7 Things I Want to Tell My Missionary Parents

Some while ago, my mom e-mailed my sister and me this link:  http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/03/1-things-i-want-to-tell-my-third-culture-kids/

It will have to go without saying how much this touched my heart (because I really don’t think I can say).  Its one-sided perspective, though, making MKs or TCKs out to be great, sacrificial heroes, didn’t seem fair at all, causing me to respond, “Maybe someone should write a blog post for ‘MPs’ (missionary . . . parents?).”  So here’s one.  Fellow MKs, my experience was not the same as yours, but I think there are a number of universal things MKs are grateful to their parents for.  So these are my particular expressions; but I hope you will thank your parents in your own way for their own virtues and sacrifices.  The same goes for PKs (preachers’ kids) and any other children of ministry out there.

1. I don’t know what it is like, either.  No, missionaries don’t understand exactly what their kids go through, because they don’t have the same experience.  By exactly the same token, though, MKs (at least those born overseas like us) do not understand what their parents have gone through, either.  Growing up, Sarah and I knew well the peculiarity of our skins not fitting in where our hearts belonged, and our hearts not fitting in where our skins belonged.  But we did not know what it was to leave behind a place where both our bodies and souls were at home, to leave every person and thing we belonged with, and to take on ourselves instead a land and people and culture we had no experience or connection with.  Which leads me to say . . .

2. You are brave.  Mom, you especially never saw overseas mission work in your future.  You were a small-town homebody deeply connected to your family, with no thought of ever relocating halfway around the world, especially in an era when video chat and even e-mail were nonexistent.  Letters had, at best, a two week round-trip delay.  Phone calls were a pricey, once-a-year luxury.  I don’t know how often you’ve felt frightened or lonely or uncomfortable, but I never saw it.  I never witnessed one glimmer of disobedience or despair or weakness in you.  I am so grateful for the way you acted when Dad wanted to marry you—both of you knowing full well God had called him to foreign missions.  You could have said “no” right out, and have been done with it.  But for months you prayed, and researched, and sought counsel, and finally decided to commit your future into God’s care, even knowing it would send you into the last sort of ministry you would ever have asked for.  And Dad—I know you’ve always been drawn to other cultures, and missions wasn’t as far a stretch for you as it was for Mom.  But even with your passion for the foreign, the weird, and the adventurous, I know it was hard to cope with the culture shock of being stared and laughed at.  There are more foreigners around where you live now, thanks to the proximity of the international colleges, but I remember when we lived farther in the rural south—we were fish in a bowl.  I know it can hurt to be mocked or unaccepted by people you have dedicated yourself to serving.  And even more than that, I know it’s scary to suffer from so many physical problems far away from the familiar, reliable medical care of America.  For as long as I have been aware of such things, I have seen you in pain every day of your life.  Not once, though, have I heard you say, “I’m done with this!  Let’s go back to America, where they know how to treat my medical needs.”  You say, “We’re here until God tells us otherwise.”

3. I know you have sacrificed, even though you haven’t said so.  When I was little I never realized that living in Japan was not necessarily normal for you.  Everything was fine for me, so it didn’t enter my mind that any of the members of our family had made massive changes to their lives.  Being away from you now, I miss you so much and can’t imagine spending thirty years far away from you and Sarah.  But you have sacrificed more than half of your life’s time with your parents and siblings.  And not only with them, but also with old, dear friends; and at times, with anyone who even spoke your language!  You gave up familiarity, comfort, convenience, and possessions.  Mom, the only one of your wedding presents I had ever seen was the rocking chair Dad gave you that you took to Japan.  It never once occurred to me that there might have been more until I was nearly in college, and you showed me some of the beautiful dishes, furnishings, and other gifts given you by your friends and family in celebration of your marriage.  There they were, neatly packed up at Grandma’s house.  I don’t know why that made such an impression on me; and I know not everyone is as sentimental about keepsakes as I am; but you left big pieces of your life behind.  And I never, ever heard you talk about it.  You don’t complain about or even mention the things you gave up.  You don’t look for pity or empathy, or someone to tell you how selfless and brave you were, and how great a reward you will surely receive in heaven.  You simply trusted God to take care of “all these things,” and so you continue to.

4. You laid the foundation of our lives in prayer, and never stopped building.  I know that you both prayed constantly for Sarah and me, before we were even born.  And you prayed for our husbands before we ever met them.  And you prayed over all the pieces in between, and I still feel like we are held together in your prayers.  I don’t have any concept of what our lives would have been like without that binding thread running through them, but thank you for never getting tired of praying for us.  If you ask me, you made our lives easy, both by the physical actions with which you nurtured us, and the unseen spiritual actions with which you fought for and defended us.  You set us an example, not only in prayer, but in devotion to Scripture and Christlike service to others, that is inspiring to follow because it isn’t faked.  It doesn’t only come out when you’re on furlough, as if you have to put on a good show for your supporting churches.  It’s your actual lifestyle.  Every day.

5. Thank you for homeschooling us.  As if you didn’t already have enough things to do.  I don’t even have kids yet, and I already know it will take an act of God to help me organize my time when I finally do.  And Mom, you had your days full with writing newsletters and reports, mentoring ladies, teaching other children, and more things than I’m sure I was even aware of.  But you still set apart the time to teach us yourself.  You could have sent us to public school, where we may likely have been bullied for being different (again—foreigners have not always been as popular as they are now, and the school ground over there can be a vicious place).  Or you could have separated us from you and sent us to a boarding school, as used to be a standard missionary procedure.  But you didn’t put us through those things.  You sacrificed years of time and immeasurable patience to keep us with you and teach us yourself (and that before homeschooling was even a widely accepted and supported thing!).  You protected us from harm and filled us with good, both in the required fields of education, and in moral and spiritual development that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.  I know I was a stinker when I was a kid and complained about school work, but when I realize now what it took for you to teach us as you did, and when I think about what would have happened to us instead of you hadn’t, it overwhelms me with gratitude, and I can’t thank you enough.  Ever.

6. I admire you.  Dad, you’re one of the smartest men in the whole world.  You are the definition of a scholar, and you use that knowledge and wisdom not to publish big fat “check out how much I know about the Bible, everyone” books, but to teach your fellow believers to know the truth and recognize falsehood.  Seriously, when I or someone else has a question about the Bible, my first instinct is to want to know what you think about it.  Not because I believe it’s healthy to live in the attitude of, “I believe this because my dad says it’s true!”  Because honestly, a lot of those dads have no idea what they’re talking about.  But I want to know what you think because I know how you dig into and study things, both backing your findings solidly with Scripture, and reinforcing them with outside sources, so that the conclusions you come to are legit!  You don’t want to find answers simply for the sake of having answers to wave in people’s faces when they attack you.  You search for answers because you love the truth.  And so your opinions are trustworthy.  And Mommy.  I want to be like you.  I know I’ll never make it all the way, because you’re the “good-est” person in the whole world.  But I desperately want to be the kind of mother to my kids that you are to me.  Because there is no better kind.  When anyone tells me that I remind them of you, it’s the biggest compliment there is.  Because being like you is being like a godly, compassionate, discerning woman.  And everyone loves you.  Especially me.

7. I’m proud of you.  And how.  This sums up everything I don’t have room to make a separate “point” for.  I am so proud to be your kid, and have my name associated with yours, because you are loving, diligent saints of God, and it is an honor to be in your family.  I am proud of who you are and what you do.  And if that comes from mortal me, imagine how proud God is of you.

I never told you these things when I was a kid, because half of them I was too young and selfish to understand, and the things that I did have an inkling of, I didn’t know how to express.  But I want you to know that I can never tell you enough how much I appreciate you.  I love you and miss you and can’t wait till we get to see you again.

My family, 25 years ago.  I love 'em even more now than I did then.  Well, obviously.  I was a baby.

My family, 25 years ago. I love ’em even more now than I did then. Well, obviously. I was a baby.

2 thoughts on “7 Things I Want to Tell My Missionary Parents

  1. Dre says:

    Yea I’m proud of my parents sacrifice and answer to Gods calling but I’m also very sad. I want my children to know their grandparents, but they don’t. I want my parents to see the joy of their everyday growing and humor and accomplishments. I dedicated my parents to God (as parents dedicate their babies to God). It’s a struggle I ask God to help me through all the time.

    • echolore says:

      Thank you for sharing that. You are right, that is the other side of missions work, and it cannot be pretended away by all the good and happy missions stories. My parents had to leave their parents and brothers and sisters and closest friends, as I have now had to leave them to follow the path God has chosen for me. Growing up, my sister and I only got to see our grandparents and cousins face to face about every three years, and I know that was a sacrifice that had to be made on both sides (especially for my father’s parents, as we were their only grandchildren). And later on as we started to grow up more, we also formed close friendships with several great American kids, and it was so hard to leave them, too, and go back to where there were no Christian young people of our own age. I remember one day as I was crying from loneliness shortly after getting back from a furlough (after leaving those new relationships), and my dad gave me this promise from Scripture that often comforted me after that, and I hope it can be a comfort to you, too:
      Luke 18:28-30—And Peter said, “Behold, we have left our own homes, and followed you.” And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”
      God knows our empty spaces and sorrows, and He will send us what we need, even if it isn’t in the way we expect or think is right. God bless you and your family, and keep you in perfect peace.

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