The call to missions leads to a lifestyle of goodbyes. It seems we are always leaving somewhere and someone. Perhaps the hardest goodbyes are those we give to our families. When my family and I first left for the mission field, I remember standing at the airport gate with my parents, my brother and his family, and my in-laws. We waited as long as we could before we boarded the airplane. To this day, my mom reminds me how hard it was for them to watch her grandkids disappear down the flight bridge.
I was blessed. My parents and my in-laws were extremely supportive of our missionary career. They encouraged us, prayed for us, and visited us on the field.
However, over the years, I have worked with many adults—both seminary students and church members—who did not share a similar experience as they pursued the call to full-time missions. Their parents were not supportive or were downright hostile to their decision to serve long-term on the mission field.
For adult missionary candidates who possess the characteristics, competencies, and commitments the IMB looks for and commissions, I want to offer a few bits of advice for those who ask, “What if my parents don’t want me to go?”
“Pray that God would give you and your parents a unified vision for his kingdom.”
Consider Why They Are Concerned
Your parents love you. They have worried about you since before you were born. They have watched you make more than one bone-headed decision and have helped you clean up the mess. Their concerns are not necessarily unspiritual.
If you are facing some pushback about your decision to go, take a step back and ask why. Are their concerns valid? If their concerns are solely based in fear, is there a way to help them work through that fear? It is tempting to cast our parents’ questions in a negative light without giving them serious consideration. Before you go down that road, consider the motivations behind their concerns.
Show Grace and Empathy
Your parents may be struggling because they’re grieving your departure, not necessarily because they don’t want you to participate in missions. Let them experience life on the mission field with you. Bring them into the spiritual celebrations, the fun events, and the funny mistakes. Encourage them to ask questions and answer them honestly.
Remember that God was powerful enough to change your heart and shape your ambitions. The same God who called you can change your parents’ hearts too. The battle of global evangelism is a spiritual one. This is as true in the dense cities and dark valleys as it is in our hearts.
Pray for your parents. Bring their concerns, fears, and hopes before the Lord and ask him to help. Pray that God would give you and your parents a unified vision for his kingdom. Pray that God would comfort them in their fears and encourage them to join you in working to see all nations worship the Lord.
Communicate the Vision for Going
The missionary call is to make disciples of all nations. You will quickly learn that this involves discipling those in the US as well as those to whom you will minister. Developing partners is a form of discipleship, and a part of our missionary work is inviting the US church into our work. It is possible that God is also calling you to encourage your parents to work through the practical implications of their faith.
Before getting defensive, take some time to communicate the vision God has placed on your heart. Let your parents know what is driving you, and reassure them that you aren’t seeking a thrill or avoiding growing up. Help them understand the desire and passion God has placed in your heart to see people of all nations worship him.
“Ask God to give you wisdom as you navigate obedience to his call to missions while honoring parents who may be struggling with your pursuit.”
A Word of Encouragement
For those whose parents are truly unsupportive—perhaps whose parents are unbelievers—let me give a few more words of encouragement.
- Your obedience may be God’s tool for showing the beauty of the gospel. Do all you can to maintain your testimony.
- God can change unbelievers’ hearts too.
- Let others support you. It is true that you may not receive the support and encouragement you need from your family. Get creative about letting churches, team members, and nationals serve these roles.
As adults, obeying God’s command to honor our parents may look different than it did when we were younger. But we are just as accountable to that command now as we were then. As you pursue serving the Lord overseas, ask God to give you wisdom as you navigate obedience to his call to missions while honoring parents who may be struggling with your pursuit.
Scott Hildreth is an assistant professor of global studies and director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter @DSHildreth.