Expectations and Mothering on the Mission Field

Thoughts around Mother’s Day

Over the last few years I have been praying that God would break my heart with the things that break His heart. Out of this prayer has come a burden for missionary women and Japanese pastors’ wives. In Japan, the stresses of culture and ministry can be extreme. We estimate that a large percentage (perhaps 80 %) of women missionaries and pastor’s wives, struggle with exhaustion, discouragement, and/or depression. In response to this, we have opened our home as The Spring (for equipping and renewal) providing a safe place where missionary women and pastors’ wives can get away from the daily grind and be refreshed through mentoring and retreat. There have been many times during my years on the mission field that I wish something like this had been available to me as I struggled with raising children and meeting expectations.

Raising children anywhere is a wonderful, exhausting, fulfilling, demanding balancing act whose ways can vary from child to child. Raising these same children in another culture adds lays to an already complicated process. Every culture has norms of child rearing that the missionary may or may not understand and, may or may not choose to follow. Add to all of this the expectations – some written, some verbalized and many unspoken – of what missionary children and parenting should be. Cultural neighbors have lists of expectations, families in the States have lists, fellow missionaries have lists, missionary agencies have lists, and supporting churches and their people have lists. It would be impossible to fulfill all of these expectations even if they were known, but since they aren’t knowable the challenge is even greater. So how do you deal with all of that and balance ministry with parenting?

I recently participated in a retreat for missionary couples in leadership positions. As we discussed this topic, we came to a couple of conclusions. The first was that meeting expectations whether external or internal was not the real issue. The real problem was our heart attitudes. Were we looking to the approval of others to satisfy our hearts or were we looking to Jesus? The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. What drives us to do what we do rather than to be who God created us to be in Christ?

This leads to a second conclusion – trying to balance life (parenting) and ministry is the wrong approach. We will never be able to adequately keep everything in “balance.” We must look to God and see all that we do as living for Him and by Him. There are times when formal ministry may need to be set aside so we can minister to the needs of the family. Even these times minister to those around us by our example of love and care. After all this is the true call of God – to love another.

As you pray for missionaries (I ask that you do pray for all of us), please pray especially for the women to keep there hearts focused on Jesus and have exceptional wisdom as they balance life and ministry. A part of my on going ministry is sending out devotions by e-mail. If you would like to receive these “Thoughts Along the Way,” please let me know.

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