If you’re just joining us, you’ll want to read part 1 of this little series here.
We’d all like the approval and support of our families, right? We all want to make hard choices, especially about missions, confident that our parents and siblings will be right there with us every step of the way. We want to be Samuel, given to the Lord’s service by grateful parents. We’d like to be Samson, brought into the world with the understanding that Mom and Dad would prep us for ministry. Heck, we would even accept Gideon’s fate, supported by an idol-worshipping father who at least stood up for his son.
Approval is the Grail of Missionary Families.
What does approval look like? Like rejection, it exists along a continuum, and it often a work in progress.
“Well, I didn’t care for the decision, but I see it makes you happy.”
“Your mother and I raised you to be independent and make your own decisions; so while I wish you had picked a different life, you’ve done what we taught you to do.”
“I really don’t see why you have to go off and …..ooh – grandbabies! What were we talking about?”
I remember when Stacy and I first made the decision to leave the United States for work. We prayed for weeks, and finally agreed to move to the Gaza Strip as part of a secular job (a.k.a., “real job”). When I finally told my mother, she instantly burst into tears and refused to discuss it. Within a week, she handed me a list of visa requirements and packing suggestions that she had put together based on her phone calls to the Israeli consulate. Primed by that international experience, we later responded to His call to missions. My mother said, “I always dreamed of being a missionary myself, but it didn’t work out. Then I dreamed of having my kids and grandkids around me as I aged, enjoying Sunday lunch together. Guess I shouldn’t have filled your head with stories of Lottie and Hudson.”
When Stacy, pregnant with the family’s first grandchild, informed her mother of our intent to follow a call to missions, Granny-to-be refused to discuss the matter and would deliberately change the subject every time it came up. Loud proclamations of future plans for the First-Born Grandchild crowded out ministry and the IMB. A year later, after paperwork, childbirth, and prayer, Stacy reluctantly requested babysitting services from Granny so we could attend a candidates’ meeting at IMB offices. To our everlasting surprise, her mother excitedly agreed and plied us with every imaginable question once we returned.
My friend Larry hosts a volunteer team annually that his sister puts together.
Brad’s parents visit annually and bring tons of gifts for their grandchildren – adopted from Brad’s field of service.
Grant’s situation is unique: his dad wants to debate strategy ad nauseum. Grant feels challenged every step of the way, but realizes that the debate comes in the context of approval.
Approval does not always imply comprehension, though.
“Well, I mean, I understand what you’re doing and all, but why can’t you do it here? I’m just trying to figure it out.”
“I’m proud that you are making such a committment, but why you? Couldn’t the IMB let you stay here and send someone without kids to these places?”
And unlike my friend Brad, approval does not always mean missionaries are included the doings of their stateside families. Families are not static organisms. They grow and change and sometimes missionaries return from the field to find that there is no longer room for them. Empty spaces are filled by the ebb and flow of human existence, not by anger or bitterness of those left behind. As difficult as it is, there are harder experiences.
Still to come…
Call to International Missions, Part 3: Coping with Both Rejection and Approval