“So” said the kindly woman at the Baptist church. “You must want to be a missionary too when you grow up! Do you think God will call you too?”
I recoiled. I hoped she wouldn’t see the visible distress on my face. She was so kind. She was so excited about my potential. How could I disappoint?
But NO, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a missionary when I grew up. I didn’t want to raise support. I didn’t want to go from church to church in small New England towns. I did not want prayer letters or ‘deputation’. No. No. No.
I was 18 years old. I wanted college and boyfriends and travel and stamps in my passport. And then down the road? Down the road of course I would go overseas again – because that was home! But I didn’t even think about being a missionary.
There are a couple of things that can be huge burdens to missionary kids and their parents.
One is behavior. Missionary kids have just as many reasons to rebel as any other kid. Some might argue, more. Our world contains pitfalls that can catch and take us down. I know. I was one who found marijuana growing in the back of Holy Trinity church, that noble and historic church in the town of Murree that the entire missionary community would attend every summer. It’s easy for us to use excuses of belonging and identity to rebel. And then it’s easy for a parent to feel guilt “if we hadn’t brought our kids half way around the world etc. this wouldn’t have happened…” while the reality is that when a kid is bent on bending rules it’s going to happen anywhere.
The second burden is ‘calling’. Because calling is a word loaded with question marks and misunderstanding.
It was a few years later that I began to really wrestle with this word and idea. I had seen the good, bad, and ugly related to call and calling. I had seen the good that comes from faith and understanding God’s big story. I had seen a kid on the brink of death because a father was so committed to a call that he forgot the call included caring for his children. I had become acquainted with ugly legalism that forgets the beautiful story and call to redemption, reducing it to choking rules and regulations.
In my wrestling, I realized that the kind woman at that Baptist church was partially correct. My parents were called. But their first call was to God Himself. After that, their journey took them places where all was initially unfamiliar. Food, clothing, housing, plumbing, language, faith expression — all of it was new. It had to be learned and learned with humility and willingness to admit mistakes.
Along the way they had babies. And sometimes more babies. And what was unfamiliar to them was home to us, their children. We first heard words and phrases in English, Urdu, and Sindhi. Curry was a staple, the call to prayer the first alarm clock. None of this spelled strange, it was all familiar. Home was 18-hour train rides from the desert of Sindh to the lush Punjab; home was a boarding school community with all the good and the hard of dormitory living away from parents; home was plane trips and passports, learning how to negotiate cross-culturally at young ages. This was home.
So pressure that this life overseas would be a ‘calling’ simply because we were the children of missionaries was uncomfortable and so foreign.
On the one hand it seemed to make sense, like a family business where one by one the kids take their place behind the counter talking to customers and learning how to negotiate transactions. But how many kids actually end up in the family business? How many children of nurses, teachers, and mechanics become nurses, teachers, mechanics? Some do. But others follow another path, walk a different journey.
Ultimately the call of God isn’t a business, it isn’t an occupation. The call of God is heard in the heart and obeyed with the mind and body. It is a word, the Word, that is planted and watered until it grows into an active, living, breathing faith. It is a call to God himself.
Missionary kids are called. But they are called to God Himself. After that – it’s anyone’s guess. After that it could be to a small town in England, a large city in North America, an international consulting business based in Holland, a law office in Seattle, a position in an international business degree program, a tenured professorship at a university, a foreign service position with the state department.
Rarely does it look the same as the parents. Our journey may begin through the faith and calling of our parents, but those roots are transplanted and sustained through our own decisions of faith.
So is calling in our DNA?
Threaded through each strand of our DNA is indeed a Call. A Call described best by the ever-challenging words of St. Augustine to “Love God and enjoy Him forever”. Only that Call is carefully entwined in our spiritual genetic code from head to toe, from heart to soul.
And after that it’s anyone’s guess.
This post has been adapted from an older version originally written in 2012 for Community Across Boundaries.