I’m a missionary. Can I be a mom too?


I balanced a plate of rice in one hand and a plate of curried meat and vegetables in the other. I was tackling the dinner line at a missionary retreat, gathering food for the whole family while my husband settled the kids at a table. The man in front of me introduced himself and we chatted for a moment until he stated, “So, you are in language school.” I replied that I am learning with a language tutor while I stay home with our children. I was not prepared for his response: he began berating me harshly for not being in full-time language school. I answered about being fully committed to my family and to language-learning, and then left before my tongue got me into trouble.

I am a mother of three young children with another on the way. My primary calling is to raise them up to know the Lord, and I joyfully pursue that calling. I also study the local language in a highly effective, learner-driven, multi-sensory setting, and build relationships with the women around me, using my background as a counselor in a myriad of ways. It’s a multi-faceted calling; I love it and I embrace it.

But the man in the dinner line isn’t alone in viewing children as burdens and obstacles to ministry. Jesus’ disciples keep the children away from him, worried that they will distract him from his Important Ministry Work. Jesus rebukes them and turns their ideas upside down, proclaiming that children are an example for all of us in their humility and trust. They have the proper heart orientation.

So why do some people—even Christians, who purport to believe the words of Scripture—act as though women being mothers is a waste of resources?

Being a Christian mother is almost certainly the most significant ministry that I do in our field. We are broken and greatly in need of God’s mercy, but by His grace we are living as a family of love and trust in God. My husband and I have a close and joyful relationship. Our children interact with their dad daily and know his affection for them. It shocks, confuses, and amazes our friends and students; they want to know more. One friend said that experiencing the family life of Christian missionaries completely reoriented her thinking about marriage, children, and the God we call “Father.”

God has called us missionary parents both to family and ministry, and He doesn’t make mistakes. While there are always choices to make concerning priorities, there is no necessary war between the two, but rather a world of opportunity for each to season and adorn the other. Serving others demonstrates and involves our children in the other-centered love that characterizes the Christian life. And in many settings, particularly in areas without a mature Church, being and sharing our grace-filled family is one of the most radical ways we can present the application of the Gospel.

If we shame missionary mothers away from their God-given calling, we also tell the hard-working mothers amongst us and in our passport countries that they aren’t doing enough. The woman who labors to care for her young children and blind husband, in a culture that shuns disability, serves God just as surely as any ministry project. The woman who creates a home of love for her family, and welcomes in the hurting people around her, is no less influential than someone who can point to events and numbers.

If God values children and the work necessary to raise them up to know and love Him, then denigration of motherhood is an affront to Him.

I once heard someone compare motherhood to being in a boat stuck floating in and out with the tide, because each child keeps the mother from “ministry work.” This person hinted at a life of aimless drifting borne by mothers, while others zip straight to their destinations in sleek speedboats.

But the truth is that all of us, no matter our stage of life, are equally dependent on God rather than ourselves for fruitful ministry. No one drives a speedboat; we’re all in the same rowboat being towed by a vastly bigger ship, whose Captain provides the direction, the power, and all the necessities for the journey. As for the “delays” caused by loving children or inconvenient people, or serving in mundane ways that bring us no glory—those are not nuisances but the core of the itinerary.

We mothers will invest in many people and endeavors, now and throughout our lifetimes, each of us in different ways; we do what we need to do. That freedom is a precious gift. But let’s not guilt missionaries away from being mothers. Let’s support mothers in attending to our high calling, rejoicing that God has entrusted us with something so precious as the shaping of eternal lives. Our children are a weighty gift to the world.

If our goal is glorifying and pleasing God in whatever ways He desires, then motherhood is not a deterrent but a means to fruitful ministry, because serving the “least of these” with love is serving Jesus.

Missionary Mommy Wars

I just want to come out and say it; I’m not a mommy. Shoot, I’m not even a woman. (OK, those were some of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever written.) But despite my obvious shortcomings, I’m still writing this article. Here’s why:

I look around and see young moms and experienced moms who are serving cross-culturally, and they’re under siege. I see them, battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest. I see them wrangle toddlers and tonal languages. I watch them brave open-air markets with raw meat hanging on hooks and open-air homes with neighbors peering in through windows.

A814AB Section of barbed wire. Image shot 2003. Exact date unknown.

Missionary moms are exposed on all fronts, and they feel it. Everyone’s watching them. The local people watch every move, confused by the foreigner and her progeny; when she returns “home” for a visit, she feels watched just the same. (And for the record, jet lag does strange things to children, so any misbehavior can and should be blamed on jet lag, for at least the first two months.)

The mom on the foreign mission field is stretched thin. She must take care of her household, figuring out how to do all the stuff she used to know how to do. She must learn the local language and culture, educate her children, save the world, communicate with senders, support her husband, and convert everyone through her calm spirit and mild demeanor.

I’m speaking with slight hyperbole. Sort of. But if you pause and observe, you too will see that missionary moms, especially the newbies, have a whole lot on their plate. And it’s stressing them out big time.

Missionary dads are expected to do “the work.” Period. They are judged, for better or worse, on their work product: how is the ministry going? Not so with moms. The missionary mom is judged by how well her kids behave, how well her kids transition, how well her kids are educated, how healthy her marriage is, how well she knows the local language, in addition to how well the ministry is going.

It’s not fair, and I’m calling it. We need to pause and care for the women among us who are being crushed by unrealistic expectations.

So can we call a cease-fire? Can we stop taking aim at missionary moms, expecting them to be EVERYTHING and then criticizing them when they fail to accomplish the impossible?

And can you, missionary mom, stop taking aim at yourself? You can’t do it all, but that doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

No part does ALL the work. Each part does its own work, and that work is special. What is the special work to which God is calling you?

Maybe, right now, your primary task on the mission field is taking care of your own little people. That is special work that helps the whole body to be healthy and growing and full of love. It’s not less-than. Maybe it’s leading an entire mission. That too is special work that helps the whole body to be healthy and growing and full of love. It’s not less-than.

When missionary moms, due to external pressure or internal insecurities, try to do EVERYTHING, the whole body ends up being hurt, not helped. The most important thing for you to do is the work God has called you to do.

I’ll say it again, a healthy mission field does not depend on you doing it all. Health and growth and love come when each person does the work that God is asking her to do. No comparisons allowed.

The mirage of the perfect missionary mom is alluring and dangerous. If you try to follow her, you will be perpetually discouraged, depressed, and exhausted. On the flip side, if you feel like you are the perfect missionary mom, you will be perpetually arrogant, haughty, and annoying.

What would change if you forgot the mirage of the perfect missionary mom and started remembering the Perfect One instead?

Remember, his burden is light.

He is the Lord of Rest, the Bridegroom, longing for his Bride.

He is not a taskmaster, demanding more widgets.

He is a loving Husband, pursuing his favorite girl.

He is a tender Father, splashing in the ocean with his children.

He is a Warrior, protecting his people.

He is a Comforter who really sees.

He knows you are human, and he’s glad about it.

He knows you can’t do it all, and he’s ok with it.

He is jealous for you, longing for your whole heart.

He wants your gaze fixed on him, not the mirage.

The next time you’re tempted to criticize another mom, lay down your weapon and state what she is doing instead of what she’s not doing?

Before you criticize yourself, identify and declare what you are doing instead of what you’re not doing.

Are you doing what you feel like God has led you to do? Wonderful! The Body of Christ needs you to do that. The mission field need you to do that. Your family needs you to do that.

So here’s to the missionary mom, the one in the trenches with the toddlers.

The one who raises kids abroad and then sends them “home.”

Here’s to the missionary mom, far away from pediatricians and emergency services, who lives with constant awareness that help might not be coming.

Here’s to the missionary mom who lives in a glass bowl, aware of the stares.

The one who liked shopping when shopping was simple.

The one who would really like a Starbucks coffee. Like, right now.

Here’s to the missionary mom whose children experience more goodbyes than most.

The one whose kitchen looks more like Bear Grylls than Martha Stewart.

Here’s to the mom on mission, the one who rocks the cradle and changes the world.



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