Five Things to Consider When Your Child Wants to Be a Missionary

friday_fave_five_tamara-smallI 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.”

If you’d like to read other Fave Five blog posts, visit Susanne’s site here.

  • What a fantastic list! I’m so glad you wrote these down. I know they’ll be helpful to many people. My daughter used to says she wanted to be a missionary and I admit that the thought alone scared me to death. Sounds like you’re a fantastic mother. Blessings to you!

  • Sandy@ Jesus and Dark Chocolate

    Wow you gave me a whole new perspective and things to think about. Also, you gave me new insight into what a parent goes through. Good info.
    BTW……we are twin bloggers. 🙂

  • Such great points. Parents of missionaries have it difficult, its a special calling all of its own.

  • Very good post. Though we say we want our children to be wherever God calls them, if He does call them away, it can be harder than we thought.

  • thank you for this post as the way my children are thinking is that God is calling them to service.

  • I was one of the children who felt called, moved 10,000 mile away, took all my parents’ grandchildren with me.

    Thank you for writing this and for your ministry to parents of missionaries.

    I would add (from my years of observation as a missionary) that two of the biggest roadblocks to actual missionary service are student debt and lapses of commitment that include negative life changing actions. Arrest records and child support payments are real non-starters. Parents can have a lot of influence on the decisions their children make and it’s ok to remind them of their ‘call’.

    All the years we lived overseas not one of our family members ever came to visit us, nor did any sending church representative, and we always hoped a family member would come visit. I know things have changed dramatically since we left RI in 1990 in terms of flight cost and availability. I agree that visits by family can not be underestimated in helping both the missionary and the family, particularly the parents.

    After returning to the US and caring for my aging parents, a dozan years later we again entered missionary work, in the inner city of Los Angeles. I certainly understand your son’s ministry–the drug dealers, pimps, gunshots, helicopters, sense of hopelessness of many people living there, and the great joy in making an eternal difference in those places.

  • What excellent suggestions for the parent of a young person being called to the mission field.

  • Dee,

    I have a Google alert for parents of missionaries, and that’s how I found your blog. Your advice for parents is right on! I see that you’re on the NNPOM Yahoo group too; it’s a pleasure to “meet” you this way as well.

    Do you have a group of POMs that you meet with? Would love to know more about that if you do.

    I might do a list of POM blogs in a newsletter sometime. OK to include yours in the list?

    Blessings,

    Diane Stortz
    NNPOM

  • Pingback: POM bloggers « Connected and Connecting()

  • Karen King

    My daughter just told me she is wanting to go on mission trips. She is 20 years old, soon to be 21. I am NOT excited about this whole ordeal because to me, missions means far away. She is going to start by going to a 1-day trip locally with a church in town. I’m okay with this but I know it is going to lead to more. Her father is terminally ill, we are not financially stable, and I don’t know what the future holds. It scares me to think I won’t have my biggest support with me during troubled times. We are a Christian family and I know I’m being selfish but I’m just feeling the void already and she hasn’t even left. I know God has a trememendous call on her life but she feels I don’t support her in anything and I know that’s not true but I just am having trouble letting go. I need God to help me let go and entrust her life to Him. I’m just scared and feeling a roller coaster of emotions that I don’t like.

    • Dee

      Hi Karen,
      Just saw your comment and I wanted to get back to you. Believe me, I know how you are feeling. I have been there. When I wrote that post, my son and his wife (and our grandchild) were preparing to move to Asia answering God’s call. I wasn’t happy about it at all. Things have changed a lot since then. They DID move, I pined, wept, prayed, and finally made the trip around the world to spend 5 weeks with them, and then God did a miraculous thing. He brought them back to the States. My daughter-in-law had gotten pregnant overseas and she has high-risk pregnancies so they had to return for her final trimester. That, coupled with the fact that their first child was failing to thrive over there and a sense that God was closing that door and opening up a new chapter in their ministry, changed the focus of their calling so that now my son is in seminary while still working with the urban poor and serving as the North American director of his mission group. I’m thrilled that they are in the U.S. but I know that there are many mothers’ grown children who are not and are faithfully serving far from home. I’d encourage you to go to this website: http://www.pomnet.org/ (It’s a website for the National Network of Parents of Missionaries.) They have wonderful resources for parents just like you and me. They also have an email group of women who are so supportive of each other –many who are in the same place you are right now. You might want to sign up for that group and let them minister to you. Also, I wanted to let you know that I moved my blog to http://oh4abook.blogspot.com/ several years ago and if you want to pop over there, you can do a search and find posts related to my son and my travels overseas (check around Dec.2010) and you’ll get a sense of my journey as a mom of a missionary. And one more word of encouragement….your daughter is still young. She might very well find that her sense of calling changes several times yet. A short-term mission trip or two might be enough to satisfy her desire to serve OR it might solidify it. You just don’t know. I DO know that when God is calling them, there’s not much we can do. But we can still let Him know that we are hurting.

      • Karen King

        Dee, thank you sooo much. I have definitely thought about the fact that she is still young and I know that I have to just let God have his way in her life. I appreciate you input and will definitely take it all to heart. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

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