a typical family
By a missionary mom
“Your family is so special.”
“What great faith you have!”
“I could never do what your family is doing!”
“You are so brave.”
From the moment we announced our decision to cross the ocean to share God’s word with unreached peoples, we have heard such comments from hundreds of voices. From our favorite waitress at the local restaurant to our children’s baseball coaches; from distant relatives to scores of people we met during our deputation travels; from the gothic young lady at the Tennessee drug store who took our passport photos to the lady I met this week while buying fresh eggs in an open-air market in our Central Asian city—everyone we have encountered along this journey has looked on our family with amazement.
People who know us well, however—parents, close friends, and church members—are not surprised at all. They know the ins and outs, ups and downs of this rag-tag family. Those who know us might use the word “crazy” rather than “brave.” Rather than “special,” they’d probably say “quirky.” Folks close to our family know we love people, we love God, and we are committed to doing what He asks of us.
Before we were a family of seven, we were a family of two. On our wedding day, we looked into the other’s eyes and said, “I do.” We knelt on the prayer bench in front of our friends and family and gave God our lives to do with as He pleased. In that moment, we said, “We do.” Our parents looked on with smiles and tears as we were introduced as a couple. Three years later, on that same stage, with our parents beside us, we knelt to pray as we dedicated our first-born son. Our family of two had become three. The pastor questioned, “Do you promise to raise your son in the nurture and admonition of God, teaching him to follow the ways of God all his life?” Together we said again, “We do.” Our answer did not change as our family of three became four, then five, six, and now, finally, seven.
Our Family, Our Life
We are a typical family—kids, toys, messes, and noise. We love Oreos and pizza, movies and baseball. Our kids love dogs and horses, riding bikes and having sleepovers.
Just two years ago our family of seven was living “happily ever after” in the hills of Tennessee. After accepting the pastoral call early in life and preparing for years in seminary, David thrived in his pastoral role—preaching to the people, discipling new believers, and mentoring young pastors. Our days were spent balancing ministry and family. Our weeks were filled with prayer meetings and gymnastics, hospital visits and homeschooling.
Each day our activities were a little different, but our purpose was the same—to bring glory to God. Sometimes the world saw God’s love through good works when we picked up a stranded motorist or gave refuge to a victim of domestic violence. And sometimes the world saw His grace as we asked forgiveness for losing our temper and being selfish. Our life was not perfect, but it was our life; and we loved it.
Our church provided a great place for us to learn to serve God together as a family. It was the place our kids practiced the many things they learned in Sunday School and our family worship. In the evenings we gathered around our little parsonage living room, and prayed for our family and for families around the world. Don’t be deceived; these were not perfect little prayer meetings. Kids crawled all over dad while he was trying to read Scripture. A little one snuggled in each of mom’s arms as we sang hymns and prayed.
We’d often read letters from missionaries and flip through their prayer cards as fuel for our prayers. The kids loved missionaries. They even had a photo album filled with pictures and memoirs of themselves with “real” missionaries who visited our church. Some of the kids even talked of being missionaries themselves someday.
Someday came much sooner than anyone imagined. What started with a conversation in the kid’s playroom one day led to a phone call to Free Will Baptist International Missions the next day. God began making His plans for our family clear. After hours of prayer, a huge stack of applications, and a couple of meetings over the period of a week, it became clear God was asking us to trade in our pastorate for an overseas missions assignment.
The decision might seem quick, as if it came out of nowhere; but, truthfully, God had been preparing us for this moment our whole lives. Everything fell together. It made sense. When people asked us, “Why are you going?” we responded with “Why not?” Oh, if it were only that simple.
We tried to keep things simple that memorable night when we told our kids. We carried on with our normal devotions that evening, all cuddled up on the sofa as usual. But this family worship session ended a little differently than all the others. We reminded the kids how we promised God our family would do whatever he asked us to do. We told them God would keep his promise “not to harm us, but to give us a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Then we shared our news with our missions-minded kids. They responded with…weeping and wailing. This wasn’t excitement over reaching the lost souls of Central Asia but total distress over leaving behind our home, our friends, our grandparents, and BASEBALL!
You can’t imagine the roller coaster of emotions that followed. One day would be filled with exciting questions, the next day mournful complaining. On one occasion the three oldest children were playing in the floor and lamenting, “Why do we have to be missionaries across the ocean anyway?” The youngest one replied, “Because God told us to, DUH!”
Was it really that simple? In some ways. Same family. Same God. Same purpose. Just a different country. In other ways it was quite complex. It meant everything would change. We’d give up life as we knew it—church, friends, grandparents, even Wal-Mart. We’d trade it for a new land, a new culture, a new language, a new life. We discovered it is possible to be completely devastated and absolutely elated at the same time!
The transition began immediately. God slowly weaned us away from our old life. We said goodbye to our church family—the group who showed us more love and support that we could have ever imagined. We vacated our parsonage on the hill and moved in with Grandma and Grandpa. We gave away belongings and put keepsakes in storage. We traveled thousands of miles to over 125 churches to share the vision. We gave a whole new definition to the word “transition.”
Each week our kids transitioned to a new hotel room, a new Sunday school class, a new set of missionary partners. At times, the process almost killed us. We had said “I do” to saving souls in other lands, but it seemed all we were doing was riding in a car and completing expense reports. About halfway through the deputation process we made some adjustments. Mom and kids stayed home more. Dad traveled alone. Despite the changes, discouragement and doubt set in. We missed being together as a family. We were lonely with no stable church home. We wondered if we’d ever raise enough money to get us to the field.
The logistics of moving a family with five small children to another country were sometimes overwhelming. Passports, visas, pledges, suitcases, weight limits, snow boots, training, sorting, and packing. Not only did we have to plan how to enter our new country, we had to plan how to leave the old one. We planned final visits to family, last days of school, and the going away party of the century. As the time of departure drew nearer, discouragement gave way to true excitement. Finally, the moment arrived.
In some ways the airport was as surreal and romantic as we had imagined. Friends and family were there to send us off with gifts and hugs. In other ways it was as insane as we had feared, with documents for seven people, 28 suitcases, and the anxiety of what lay ahead. We handled it the way any living, breathing, feeling, human family would have handled it—with smiles and tears. It was perfect.
A New Beginning
We survived: the 25-hour plane trip, the arrival, and the first days in a strange land. Our hearts survived, too. And now we are here. After surviving the freezing winter, a pitiful choice in vehicles, and several cultural faux pas, we have moved beyond surviving to thriving. Every day we practice the number one rule for missionaries—be flexible!
We constantly assess how each family member is adjusting to the culture. One day this week our five-year-old son was playing hide-and-go-seek in our flower garden, laughing and speaking Russian with his friends. The very next day, he packed his suitcase and “ran away from home.” He said, “This country is garbage and I’m going back to America.” Adjustment is an ongoing process!
We are still the same family. We just have our Oreos sent from the States, make our pizza from scratch, and watch movies in another language. We give commands to our dogs in Russian, and a neighborhood donkey has replaced our horse. And, of course, playing baseball is a whole different game when you have to scratch baselines into the dirt and show your friends how to hold the bat before beginning your game. We take taxis and ride the bus.
We shop in open-air markets, not the superstore. We talk to our grandparents by phone. Our household speaks three different languages. Our neighbors have a different skin color. And we live to show the glory of God to people who have NEVER heard, who don’t even have the whole Bible translated into their own native language. And to whatever He asks us to do next, we will answer, “I do.”
About the Writer: The writer is a missionary mom to a restricted access country. Find out how you can become involved in the work of Free Will Baptist International Missions.