Before this experience of living in Kenya, I had my assumptions about life on the mission field…probably all the wives homeschool, make their own bread, beautifully quote scripture to their children throughout the day, and feel completely fulfilled in their work of caring for the poor. I never would have admitted my presumptions out loud, but lets be honest, we all tend to idealize lives we don’t know much about.
In all seriousness though, I have now seen that these families that have moved across the world for the foreseeable future are truly heroic. The day-to-day struggles are difficult and here’s a reality check… more often than not, it doesn’t necessarily feel very fulfilling. What has surprised me the most is that the physical inconveniences of living in a developing country you adjust to rather quickly. While it is annoying to have to walk up the hill to fill up your jugs of drinking water; it simply becomes a way of life. However, the far more difficult battles rages on the emotional and spiritual side of things. The isolation and discouragement that comes with living across the world from all that is familiar is very real. A good friend who is a missionary in Peru recently told me that the mission field is a strange paradox- you are never actually physically alone but have never felt lonelier. So far I have found this to be true. Getting a taste of life as a missionary overall has revealed to me just how lazy I have been to pray for, encourage and reach out to those I have known in the past who have sold all they own to answer this call. God has recently opened my eyes to the fact that He has given me a unique opportunity to get a first hand look into what life is really like for missionaries and this insight is not to be wasted.
My challenge to us as the church (speaking first and foremost to myself) is to more intentionally support those that have said yes to the challenge of being strangers in a foreign land for the sake of the gospel. Could we, as the body, be more proactive to pray, write letters, send care packages, emails, and/or schedule Facetime calls with those overseas? With all the technology we have available it is definitely much easier to communicate than it used to be. Can we consider this a blessing and use all our avenues of communication for God’s glory by adopting a family to correspond regularly with? Let me just tell you that getting something as simple as a card in the mail feels like Christmas morning here… especially for kids. It is a little taste of home and brings such comfort to the soul.
So where to start? Here’s a few rough ideas (many of which were contributed by the women who live right next to me here at Tenwek):
- Decide who you want to be a part of your mission to adopt a family (kept within your own family, with your small group, with a group of friends etc.)
- Contact your missions pastor or missions board at church. Ask what missionaries your church supports and if you can get contact information for one of them. You may already know a family personally who is on the mission field…even better! Start with them. Shoot that family an email and let them know that you’d like to be pen pals of sorts with them. Ask them questions such as: what the best way to communicate with them is, information about their family, prayer requests and what their current needs are.
- Once connected with a family, involve your kids in this process- this is the perfect opportunity to talk with your kids about the world and what people all over are doing for the kingdom. Pull out a map, google pictures of the place your adopted family is living, and post a picture of this family on your fridge (many families have prayer cards they can send you with a picture) as reminder to regularly pray for them. Find out what people group they are ministering to and pray specifically as a family for them. Have your kids draw pictures, pick out stickers, and write notes to send in letters.
Here’s a couple of good books to help introduce your kids to the concept of missions:
– The Whole World Needs Jesus
– Mommy, What is a Missionary?
- Consider sending a care package a couple times a year to supplement your letters and emails. There are so many things we take for granted in the States that just aren’t easy to come by depending on where your family is located (ie: in Kenya childrens medications, scotch tape, birthday napkins, finger paints, specific spices for cooking and on and on I could go). Find out from your contact family what their needs are, take a family trip to Target and then to the post office to send it (another great lesson for your kids!). Another option is to find out if/when your church taking a trip to see this family and send a package with them to hand deliver.
- Consider having your home be a place where missionary familes could come stay while they are at home on furlough if needed. Think about what an amazing opportunity for your family to hear firsthand about life in another country as your kids play and you share meals together. Be mindful that missionaries also may have other needs while they are back in the U.S. since they have sold all they own. Consider loaning out a car for their use and even inviting them to play dates in the community if they are there for an extended period of time.
- Be a voice within your church for missions to be a topic of conversation. Invite your “adopted family” to speak at your church if they are in your city. Talk with your children’s pastor about teaching a Sunday School unit on missions to kids. These topics are important and not always discussed within the church.
- Have your family “live like a missionary” for a day – cook everything from scratch (maybe even ask a missionary family what some of their favorite recipes are so you can try them for yourself), wash all your dishes by hand, pretend there’s a power outage all afternoon and you can’t use the internet.
- Watch and see how this opens your own eyes and the eyes of your kids to the world. It is truly amazing! One of the sweetest moments since we’ve been in Kenya is that both Lane and Cooper have started saying “Thank you God for the world” in their prayers. That’s all the evidence this mama needs to keep reaching beyond American boarders to give my kids a bigger taste of our big God.
A few days ago I sat outside watching our kids play with another mama who lives right above me. She shared a sweet story of how a small group from their home church decided to “adopt their family” last Christmas. They contacted them, found out their needs, pooled their money together and sent several care packages to their family. She expressed what a blessing and lifeline that was to them as they had been in Kenya for about a year and were running out of many vital things they had brought with them (such as children’s medications). My prayer is that stories like this one would be all the more common amongst missionaries everywhere.
A conversation I have had often with friends with young children at home is “how do I serve when my kids are little?” I hope this can give you a way that is easy, inexpensive, and an awesome learning opportunity for your kids. These small acts communicate to those overseas that they are not alone and will do more to encourage them than you can imagine. Lets keep working to be mission-minded families.
p.s. Please contact me if you have questions or need help getting connected with a family. Also if you choose to do this, will you let me know? It would encourage me so much to know this message is being spread.