I look back on thirty-three years of missionary life. We’ve said more good-byes than I could ever count. After every deputation meeting, we said good-bye to the pastors and their families, to new friends we’d made, to sweet people who provided food and hosted us in their homes. We said good-bye to the churches, not usually knowing whether or not they would support us financially. We appreciated their prayers as we drove away.
In 1984 on the worst day of my life, we said good-bye to our families and our country. We boarded a plane with our baby girl. My husband and I were excited about going to Spain, but we felt like heels for leaving our weeping families and taking the only grandchild on both sides with us. It was a tearing away that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Yet, every missionary says good-bye. Over and over again.
We arrived in Spain, not knowing one word of Spanish. We stayed for more than five years that first term. In the old days, letters were the only way to communicate besides very expensive phone calls. At first, we heard regularly from some friends and family, but little by little, people forgot about us. Out of sight, out of mind.
Our first furlough, we said good-bye to our new Spanish friends and our co-workers. We didn’t know to prepare for reverse culture shock. We got back to the U.S. and were surprised to hear everyone speaking in English! We felt zombified after the long trip with two little ones, and I remember trying to stay awake while family members visited. Hello!
Months later, we said tearful good-byes again, taking two grandchildren away this time. Again.
We’re always saying good-bye.
It rips our hearts out!
I'll never forget leaving our daughter at college. She walked into her dorm with a girlfriend and didn’t look back. A huge part of our world walked into that dorm. It was time for her to spread her wings, but we were saying good-bye yet again, and this one was going to change our family forever.
Back in Spain, we enjoyed our son as the “only child.” The dinner conversation changed drastically. I soon found out how much men can talk about gadgets, how to fix things, motors, and other mechanical subjects. My shopping partner was in the States, and I quickly discovered that the world of men is much different from what I was used to. I also learned to appreciate motor sports. (It’s amazing what you'll do to spend time with your teenage son!)
Before we turned around, we said good-bye to our son. He, too, went to college. Each time, we said hello and good-bye to our families—always wishing we’d had more time with them, always thinking later of some of the experiences we would have liked to share with them.
One of our nephews expressed that he’d really missed growing up with his cousins—our kids. Indeed, they were probably together only around five times before they matured and married. (We weren’t even there for his wedding.)
We missed almost everyone’s weddings and everyone’s graduations. We missed surgeries, sicknesses, births, funerals, and family get-togethers.
Four thousand miles are four thousand miles. You can't just “pop over the pond,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be there. It doesn't mean we don't mourn missing out.
But, there’s a reason for doing what we do. It’s the best reason in the world: God’s call. We’re reaching people who would probably otherwise not know of God and His love for them. Missions has absolutely nothing to do with loving our field people more than our families! It just means we obeyed God when He called us to ministry.
- We’re fishers of men, women, and children.
- We’re foot soldiers in the Lord’s army.
- We’re the sent ones—extending our supporting churches back home.
- We’re lights in dark places.
- We’re fulfilling the Acts 1:8 call to spread the gospel unto the uttermost part of the earth.
- We’re doing the Great Commission work of discipling people all over the world. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:19-20).
Are there sacrifices? You’d better believe it!
Do missionaries suffer from the separation and sometimes from being forgotten? Oh, yes.
Is saying good-bye difficult? "Heart-wrenching" is a better term. We never know when this good-bye is the last.
Do missionaries care about their families? You can hardly imagine how much missionaries would like to be in both places at once, how many times they think of their folks back home, how much they would love to be there for holidays, birthdays, celebrations, funerals, weddings, and to lead parallel lives along with their families—but they can’t.
So, how do missionaries do it? How do we do it?
Only by relying on God’s strength. He supplies it freely and daily. We lean on Him.
Pray for your missionaries. They're your family.
If any man serve me, let him follow me;
and where I am, there shall also my servant be:
if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.