When you think about life on the mission field, there are many factors to consider. When you add kids to the mix, those factors multiply. Questions like, “How will my kids adjust?”, “What on earth am I going to feed them?”, “How does school work there?”, and “How will I manage raising my kids and being a missionary?” can fill the mind of a missionary mom and add extra stress.
Those fears and concerns are real and should definitely be considered and prayed over as you prepare for the field. But instead of stressing over all the ways parenting on the mission field could go wrong, let’s focus on how your job as a mom and your job as a missionary can be used by the Lord to bless you, your kids, and the people you serve.
- Your kids can open doors that would otherwise remain closed. One of the most fascinating things I saw in my time overseas was how the nationals reacted to children (babies in particular). Walking down the street to get food could become an hour-long process because everyone wanted to see the baby – to ask how old he was, to say how much he looked like a doll, to wave and try to get him to smile. When people who were out and about asked questions, we then had the freedom to ask questions back (extra language practice, anyone?). This opened doors for relationships much more quickly and gave us a place to start conversations that could later go deeper. While the fascination with babies may not be true of all locations, the common bond that mothers worldwide experience can help you form friendships and bridge barriers with those in your host country.
- Your kids will have their eyes opened by experiences they would not have had in your passport country. This may seem obvious, but think about the richness of the experiences that can come from living in another country for any amount of time. Your children will make friends who live, speak, and think differently than they do. They will learn how to be resilient as they navigate language barriers, new kinds of food, and (potentially) a different type of schooling than they have done before. While it is important to be aware of the difficulties your children may face, you can also encourage them to remember that Christ is with them and that different does not mean bad. They may discover new sports or hobbies, or find that they really like other cuisines! Most importantly, it will give them a fresh, in-depth perspective on God’s heart for the world.
- Your parenting can be a huge piece of your witness for the Gospel. Parenting is hard, period. Parenting while in a ministry role? Totally different ballgame. You may feel like you are living in a fishbowl as other team members, supporters, and locals watch how you raise your children. Yet at the same time, letting others into your parenting- letting them see how you love, teach, and even discipline your children- can point them to the truth of the Gospel. (John 13:35, Hebrews 12:5-6) There are no perfect parents, just like there are no perfect people. God is referred to in the Bible as both mother and father- different aspects of His care for us give us the model for how to parent our own children. As you continually ask the Lord to guide your parenting, He will help you to model His love and care for your children, reflecting His heart for His children to all those watching.
- Your own relationship with your kids will grow and stretch as you face new things together. For missionary moms, the everyday worry about how your kids are doing is magnified as they face different types of school, language learning, and figuring out how to operate in a new culture. And it is absolutely essential to be aware of what your children are thinking and feeling in order to make sure they know that they are your top priority. But as you all face new things, you can encourage them with the truths of Scripture and find new ways to connect as a family. For example, instead of going to a football game on Friday nights, you go boating or hiking as a family. In order to practice language learning while also helping your kids feel connected to home, you could designate certain rooms of your house as “first language only” and “second language only.” Sharing your own fears and insecurities with your children can remind them that they are not alone in trying to figure things out, as well as point them back to the God who sustains both them and you. And you can celebrate as a family when you see God working in the people around you!
- Your dependence on the Lord will grow as you figure out parenting in a different setting. No matter where you live, parenting requires dependence on the Lord. Complications on the field, such as learning how to cook with different supplies and materials, working through water or electricity shortages, and finding out where to buy the things your family needs can make things that used to be easy feel overwhelming. Worrying about your children adjusting while trying to learn a new language, make friends with your team, and meet the locals may seem impossible at times. But no matter where the Lord calls you, He is present with you there. David, in Psalm 61:2 (KJV) wrote, “From the end of the earth I will cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Just as David did, you can call out to the Lord when the pressures of mom life and missionary life are too much. He is faithful to answer and to give grace upon grace upon grace.
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It would be wrong to pretend that life as a missionary and a mom will be simple or easy. On its own, each role is complex. But each role holds the potential to bear much fruit, as long as you are continually abiding in Christ. (John 15:5) He can use you powerfully in both roles to disciple your children and to show the world around you His heart for people, if you will continually rely on Him as your source of strength and grace for both.