Choosing Missions ... for My Children
Before I became a parent, my main perspective about raising a missionary family came from my positive experiences in the Philippines. I loved being a missionary kid (MK) and to me, the Philippines was home in every sense of the word. As I became an adult, I realized that not every MK is grateful to have grown up overseas, for reasons as varied as the landscape of loving it. Instead, for them, the only way they would use the word “positive” in the same sentence as “missions” is to say “I’m positive that I don’t ever want to go into missions (because of XYZ)!” Now that Megan (5) and Micah (2) call us “Mommy & Daddy” the decisions which were once no-brainers ... from TV viewing to swimming in deep water, from schedules to physical activity, from road trips to overseas missions ... are more than just split-second decisions. We now have two additional little minds, bodies & souls to consider. That is why, for us, the decision to go into missions and to serve the Lord in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was not one we made flippantly, but neither was it a decision we faced with fear.
There are many reasons for which I am thankful God saw fit to give me a childhood overseas. Some are:
- a greater appreciation for other cultures, nations, people groups
- a deeper understanding of God’s heart for the nations
- a connectedness with many people who span the entire globe
- fun traveling the world, new experiences/adventures
- preparedness for deep spiritual growth
- a love for the gospel, resulting from seeing many lives transformed by it on a regular basis
- appreciation for those who serve God sacrificially, with their families & careers in a cross-cultural setting
- learning flexibility and resilience with the constancy of change
- an opportunity to learn about God’s provisions in a way different from which American “comfort” culture shelters us
Regardless of where you are in your missions journey ... the burden of choosing missions for your children can weigh heavily upon your heart at times. Having walked this road of choice for over a year now, here are some truths which encourage our hearts as we consider our childrens’ future as MKs:
- If God is calling us to missions, then He is calling family who are under our care, too. If God is calling us to go in obedience, He will not call our children to stay. That doesn’t mean that going will be easy on everyone, but if we are a household of faith, we must all obey. When God called Abram to leave his homeland and, in faith, follow Him to an unknown place, Abram didn’t leave his family behind. His expression of trust in God included risking his family’s comfort. God’s promise of blessing extended to his children and his children’s children. Neither God’s calling, nor His promises, were reserved for Abram alone (Genesis 12:1-5). God’s plan for us to serve Him here and overseas includes His plan for our children and their childrens’ children.
- God has promised never to leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He has also promised to guide us into all truth by His Holy Spirit (John 16:13). This means that no matter where we are, God is always with us and our children and He will speak to us about what is best for our family. If we are walking with Him, we can trust the calling and the peace He gives us about a decision to raise our children in another culture, for the sake of the gospel.
- Safety is not dependent on location, but on God’s sovereign provision. When are our children truly “safe?” Is it when I can keep them from physical danger? What about moral or cultural traps which are just as prolific in the U.S. as other dangers overseas? Hesitating to go into missions because something negative might happen to our children is understandable, but it is also short-sighted because no parent can control everything that happens to a child. I currently reside in the suburbs of Colorado, just a few miles from the halls of Columbine High School. Whenever I remember that story, I am reminded that there is no such thing as a “safer” place than another. It’s part of our job to try to protect our children. However, the safest place for any of us is the center of God’s will ... even if that means difficult, or terrible, things may happen. Am I looking at this through my eyes, or through the eyes of a God who knows all and is sovereign? If we were to begin living our lives only on the basis of God’s guarantee of 100% protection from anything painful or difficult ... then Earth is probably the wrong planet for us.
- We need to remember that no one MK’s experience on the mission field will automatically predetermine our childrens’ experiences. This applies to circumstances which are both positive and negative. Every child and family situation is unique. While we can draw wisdom from others’ journeys, we cannot use those stories as predictors for our own faith walk, nor as excuses to delay obedience to God.
- We need check our motives and lay them before the Lord. Going into missions to “protect” my children from our home culture is just as wrong a motive as refusing to consider missions because of its potential pitfalls and dangers. The introduction of sin in the world guaranteed us a life of living a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). That battle still exists and does take place both here and overseas. The right question is - how are we preparing our children to fight in the battle? If this issue of protection is what’s holding us back from stepping out in faith to God’s call, it’s distrust and disobedience, at its core. Failure to trust in God, while an understandable part of the human experience, is never excusable in His eyes. It is sin (James 4:17).
- No commitment is irreversible. Experiences are, certainly, but our choices and decisions are not necessarily unstoppable. Jordan and I know that we can act only upon what God has revealed to us at the moment. If, by some chance, it becomes apparent to us that we need to head down a different path, by the grace of God, that is what we’ll do. If it ever comes to that, we know we will not be the first missionaries to stay home, or come home, for family reasons.
- We must ask ourselves what our end desire is for our children. If it is to love God with their heart, soul, mind and strength, then how is God providing for us to teach them that, and in which context does HE want them to learn all that? If it is to be an easier life, then we would probably have decided against missions. The greatest thing we (the Footes) can teach our children is to glorify God by loving and obeying Him. Since He has called us to glorify Him through cross-cultural missions work, we desire to share that life (the joys and the challenges) with the two people who mean the most to us.
I loved being an MK and my husband and I both look forward to raising our children as MKs. Yes, it was difficult to travel and to be on a pedestal at times. Our children will most likely struggle with those issues at one time or another. My family wasn’t perfect (still isn’t). Our family unit certainly is far from perfection too. However, most of the issues we faced (and will face) as a family weren’t necessarily related to being a missionary family as much as they were related to being human. It’s not easy walking the missions road some of the time (and some would argue, most of the time), but by the grace of God, it is worth it. For us, the benefits of raising MKs far outweigh the risks, if we missionary parents handle the process with humility and love, submitting ourselves obediently to the guidance of the Holy Spirit every step of the way.
WorldVenture Missionary Appointee to Buenos Aires
online journal: still in the chrysalis
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