I love missions. I love meeting the missionaries that come through our church. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing what God is doing around the world for the glory of His great Name. Missions must happen. It must happen globally and locally. Because lost people need Jesus. Because God must be glorified throughout the earth. Because around the throne in heaven there will be a countless multitude made up of every tribe, every language, and every nation. Hear me on this…I love missions and missionaries. If the Lord called us to the mission field tomorrow I would shout Hallelujah and start packing.
Missions has been my life. My parents were missionaries from when I was five years old until I graduated from high school. We did the whole deputation thing, traveling all over the United States raising support. We were in several churches a week. We were part of one mission conference after another. We met a lot of people and had a lot of unique experiences. Most of those experiences were wonderful, and some of them, if we are being completely honest here, were totally weird.
I have threatened to write a book for churches called “What NOT to do to your missionaries.” : ) I am guessing it would not be a best seller.
In spite of the occasional bizarre or slightly mortifying church experience, there were so many things about being in a missionary family that were amazing. We had so much fun traveling all over the United States together. We met so many different people. Most of them were amazing, and some….wow. They were …memorable for other reasons. There were precious moments where we felt so incredibly loved and blessed by a church, and there were awkward moments like when a lady loudly points out that I am wearing the exact same dress that I am wearing on the prayer card picture. Yes Ma’am. Thanks for pointing that out…in front of all these people. Or the time when a pastor invited our family to his home for dinner and failed to inform his wife. Watching her glare at her husband and slam around the kitchen while throwing together a tot casserole was an awkward experience, to say the least. Dollar menu anyone?
I would not change my upbringing for anything though. I love the childhood that God chose for me. It was a gift, and it has impacted me deeply.
Yet, along with all the amazing gifts of the missions life, there come some sacrifices as well. Most of these sacrifices are pretty obvious. Missionaries live on different continents than their relatives. Missionary kids grow up not knowing their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. It can be years between visits to family. Missionaries often experience culture shock when transitioning onto the mission field, and it can be very hard to adapt to a foreign culture.
One of the most difficult parts of missionary life is the goodbyes. For us, it can feel like one airport scene after another.
Those are the fairly obvious challenges that come with a life in missions, but I want to address the losses that run even deeper, and are often unseen. Nobody talks about these at the missions conference. These concepts make people feel uncomfortable and sometimes even angry. These are the losses of the missionary kids themselves. They are very hard to see and often they do not manifest until the MK goes off to college, leaving their “host culture” (mission field) and coming to school in the United States, their “passport culture.” My purpose in writing these posts is to help individuals and churches be more equipped to minister to MKs themselves. We need to be sensitive to what they are going through, especially as they transition into the United States. You may think I am blowing this out of proportion, or say, “well I know an MK and he/she is has never mentioned anything like that.” Keep in mind that one of our fortes is assessing our cultural surroundings and, like a chameleon, adapting as well as we can to try to fit in (externally).
Imagine being essentially amputated right out of your own life. Being cut off and separated, permanently, from everything you have ever known and loved…from the people and places that made you who you are. That is called “graduation” for an MK. Then imagine being thrown into a foreign culture where you look just like everyone else, so nobody will give you the grace they would give to a foreigner. Top that off with starting college by yourself, trying to learn American culture as fast as you can and trying to make some of the most significant decisions of your life, such as your career path, or choosing your mate, all the while grieving the loss of pretty much everything you have ever known. An MK can be hurting and not even have the words for what is happening to them. They may not even know how to ask for help because they do not understand what is happening to them. That was my experience. My prayer is that God uses these posts and video interview links to alert the church to an area of missions that needs some attention and needs the ministry of the local church.
There should not be MKs who have to sit on college campuses over Christmas break or summer while they watch all of their friends and classmates stream off campus to be with their families. That is not ok. There should not be MKs who wait out Thanksgiving in their dorm rooms because their families are on another continent.
There are things MKs go through that are inevitable… pain that just comes with the territory, but if there is ANYTHING we can do, as believers, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to soften the blow of that, then we need to rise up and be the hands and feet of Jesus. We need to minister to our missionaries’ children. If there was one request I would make if I were a missionary parent with a grown child in the States I would say, “Please look out for my child when I am not there to do that. Send them a care package at college. Adopt them into your family. Treat them like another one of your kids. MKs are used to having “stand in” relatives, often calling other missionaries Uncle and Aunt. Be that for them here in the States. Ask them how their hearts are doing. Let them talk about where they are at and just listen. They have so much to process.”
I am going to post several more segments on this topic. I will be including links to articles written by other MKs and also some video interviews that I think do a good job of covering this from different perspectives within the MK world. Please watch this first video link below.