A seismic shift occurs in the landscape of the heart of a mother whose child senses God’s calling to be a missionary. The announcement of this decision creates a displacement of emotions. Thoughts of being thousands of miles apart bring into sudden existence large gaps between pain and pride; between feelings of intense love and deep loss; between apprehension of what is ahead and anticipation of what God will do.
I sat listening in a room filled with mothers of missionaries as they shared their stories. At first their words mirrored that of most mothers whose children were grown and gone, laughing about the fingernail polish stain that remains in the carpet to this day, or the clanging noise the dryer still makes years after the rocks fell out of their little boys’ jean pockets. Each memory was tethered to a story, and each story had exponentially grown in value as the years passed.
From Smiles to Tears
As their stories shifted from past to present, smiles on their faces shifted to tears. Their tears dropped into a mixture of fresh stories and tender conversations as each mother shared her joy, pain, delight, worry, and surrender concerning her child who moved to take the gospel to unreached peoples and places.
We have come a long way from mothers standing by the sea, waving goodbye as the ship departed, not knowing whether their child would ever return. Although centuries separate the mothers of yesterday from today, one commonality will never change. No matter the generation, these mothers know what it is like to hold their child’s hand while crossing a street and then to have to let that hand go so their child can cross into foreign lands.
Although I’d love to make this article a tribute to my own mother, who sent both her children and all her grandchildren overseas for a period of time, I believe she’d share the value of it being written to mothers of missionaries everywhere who share different versions of the same story: their children were sent to be missionaries.
The Missionary Mother’s Journey
A mother of a missionary is invaluable to the movement of the kingdom of God. Her name may never be known, but she has tasted the bitter sweetness of sacrifice required to make his name known.
A mother of a missionary ponders in her heart those final moments at the airport checking in more pieces of luggage than people and exchanging never-ending hugs and glances of “this is it.” She knows that no photo can summarize the unspoken depth of emotion in letting her child, and often, grandchildren, go.
A mother of a missionary holds her children tightly in her heart and loosely in her hands. She has raised her child to obey God, not knowing that radical obedience would take her child far away.
A mother of a missionary straddles the emotions of proud apprehension and anxious support. She keeps balance by fiercely clutching a confidence in her child’s calling and the certainty of God’s sovereignty.
A mother of a missionary attempts to reconcile the inner tension she feels, desiring to pray that God will send her child back home, but knowing she needs to pray God will give her child endurance to stay.
A mother of a missionary celebrates with her extended family during holidays, but she can’t wait to snuggle up with technology when that video call comes from her child overseas—even if it means she must patiently hit “call again” as “no connection” repeatedly appears on her screen.
A mother of a missionary lives in the strenuous reality that God’s will does not always equal safety. She understands that sending her child off into the unknown is not a romantic spiritual journey but an everyday battle with the forces of darkness and light.
A mother of a missionary whose child lives in a remote place struggles with the assurance that her child has given to her, that “no news is good news.”
A mother of a missionary blazes trails to the post office to send securely packaged delights and comforts from home to her child who is blazing trails around the globe.
A mother of a missionary knows the costs of surrender to participate in God’s mission. In prayer, she carries the weight of the Great Commission as her child carries his name to those who have never heard.
A mother of a missionary treasures the sincere words from others who say, “I’m praying for your child.”
Mothers of missionaries arrived on this journey from different places.
Some began this journey like Amelia Taylor, who prayed that her infant son, Hudson, would someday become a missionary. Others, like Abigail Judson, mother of Adoniram Judson, are okay with the possibility of their children going into ministry, as long as it’s nearby, but not so thrilled with the idea of missions far away. Still others join the ranks of mothers who feel they have been placed in a crucible and find it too difficult to bear.
No matter how the mother of a missionary arrived on this journey, all paths demand the same rigorous reality. While her child is learning to live in a new culture, she must learn to traverse this new landscape in her heart. She can be confident that this path she now walks is part of an eternal, grand narrative of God using people as vessels to make his name known in all the earth. Her story is part of the mission of God.
Lori McDaniel is church initiatives leader at IMB. She served with her family for several years in Africa before returning to plant a church in the United States. You can find her on Twitter @lorimmcdaniel.