Explore panel: 'How did your family respond when you told them about your goal to become a missionary?'
November 2021

Thanks to Explore News reader, Thomas in Germany, who asked our panelists about their family’s response to their call to missions! As we enter the holiday season, many of us will spend extra time with our family and this topic may be on your mind as well. Our missionary panelists share their experiences. And, as a bonus, several of our coaches also weigh in.  

People need to hear Jake Whitney, missionary in Czech Republic

My family was very supportive. They are followers of Christ, and believe people need to hear the good news all over the world! 

A continued legacy  Debbie Davis, missionary to Spain

I know it may not be everyone’s case but our case was rather simple.  All of our family’s extremely supportive.  On my side, my parents had already been missionaries in Spain, so they viewed it as me returning to continue their legacy.  On my husband’s side, his mom is British, so she was thrilled to hear that our heart was to reach Europe. 

Released to do what God wants missionary to southeast asia

Praise God, my family was supportive of the decision. They were obviously sad and grieved, but they overall knew that I felt this is what God wants for my life, and they supported that. 

Mixed and changing responses Leif, worker in Russia

There were a number of different responses from family.  My mom was very excited as she felt like we were living out a hidden dream of hers that she never fulfilled.  My dad, who is not a believer, was outwardly supportive that we were doing what was on our hearts, but he questioned others about us bringing our religion to those who already had their own religion.  My wife's parents were a mix of being supportive of us going and yet clearly sharing that they wanted us to stay in the USA to be closer to them.  Her grandparents were great advocates and even helped pay for Bible courses we needed to take before heading to the field.  Others questioned how we would need to ask for support instead of having a "real job."  Some of these responses have changed to become more positive or more negative over time. In summary, there was a great mix of responses from very positive to fairly negative, and in the end, we needed to move forward with the call God gave us and deal with these different responses as we trusted the confirmation of that call through His Word, church leaders, and the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. 

family on a mountain
Family relationships are unique and complex. The responses to a missionary's call can vary. How do you think your family will respond? Photo by: Roberto Nickson

Some of SEND’s coaches work with people who have joined SEND and are raising support. They offer their experiences and advice on how to navigate what could be some challenging conversations. 

Show honor and intentionality  

Sometimes parents, even when they are Christians, have hopes and expectations for our future. Missions sometimes doesn't fit into their dreams for us. Perhaps this is because they have made a lot of sacrifices to help us get a good education, or perhaps because they had hoped we would care for them in their old age. Missions can stand in the way of us achieving wealth and being fully available to care for our parents. In cases where parents are not supportive of our plan to be missionaries, it’s important to get advice about what it looks like to honor them, even if we decide to move forward into missions. Honoring them could look like hearing their concerns, acknowledging their sacrifices and losses, and maintaining an open heart toward them. Sometimes parents become more supportive over time as they see that we can live stably and still honor them while pursuing missions. 

When there are grandchildren involved, it can be very difficult for parents to be supportive of you becoming a missionary. Taking their grandkids halfway across the world is painful. They want to be near their grandchildren so they can foster shared memories. It’s helpful to let parents know that you will return for six months to a year every three to four years, and that you will prioritize time with them whenever you are back in your home country. You’ll likely also come back home at least every other year for weddings, rest, etc. It can also be good to schedule a weekly call from the mission field that allows grandparents to maintain an ongoing relationship with their grandkids. Inviting parents to your mission field once every year or two is also a good way to maintain the connection. In summary, it’s good to understand the sacrifice grandparents are making and to do your very best to care for them while serving as a missionary.  


It may take time 

My parents came around, but they were not happy at first. I was the first one in my family to go to college and I was working in my field. When I told them that I was quitting my job and going to Moody to get Bible, and was headed to the mission field... it did not go over well. My parents were Christians, but no one in my family had ever done anything related to ministry.  


Trading one kind of connection for another 

I've heard people (myself included) say that living apart actually allowed for very special connections with parents to develop in different ways than would have happened [if we had stayed home]. When parents come visit you in another country, it's an opportunity for memories to be made that will last a lifetime. When you come home to visit during home service and stay with family for a month or more, you may end up spending more time together than if you [had never left]. Of course, this also brings challenges, and parents won't be there for the day in day out stuff that they may long to participate in. I see it as trading one kind of time and connection for another, not losing time and connection.  


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