Parents of Missionaries
Parents of missionaries are the unsung heroes of the Great Commission. They sacrifice a lot for their kids to go to the mission field. An additional loss is being separated from their grandkids. We applaud missionaries who are willing to go, but that means others will be left behind. I didn’t fully appreciate the sacrifice until becoming a grandparent myself.
There are basically three kinds of parents of missionaries:
1. Willing: They want their kids to be missionaries and wholeheartedly endorse the idea.
2. Neutral: This is not their first choice but don’t stand in the way.
3. Antagonistic: They resist the idea and cause stress in the situation.
For all three there is a common denominator: the pain of separation. In some ways, it may be easier to go than to stay. It is heart-rending to be at the airport as parents say goodbye to their children and grandchildren who will be living 5000 miles away for the next four years. They will not be there for birthdays, Christmases, and family vacations. They will not get to experience the joy of watching grandchildren grow up. There is going to be a huge void in their lives.
It does take commitment and surrender to be a missionary but it is often the parents and grandparents that suffer silently. We should stand up and applaud them. We don’t talk about this subject much but Jesus did. He put it this way:
“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 (Matthew 10:37-39 KJV).
“And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31 KJV).
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62 KJV).
We don’t really know how to process or apply what Jesus said, but my parents did. As missionaries in primitive Africa, they were forced to send us to boarding school from 7 years old on up through high school. The school year was mostly spent apart from parents. At the beginning of the semester they would either put us on an airplane or drive us themselves to the campus, then back to the mission station to continue their ministry.
Some would criticize that generation for doing so, but the generation that preceded my parents left their children in the States with relatives for four years at a time. That is unfathomable to most of us and seems to border on irresponsibility and child cruelty. There was however several generations of missionaries who took Jesus at His word and made the sacrifice. They knew that family was good, but it was not God.
This sacrifice is not without precedent. God is not asking us to do something that He did not do. It is as basic as John 3:16. It is the foundation of the gospel and our salvation that a Father was willing to be separated from the Son. Thus it is not an unprecedented request from God when He tells us to put it all on the line.
The Apostle Paul was not married but his attitude was: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
There will be a lot of empty chairs around the table the next holiday season. Missionaries will be separated from family by big oceans and thousands of miles. Parents and grandparents of missionaries will have a void in their hearts. The vacant seats around the table will be a tribute to the sacrifice some are willing to make for the gospel.
It takes commitment to be a missionary, and it is also a sacrifice for those who are left behind. Some of the heroes in missions are those who have never gone. They stay home but let family members go. We applaud those who are willing to go. We salute those who stay behind.
This is not all negative. God pays well. Jesus said: “And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall receive manifold more in this present time, and in the age to come life everlasting” (Luke 18:29-30 KJV).