Missionary call and family – an “Ubuntu” option
By AfriGO Team
Must a missionary abandon his family to truly answer God’s call to reach the lost? Across the continent, a new generation of African missionaries is going out, and their families do not always understand the reasons. It can appear selfish, especially when the family has sacrificed to provide education and care, expecting the rewards later. It can look like abandonment when the elderly are left alone without their grown children to care for them.
The missionary call
Not everyone is called to missions in the same way. Some are called in a spectacular fashion like Paul’s Damascus experience. For others, it is simply a growing conviction that God desires a different direction for them. Whatever the path, a person or a couple eventually comes to the decision that God wants them to go out and minister. This should be confirmed in consultation with trusted and mature spiritual advisors. Our first edition of AfriGO was all about calling. Read it here: https://bit.ly/42KawyR
At this point, a family is informed about the decision, which may result in a confirmation of their worst fears: their child will become a beggar, could be killed in a strange land, or have children who will never know their grandparents. That initial educational investment is now seen as a poor one, indeed. Unfortunately, the local pastor sometimes can be one of the biggest obstacles to the would-be missionary, with protests about local needs, doubt of the call, or his own fears about monies leaving the church for a foreign land. These reactions are deeply distressing for someone who has already struggled, perhaps for years, about God’s mission plans for them.
Ubuntu and missions
Let’s consider an alternative using the African philosophy of Ubuntu. It is related to the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which means that a person is a person through other persons. Can we not apply this to the missionary call? Could it be that God has directed the call to both the individual and the community around him?
Dr. Dennis Kilama, in an *article for The Gospel Coalition Africa, comments: “Recovering Ubuntu in the Church would go some way towards recovering the New Testament vision for Christian community. This is the attitude that whatever you do impacts others: what affects one affects all. Success of the group is above that of the individual.”
What if missionary success is considered the success of the whole community rather than the success of one individual labouring in the harvest field? Let’s picture a community that hears God’s call of their beloved. They pray for confirmation, see that he is properly trained, and is well-supported while serving in mission. They welcome their beloved when he is back home to rest, and encourage him while he prepares to return. The community gathers around the family members who, in the missionary’s absence, require assistance, whether financial or otherwise. Would this not be a real expression of Ubuntu? Read how Grace Djanie’s* family and community did exactly that.
I have heard stories of parents who were against their children’s missionary call, but my experience was different. When I first informed my parents, my Dad smiled. My Mum said, “It is a privilege to serve the Lord.” They never questioned my intentions or discouraged me. There were moments I was unsure if this was God’s will, but they were always available to talk and pray with me when I needed it.
Before I came to the mission field, I formed an intercessory group to pray for me every week on Zoom. My parents took part in it consistently. When I left for the field, my brother coordinated it in my absence. I resigned from my job to prepare for the field, and my old parents took me in for a whole year. They took good care of me and never complained about my inability to support with the upkeep of the home. They rather gave me a substantial amount of money for the field.
About 80 people attended my Commissioning Service. My whole family was there—my parents, my brother, my sister, her husband and their three children. My friends, old school mates, church members, former work colleagues, and mission leaders were also present. They spoke words of affirmation over me and blessed me. A missionary couple gave me a suitcase. One friend came home to help me pack my luggage. A business owner added me to his payroll to send me monthly support as one of his workers, including statutory payments towards my retirement benefits—this was a miracle!
On the day of departure, my family saw me off at the airport. The support from my family, friends, and the Christian community strengthened me to accomplish my missionary call. My Dad’s words at my Commissioning Service describe the heart behind the immense support I received—“Just like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we feel so honoured that the Lord chose our family for this great task.”