Missionary calling and family concerns
By AfriGO Team
You have been called to serve as a missionary, but family concerns threaten to pull you the other way. How do you resolve the dilemma? We have compiled advice from mission leaders to address some common family issues that arise when you decide to serve as a missionary.
Question: I have been called as a missionary in a far land, but my old parents are afraid for my life and safety. They also need my presence and financial support. They prefer that I don’t go. How do I address their concerns and have their blessing?
This is a question of obeying God and obeying parents. You can’t disobey God’s Word that says, “Whoever keeps his life will lose it, but he who gives it up for the Lord will find it.” (Jn. 12:25). At the same time, you cannot neglect your parents and leave for the mission field. Obeying and honouring parents is part of the Gospel, and also an act of worship.
The concerns your old parents have are real, but you serve the Creator of the universe who says the hairs on our heads are numbered. He can take care of you and your family, and ensure your security better than any human can. Help them to understand that it is God who watches over us and keeps us safe. Encourage them to support you by praying for your safety. Even if the worst happens and you die on the mission field, it is better to die in obedience to the Lord, than to die in disobedience. Give your family practical evidence that you’ll not be careless with your life just because God is going to take care of you. Tell them about the measures you have in place, such as the practical skills and trainings you have acquired to protect yourself in case you’re in danger.
Assure them that technology will keep you connected, so they won’t miss your presence much. Diligently stay in touch with them regularly, even if it means travelling to where you can have access to good internet for a video call.
The Bible says if we don’t take care of our relatives, we are worse than infidels. Whether we are in the mission field or not, it is our responsibility to care for them; serving as a missionary does not mean reneging on this duty. Seek God’s direction and put together realistic plans to care for their needs. You can arrange with your mission leaders about raising support for their upkeep, or get someone to look after them while you are away. If your parents are still adamant, find respected Christian leaders to speak with them. Pray through all these steps, and be patient. Ensure that your parents are reasonably at peace before you leave for the field.
Question: My extended family in the village contributed to sponsor my education to university level because I was a promising student. They expected me to get a good job afterwards and take care of the younger members of our family. Now I feel called to be a missionary and I have to raise my own support. Should I attend to my family or respond to the call?
Attend to God’s call. He says to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness and all that the Gentiles desire will be added to you. The Bible commands us to take care of our relatives, but this expectation from the extended family is quite unrealistic. What is the guarantee that after completing school, you will get a job that pays enough to take care of everyone? You may also be starting a family of your own.
This doesn’t mean neglecting your family though. You can still take care of them by praying for them, giving good counsel (it’s not always about money alone), and providing for them materially and financially. Prayerfully work through the process, and let them know what you can handle. Maybe you can take care of one dependent member for about five years, or raise seed money to set some of them up in a trade or vocation. Respectfully, give them the assurance that you would do what the Bible instructs you to do, but also let them know you cannot take care of everybody.
Demonstrate to them that ministry is a worthy vocation. Sometimes our own sloppy attitude in presenting missionary work gives the wrong impression and causes them to worry. The Lord says a worker deserves his wages. Explain to them that you would be paid; you may not know how, but you will receive your reward. Don’t be arrogant about it. Humbly walk through the layers of authority in your family, and pray through the whole process.
Question: Our children were born and raised in a foreign mission field where they learnt the language and customs of a different people group. Their only interactions with other family members have been scanty online meetings. We are preparing to bring them home for the first time in 15 years. How can we make it a comfortable and fulfilling time for them and the rest of the family?
Find out if there are other couples in a similar situation and discuss what they have discovered to be helpful. In the meantime, prepare the children early on what to expect when you go to visit. One issue that can cause pain for the family back home is when missionary kids are unable to speak the mother tongue. The family may feel that their culture is being forgotten or pushed aside in favour of others. To help the situation, teach your children the proper greetings, gestures, and words with which to address grandparents and other family members. Talk to them about your culture—food, language, family setting, economic activities— both the positive and negative aspects to avoid culture shock. Bring their attention to points of variance and intrigue between your home culture and the mission field culture.
Help the family back at home to understand that your children are third culture kids, so if interactions with them are not smooth, they should be considerate. You can also orient the family at home about the setting your children have grown up in, so they can empathize and be supportive. Plan the visit home, so it is a purposeful one. Work through what you will spend your time doing, who you will visit, places you would go to, and the experiences you would want your children and your family to have together.
The tension between missionary calling and such family issues is a common experience for African missionaries. If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Bring your concerns before the Lord in prayer and seek godly counsel and encouragement from those who understand this terrain. Do not hesitate to ask for help from Christian brothers and sisters who can offer it. God knew what you would face, and yet He called you. Trust Him to help you to obey His Word concerning your calling and your obligations to your family. It may not be an easy road, but God is faithful.