The Compassion Child: Balancing Your Call to Parenthood and Your Call To Ministry
Gabriele is a 17-year-old aspiring writer from Jacksonville, FL. She loves the wit of Charles Dickens, the smell of sharpened pencils, and the charm of coffee shops. She lives her life by a Benjamin Franklin quote: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write the things worth reading or do the things worth writing.”
You want the truth?
It was ugly. It was almost offensive, the way the place looked. Not that there wasn’t something completely captivating about it all. Growing up in the quiet suburbs, the city was indeed a place to be curious about.
If you knew me back then, you would have thought of me as the good Christian girl who was too sheltered for her own good. And if you knew of my recent move to the city, you would have laughed at my naiveté that the city can’t be “that bad” and every person is “a good person.”
If only you would have said a thing or two about what I would see there.
In the urban neighborhoods of Atlanta, I watched sin as it prowled about in dark corners and subtly gnawed at my fingertips. I saw children being abused, mothers searching through trash for food, and fathers shamelessly crying in the streets.
I felt helpless.
I never fancied myself going to a church with drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, thieves, and abusers. I never imagined sitting next to the homeless, the hungry, the lonely, or the broken. But here I was, at the start of junior high school, in one of the highest ranking cities for crime.
My parents heard all the “How Could You’s” regarding putting their children in danger. Along with myself, my younger brother was only three years old when we moved to fulfill God’s calling on our lives. Other parents did not understand how this could be God’s plan. Though it seemed like they were risking the safety of their children, they had nothing to fear.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2) NIV
The life of a missionary is not always pretty. It’s not grandiose, glamorous, or glitzy. However, it can be powerful, surreal, and life-changing. Your sons and daughters have the opportunity to experience what most kids may not have the chance to understand; an opportunity to live a life filled with endless compassion, gentle empathy, and God’s inexplicable wonders. Not every family ministry is the same. You may minister in your hometown, you may travel from place to place, or you may be stationed in a foreign country. Though we find ourselves in different situations, most kids with parents involved in ministry struggle with similar fears, insights and emotions. Here are some things to keep in mind when parenting your children on the mission field.
1. “I never quite fit in.”
Sarah is from Denver, Colorado. Since she was ten years old her family has lived and ministered in Zimbabwe, Africa. While in Zimbabwe, her white skin clashes with her African heart, and while in America, her Zimbabwean customs limit her understanding of the culture of her American friends.
David, who has now been to nine schools in the past five years, is always seen as the “new kid.” Though he enjoys meeting interesting people from all over the world, it is hard for him to build friendships that lie beyond the surface.
-How can I help? Prepare your kids for their new home by teaching them about the culture and customs. While they’re making new friends, also find ways your kids can keep in touch with the friends they miss. If any opportunity arises when they can spend quality time with friends, jump over hurdles to make that happen. Your kids have made many sacrifices for the ministry and need their time to have fun with good friends.
2. “I don’t know where my home is.”
It is not uncommon for missionary kids, especially those who are living overseas or are constantly moving, to feel insecure about where their home is. Though they are from one place, they were raised in another. And while they were raised in another, they are probably now living somewhere entirely new. Their heart belongs to so many places and so many people that they may not have a specific place to call “home.” One of my friends used to tell me “you know you’re a missionary kid when you can’t answer the question ‘where are you from?’”
-How can I help? When you move, give your child a chance to process. Take with you certain things that can easily identify your new location as “home” whether it’s an old teddy bear or a family picture. They say “home is where the heart is” so create family traditions such as a kiss on the cheek before bed, an inside joke or saying, or anything that will bond the family and remind your kids that their home is wherever they are loved.
3. “I need you, too.”
Sometimes when parents are wrapped up in ministry, they forget their ministry toward their family. It seems as though you are pulled in all directions and it can be difficult to prioritize. This can be extremely complicated if you’re working a job along with your ministry. Your kids still need your attention, and not focusing on the family household will cause your ministry to deteriorate.
How can I help? Make every time you spend with your kids count. Even if you only have a couple hours a day, use those two hours as quality family time. Encourage your kids to get involved in the ministry, but do not push. Pray every night as a family and discuss with your kids how they feel. Just listening to your kids will improve your relationship, whether it’s about ministry or life in general. Most importantly, remind your kids that they are loved daily, not only with your words, but with your actions.
The Mission Minded Family
There is a book by Ann Dunagan entitled The Mission Minded Family: Releasing Your Family to God’s Destiny. In this book Dunagan tells us that “family is not an obstacle to ministry; it is a vehicle for ministry.” Through the years, with every new home, I learned to create a “new normal.” Though ministry life can get lonely, hectic, and complicated, I believe ministry and missions has made me the person I am today, and I do not regret any of it.