This series of articles have been adapted from the Missions On Point podcast episodes addressing the same issues. You can find them starting with episode 73 here.
I'm starting a five-part series, especially for family members of missionaries, but it also applies to those that love and care about their missionary friends and relatives of all types, and it has a special implication for the local church as the sending agency of the Lord to send these people out on a mission work, to take care of the family members and friends of missionaries who are left behind. There's also some practical instruction here for the missionaries themselves in how to nurture that relationship with their family and friends and church back home. I could call it the Left Behind series, but you would be thinking of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' long series from 1995 and on that is purely fiction.
This situation is not fiction. It's real, and I think I'll call this series Help My Family Member is a missionary, but it certainly extends beyond the immediate family of the missionary going to the field. It extends to all those that love and care for their missionaries as they leave for international service. Part one of the series is getting over the initial shock, getting over the initial shock. The very first thing I want to do is go to the scriptures, Matthew nine, the end verses, and Matthew 10, give us some insight into the situation. Matthew 9:35-38 says this, "and Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
So just briefly note that Jesus says to pray and that these laborers would be sent out to his harvest. The term for send out is not the usual term with a root word 'pempo' like 'propempo' to send out or to send forward, it's 'ekballo' which is much more forceful. It's to eject or to expel, to send away, to thrust out. It says "The Lord of the harvest is the one sending out laborers into his harvest." When the Lord calls and appoints laborers for his harvest, the result is a forceful thrusting out to the work. This sets up Matthew chapter 10, in which Jesus actually sends his 12 apostles out to do similar kinds of ministry in the cities and villages of Israel, and he instructs them saying that in verse 16, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." He's telling them that they will not be warmly received. He says that officials where they go will be against them and bring them before the courts.
He says in verse 21, "Brother will deliver brother over to death and the Father, his child and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death and you'll be hated by all for my sake, but the one who endures to the end will be saved." He tells them, "Do not fear, your Father in heaven knows you intimately and cares for you and will protect you." He says in verse 34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
These words no doubt, are not the comforting encouraging words you would expect to hear from a Missions on Point podcast, but they do have a sense of the reality of the forcefulness and compulsion of God sending someone out to the mission field and how they must turn their back on the desires of their heart in order to serve him and his purposes Above all else. It is a commitment to become a missionary. The flip side of that is not all missionaries are going with pure motives and clear vision.
As humans on earth we just don't understand the full depths of motivations and attitudes of our heart, and we are so dependent upon God's grace and wisdom, including the wisdom of others to help guide in our relationships, particularly when it seems like those leaving to go to the field have committed to breaking up relationships as we know and love it, and creating a whole new paradigm that we have to come to grips with in the reality of them being away from us for long periods of time. So part of the initial shock of our friend or family member preparing and then leaving to go to the field is a grieving process. Unless we've walked with them through the thought and decision process of their going to the field, we may find it a great surprise. That in itself is a shock. Then our imagination takes over and we feel like nothing is going to be the same again. We may never see our friend or loved one again.
So just take a note, church member or church leader, those people in your congregation who may have a close friend or family member go to the mission field, are going through this kind of emotional turmoil and grief process. You can and should come alongside them and encourage them and help them in practical ways to find the best way to relate, to communicate with and to extend their relationship across the miles to help their missionary friend or loved one. Let me tell you, it's hard enough for a missionary to have to leave home, but to realize that their family or friends are in anguish over their departure doesn't make it easier for them to begin to acculturate and learn a new language and serve the Lord in a foreign land. It's even harder and more gut-wrenching to the missionary if their family, their parents, their grandparents, their cousins, their friends that they grew up with, they're dearly beloved friends that they hang out with as young adults or as middle-aged adults, whatever the case may be, to oppose them in going to the field because they just can't imagine life without having that friendship close by.
The vivid and negative imagination of parents goes wild thinking they won't know their son or daughter's friends. They won't know what life is like there. They won't get to know their grandchildren. They won't be around for holidays and birthdays and all of those things, and it feels like an emotionally crushing burden for them to imagine that happening in their family. It's certainly not what they imagined when their child was growing up in their home. Even Christian parents who know and appreciate missions can go into a traumatic emotional state when it's their children that are going. Church members, friends, church leaders, you need to be aware of that and you need to step up, ask them how they're doing and ask them again how they're really doing so that you can minister to them and encourage them and help them.
Help them to see the positive side of their child and their child's family being overseas, serving the Lord where they are. If friends and family linger on the dark side, it's going to be really difficult. But if they look at the bright side, what they see is someone who knows and loves and obeys the Lord to serve him, taking the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to people who are in darkness so that they would know the gospel, so that they would have a church planted in their midst so that they would worship the Lord Jesus Christ and share with their fellow countrymen, their neighbors, friends and relatives, the beauty of Christ coming to pay the price for their sins rising again from the dead, interceding at the right hand of the Father for God's chosen family. We would hope that Christian parents would be supportive in every way for their child and their child's family to go to the mission field as workers in the harvest.
Sometimes though either the father or the mother or both are needing some work, they may be opposed, whether strongly or lightly opposed. The missionary needs to take real caution in how they work with them and encourage them to see the bright side, as we said. Few Christians have the privilege, the calling, the opportunity, the preparation to actually live in another culture, learn a language, learn to love those people for the sake of Christ and the gospel, and to see God raise up a people for himself from among those people that they're going to. For the missionary, it is an awesome and rare privilege and opportunity to serve the Lord in that way. They certainly are not helped by a parent or a loved one who is clingy and possessive and demanding of their love and attention while they're trying to acculturate and settle into a different environment where they're serving the Lord.
So the obvious application is if you are that loved one, stop it. Don't be that way. Try to learn how to be supportive and encouraging and positive about the good things of them going overseas, serving the Lord, living that life. But if you're a friend of that one or a church leader of that one, you need to be sensitive to that need and help them overcome those obstacles in their hearts so that they don't become idols and they actually become stepping stones, if you will, toward having a good attitude and a helpful, constructive, supportive attitude toward their children or friend that's serving overseas. If you are at that point of need, seek some help. Find a good friend to pray with and spill out your emotions and before the Lord accept his grace and mercy to help you overcome these kinds of emotional issues. Sure there may be tears, but don't let it turn into bitterness and resentment.
Your child does not hate you, but they love the Lord and they're being obedient to the Lord. It would be easier to stay home, but they have chosen to follow God's leading and do the tough thing for his sake and for his glory. There are some helps out there. There are a couple of good books related to this. I'm just going to refer to three real quickly. Parents of Missionaries by Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz. Another book is Long Distance Grandma: Staying Connected Across the Miles. It's not specifically for missionaries, but it's practical and makes sense for being separated by many miles from your grandchildren. Another one is The Globally Mobile Family's Guide to Educating Children Overseas. Again, it's not specifically and only for missionaries, but it is a help to the missionary family in making good educational choices for their children while they're overseas, which is one of the major issues that missionaries face with young school-aged children.
So as a family member or close friend that's struggling with your missionary going overseas, find help. And if you are someone who knows that person who's struggling, initiate some help to them. Meet with them, talk to them, have them open up about the challenges that they're facing in their heart and mind and help guide their thoughts to be confident in the Lord and his good care for them, as we have read partly in Matthew 10.
Stay tuned to the rest of this series. There's lots of practical help for you when you feel left behind.