my grand-kids I would need to offer grace and support as I help them tell their story and answer questions of people who struggle to understand this different life. When missionary kids do come back to the United States, they are often “hidden immigrants” meaning they look, talk and appear to be fully American raised kids but they feel more like an immigrant.
As I reread this blog, my heart again is saddened for a moment. Could it be that God is preparing me for one of our children to be called to missions? Most believers think missions is a wonderful and noble part of God’s plan for the body of Christ – just not MY kids and MY grand-kids. Would you pray today that you would be open to actively supporting your child or children if God calls them into the mission field? Would you support and love on other parents you know whose children are missionaries in far away places? Of course these five reminders often apply to our children that are close to home as well.
Lastly, I am begging you to regularly pray for missionaries you know. They need your prayers. They wonder at times if anyone is thinking about them. Write to them. Send them a care package. Find out how you can care for them on furlough. Missionaries are some of the bravest, most faithful, most selfless, most wonderful people I know. Please love a missionary family today!!