By Kevin DeValk
You’ve made the pledge. You’ve taken the call to move to Africa, China, or somewhere else in the world to share the gospel, perhaps for years.
Upon hearing the news, parents and a small crowd of other relatives look at you skeptically. “You’re moving to WHERE?”
Maybe they’re concerned about your safety and their grandkids’ well-being. Maybe they’re struggling with your being so far away. Or they might be antagonistic toward the Bible in general. Whatever the cause, opposition from parents and siblings is faced by many new missionaries, even those with Christian parents.
Here are a few ideas for how to handle difficult family members and help them with their concerns:
Where will you live? Where will their grandchildren go to school?
The website www.missionsplace.com recommends easing family members’ concerns through information, by telling them about the availability of medical care.
Most missions groups have detailed plans to support missionaries.
International Missions Board (IMB), an organization that partners with local churches to send missionaries around the world, takes applicants through a process that ensures they are ready, according to lead consultant Joel Sutton. The process prepares them for their new culture and to make sure they are spiritually and physically fit, among other things.
Sutton recommended explaining this process to parents and telling them about procedures for emergencies.
IMB can provide this information to missionaries’ relatives, he said.
In most places, missionaries no longer have to wait a month for a letter to arrive or travel 100 miles to find a telephone. The Internet allows for video chatting through programs like Skype.
“Being separated is not what it used to be. They will still be able to connect,” Sutton said.
A good webcam costs less than $30. Consider giving one to your parents as a gift before leaving as a symbol of your intentions to keep in touch.
Appeal to Their Compassion
Talk to family members about your work. As one person wrote at www.askamissionary.com, people come around by embracing the good that will be done.
Separation causes anxiety, which can sometimes be expressed through anger. Show your family you care by listening to their concerns. Their arguments are not necessarily attacks on your faith. Missions Place suggests involving your parents in some of the decisions.
This is the most important part of preparing for foreign missions. Be sure it includes praying for family members back home.
Don’t Feel the Need to Convince
“I advise (new missionaries) not to worry too much about this, or try to convince their parents,” Sutton said. Your decision to go is between you and your spouse and God, that’s all, he said.
“The majority of parents either support their kids or don’t stand in the way,” Sutton said. Parents usually come around in time. Even in extreme cases, when parents threaten to permanently cut-off their children, they rarely follow through on that threat, he said.
Sutton stressed, however, that if a Christian feels called into foreign missions, they should go, regardless.
Kevin DeValk of Rochester, New York, is a customer service advocate for Verizon Wireless.
The “Parents of Missionaries” support group page on Facebook.
Terri Willis (director of national relations for IMB), Parents as Partners: Supporting Your Family as They Serve Overseas (Richmond: International Missions Board, 2003). Includes chapters on coping with loss and how to make the transition easier.
Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected When Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2008).