The Family and Missions

Posted on March 6, 2013 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

RankinConnectingWhen we were preparing to leave for the mission field in 1970 our children were 10 months old and two years old. Friends in churches where we served in North Texas and Mississippi often asked us, “You are not taking the kids, are you?” They could not imagine our subjecting these precious children to the health risks and dangers perceived to be inherent in the tropical, Muslim country of Indonesia.

We assured them that we were, indeed, taking the children as the family unit was ordained of God and an intrinsic component of fulfilling His will. We would readily acknowledge that “family” added challenges and encumbrances to life on the mission field with the hassle of travel and living is a strange culture. Not understanding the preponderance of germs in a less than sanitary environment brought frequent illnesses. Having to be the “P” and the “T” to our homeschooling PTA while trying to engage in ministry and witness was stressful.

Many missionaries go through a stage in their call of wanting to be like Paul and devote themselves fully to the mission of penetrating a lost world with the gospel without the distractions of caring for and giving attention to a family. Sooner or later they discover that the loving supportive relationship of a spouse and the joy of children is an asset, not only to survival but in enhancing one’s effectiveness on the mission field.

The family is an asset to one’s cross-cultural witness. I could approach men in the Muslim society in which we served but had little access to women unless my wife was with me as we itinerated among the villages seeking pockets of response. When our children were with us the doors of hospitality flung wide open as the whole community embraced us and were receptive to hear our message.

Not only that, but the incarnational presence of our family in an Indonesian community and our loving relationship and discipline of our children was a subtle witness to others. The family was a practical example of a Christian lifestyle that stood in stark contrast with that of our neighbors. The respect that our children showed toward others, their submissive obedience, and the love and honor that I exhibited toward my wife made an impression that undergirded our witness.

The mission field was also an asset in the spiritual nurture of our children. We didn’t have a lot of activities such as band practice, soccer games and the busyness that put a strain on modern-day American families. Some may see our children as deprived, but they were able to travel the world, become fluent in multiple languages and avoid the self-centered provincialism that infects so many mono-cultural young people. They understood why we were there as they observed the darkness of people without Christ and grew up praying diligently for the lost around us. The quality of our family devotional time nurtured the children in a love for God and a desire to serve Him.

Finally, the family on the mission field is an asset to mobilizing a subsequent generation of missionaries. At a recent reunion with missionary colleagues from a previous era in Indonesia it was discovered that 25 of our children were now serving as career missionaries somewhere around the world. They learned obedience from their parents. A heart for a lost world was planted during years of growing up on the mission field. Yes, they were deprived of many amenities and conveniences their peers in America took for granted, but they found their comfort zone in a cross-cultural environment. They were the new generation of missionaries called to continue the legacy of their parents.

The family is not an albatross inflicting burdens and inhibiting effective missionary service. It is a strategic part of God’s plan to enhance one’s cross-cultural witness, to nurture children in a deeper walk with God and understanding of His will, and to sustain the legacy of the missionary call to subsequent generations.

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