Parents' Special Role in Missions

by Scott R. Johnson

Mom, Dad, I think God is calling me to be a missionary." Granted, I had already changed my major several times, so I knew what they were thinking: Was this just one more phase I was going through?

If my parents worried or agonized about my decision, they never let on. True to their word, they have been nothing but supportive, proud parents. "When you were young, we dedicated you to the Lord, and recognized that you belonged to Him, and that He could do with you as He pleased," they told me. "If this is where God is leading you, then we will support you all the way."

Often, a family's first real contact with the world of missions is when their child is called to the mission field.

Chelsea Dozier, who is a new missionary with Latin America Mission (LAM) in Costa Rica, with her husband Toms, says that her parents thought at first that their daughter's desire to become a missionary was only "wishful thinking." Nevertheless, as Toms and Chelsea's calling to the field was confirmed, her parents began to share in their excitement and helped in every way. But, "the most important support my parents gave was faithful prayer. I know my parents pray for me. Nothing else can be given credit for our easy transition," writes Chelsea.

Tracey Pieters spent several years as a single missionary in Mexico, all the while enjoying the strong support of her family back home. In Mexico she met her husband, John, who was also a career-minded missionary. "When I got married and told them that I was marrying someone who wanted to spend the rest of his life in missions in Latin America," writes Tracey, "they knew that I had found what my heart desired and gave, and still give, their full support."

Parental Legacy
Many families have encouraged their children to consider missions as a career.

The grandparents of Tami Palumbo, LAM missionary in Mexico City, had wanted to be missionaries in their 30s, but at the time were considered "too old." Nevertheless, they never lost their heart for missions. "My grandmother would always tell us missionary stories when we stayed with her," Tami wrote. "She had always hoped that one of her descendants would be a missionary." Tami and her husband, Mike, are an answer to that grandmother's prayer.

Bonita Byler, LAM missionary in Colombia, also came from a mission-minded family. Bonita's parents had always wanted to be full-time medical missionaries, but things did not work out. Nevertheless, they continued to promote missions from their North American home, and even took their school-age children on several short-term mission trips. Now they have four children, including Bonita, who have been involved, or are working toward mission involvement.

And at last it is the parents' turn. "Now that we are all grown up," says Bonita, "my parents are finally realizing their dream and are going with Africa Inland Mission next January to Uganda to work in church planting and medical missions!"

Sacrificial Love
Much is said about the sacrifices that missionaries make as they leave the comforts of their home culture and embrace a different lifestyle. Yet little is said about the sacrifices made by those they leave behind. Even the most supportive parents must face the fact that their children, and their grandchildren, will be far away. Parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, best friends-anyone who knows and loves the ones being sent, will realize the cost of following Jesus Christ. It requires that they release their loved ones into God's hands in a way they may never have done before. Sometimes it requires the release of hopes and dreams. Being so far removed from loved ones, often over long periods of time, is no small obstacle.

Rebekah Meyerend, LAM missionary in Mexico, comments on the difficulties associated with separation: "I can sometimes see the tears in my dad's eyes after I've been home for a visit and am returning to Mexico," she writes. "I know they worry but they are reluctant to express that, as I prepare to leave long term for the field."

As a nurse practitioner with the Roblealto Child Care Association in Costa Rica, Suzanne Emery relies heavily on prayer support and encouragement as she ministers to the needs of many hurting children. "My mom had always dreamed of my being married, having children, and living close by, sharing all those experiences with me. Through the past years, she has told me that the Lord has helped her see that although that may not be the kind of experience that she shares with me, my dad and she have been enriched by the kind of experience that they do share with me."

Likewise, Sharon Yount's parents encouraged her in spite of the struggles of separation. Sharon and her husband, Shaw, are both physicians working in Honduras with LAM. When they first married, however, they lived in Africa. "Mom and I were always very close," Sharon writes. "This distance was hard on her, but her ready expression was always, Sharon, I'd rather have you on the other end of the earth in the center of the Lord's will than to have you right here with me, but out of the Lord's will.'"

Some Families Are Not Supportive
There is perhaps no other vocation that so strongly challenges the myth of independence as that of the missionary. Very few on the field would be there without support and sacrifice from people back home.

And yet, sad to say, not all missionaries have the support and blessing of their families. For them the call to missions makes Jesus' words resonate more poignantly: "No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age"(Mark 10:29-30). The rewards are very real, but so is the sacrifice.

"Ask the Lord of the harvest," Jesus says in Matthew 9, "to send out workers into his harvest field." Are we willing to go? Are we willing to send?

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