The Perceived Burden of Missional Motherhood

“My teacher tells me Jesus didn’t die on the cross,” my daughter told me. I tried my best to not act shocked so as to keep her talking to me. “Oh she does?” I said. “She says that another man died on the cross instead of Jesus and that he is not God,” she confessed. My heart sank, my vision clouded, and I wondered if we were ruining our children with this life overseas.

Of course, I told her that her teacher was wrong and shared the story of the death and resurrection of Christ with this impressionable child of mine. All the while I wondered inside if we had made a terrible mistake moving our children to a city in which they hear the call to prayer from the mosques five times a day. I wondered if it was worth it. Was the cost in the lives of my children too high?

My questions challenged the promises of God that I knew to be true, my grip on my children’s spiritual well-being slowly tightened, and I took on a burden that was never mine to bear.

The Backstory

It had been a week since our daughter and her little sister had started preschool in our new Central Asian home. Just one month prior, our family sold or gave away most of our possessions, said tearful goodbyes, and followed the Lord in obedience overseas. But to go from a stay-at-home mom living the American Dream to a mom in full-time language school in a foreign, Islamic context was shocking.

I gave up immediate control over my kids’ days and embarrassingly felt childlike as I used hand motions when language failed with their caregivers. As a mother, this was hard. It was gut-wrenching at times, but it was a choice made so I could be equipped to share the gospel in the heart language of women who had yet to hear of the Savior who died for them.

Lessons Learned

Every day for the next month, however, our daughter asked me one question: “Will you read the Jesus on the cross story to me, Mommy?” And every day I emphatically said yes. The gospel was proclaimed daily within the walls of our home, and it wasn’t by my initiation.

I recognized that even at the tender age of four, she knew her Muslim teacher was not telling her the truth. The Lord was graciously enlightening her heart. She was being taught by the Father (Is. 54:13), and I was merely an instrument he was using to teach and draw her to himself.

“I can trust God’s sovereignty, cling to his promises, and remember that there is a Shepherd and Overseer of souls who came to seek and to save the lost, both Muslims and missionary kids alike.”

In the Scriptures, we are exhorted to be disciplined as we teach our children to love the Lord our God with all their hearts and with all their souls and with all their might (Deut. 6:5). We are encouraged to speak wisdom, with faithful instruction on our tongue (Prov. 31:26).

But at the end of the day, I do not have to bear the burden of actually saving my children. When I have loved, taught, corrected, and modeled Christ for my children, I can trust God’s sovereignty, cling to his promises, and remember that there is a Shepherd and Overseer of souls (1 Pet. 2:25) who came to seek and to save the lost, both Muslims and missionary kids alike.

Placing the Future of Your Children in the Hands of God

Maybe the most difficult lesson a parent can learn came out of this experience. I had to ask myself an incredibly hard question: If I trust God to draw our Muslim neighbors to himself, why would I not trust him to do the same with our children?

I am a speaker of truth, an ambassador of the One who is true. But he is the Savior of souls. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me” (John 6:44–45 ESV).

It’s a beautiful partnership of planting and watering seeds while God gives growth (1 Cor. 3:5–7). Practically, I believe it begins by earnestly praying for the salvation and perseverance of our children. We must forsake fear and embrace faith as we trust that he has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).

I’ve watched the Spirit draw my daughter to the hope found in the cross, and it has dispelled my worry and strengthened me with joy. Motherhood has broken me, refined me, and been a vehicle through which the Lord has shown me that I cannot carry out one ounce of this calling in my own strength.

My children belong to God, and I can trust him to shepherd their hearts. I can relax in his plan for them because he is always good. I can trust that they will hear his voice on their own, and I can loosen my grip and let them go, all the while being diligent to fill their lives with truth. What joy and freedom there is in believing Jesus when he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27 ESV). Mothering on the mission field is not always easy, but it is always worth it.

Kiara Marino, a writer with the IMB, has served overseas with her family for the past four years, in Europe and now in Central Asia.