Imagine this: You have recently been married, but have yet to meet your husband’s huge, close-knit extended family. Then the opportunity comes: a 5-day family reunion at a nice mountain-side hotel. The turnout is good: 240 people have come from hundreds of miles. Bright smiles, tight hugs, and eager greetings echo through the hotel and surrounding grounds. Soon the parking lot is packed and luggage is stacked in the entryway. Cousins chase each other with light sabers and laughter; they have been waiting all year for this! Aunts coo over new babies. And everyone is eager to meet you, their cousin’s new wife.
How would you feel stepping into this? Excited? Apprehensive? Overwhelmed?
Last week, this is the situation I found myself in as Greg and I showed up for Josiah Venture’s Spring Conference. The only difference is that instead of blood family, we are a mission family, tied tight together by road trips and new countries, by tears and laughter, by leaving everything and gaining even more, by knowing exhilarating Life in the Son of God.
And I was very, very overwhelmed.
Nametags, including country, helped. So did the warm assurance I received the first evening from a veteran: “You don’t have to remember anyone’s names.” I was dizzy for the first two days. Nothing stuck in my brain except the idea that there were a lot of friendly people, a lot of children (ninety!!), and that everyone must love Greg a lot to be so interested in me. It was a lot. An awful lot. Let me be honest: on more than one afternoon, I ran back to our hotel room to breathe into a figurative paper bag!
But gradually, as the days went by, I began matching up husbands and wives, parents and children, teammates and countries. Not all of them, of course, but enough for a framework. And as these things settled into place, I got my first real taste of this ministry I’ve joined. Even from the beginning, the forms of these things were apparent through the haze, and as time went by, they became sharper, more vivid:
Twice a day, we sat in sessions on “The Upside-Down Kingdom,” taught by JV founder and president Dave Patty. This amazing series took us through seven “Kingdom Passages” in the gospels, mostly the Sermon on the Mount. As I listened, I felt like new heights of knowing God and living in Him were being opened to me, and I became so eager to press on toward Him! “Ministry must be modeled on the Word of God.” It’s true, but it’s awfully easy to forget that in the hubbub of language learning and camp planning and meal baking. These sessions brought me back to the Word, and gave me powerful tools to move toward living in the Kingdom.
Want to hear some of the Word that fuels our ministry over here in Czech? Check out Dave’s talks here.
I have heard it said that true ministry flows out of healthy marriages and healthy families. In a loud proclamation of this belief, families with kids were invited to the conference early for some special sessions. Greg and I were included because…. Nope, we’re not pregnant. Sorry. We attended because we’re working with these kids at JV Kids Camp in August. For a day and a half we learned and dialogued with Michelle Phoenix, an MK herself who specializes in the needs and gifts of missionary kids. It was enlightening and at times hilarious to hear stories from different families:
“It was my son’s very first day of school! So we went out and bought him fun little shorts and sandals, little shirts, so fun. Then he shows up, and every single other boy is in a suit!! Who knew?? You wear a suit the first day to school! I had no idea; I didn’t even think to ask!”
Other parents pitched in with laughter:
“And don’t bring school supplies!! School supplies on the first day of school??! NO! Bring a flower!”
“And you are the worst mom if your kid isn’t wearing tights. Boys, girls, it doesn’t matter. They must be wearing tights or they will get sick from the cold.”
These examples are funny, but they show the things that we can take for granted parenting in our own culture, but that can become issues when living cross-culturally.
- How do you contact teachers, know what your kid is being taught, or help them with their homework?
- When visiting the States, your kids look and sound American, but don’t actually have the same experiences as American kids. How does that affect them?
- Do your kids know God as Provider, Protector, Comforter, and Father, or just someone who continues to demand from them their home, their friends, and their parents’ time?
A little bit of wisdom can save a whole lot of heartache, and I was so thankful for this chance to learn about life for missionary kids—both for the kids in JV we’ll be involved with, and, Lord willing, for our own kids someday!
To me, the most apparent demonstration the family-ness of JV was to watch the kids. The pre-teen girls immediately found each other and stood in a tight clump, giggling and catching up. Little boys were reunited with their friends and instantly started romping and racing. Teenagers, the heroes of all the little ones, took kids on their shoulders or drew them into a quick hug. The only part that didn’t look like a family reunion was the lack of bickering and cliques.
One evening, we said our goodbyes. Four staff members and three high school graduates were heading Stateside. We took time for each of them, sending the mic around to tell them of their strengths and our love before hearing a last goodbye from them. All of the staff were leaving in victory, not defeat; it was a heartbreaking decision to follow God back over the ocean. The kids had all grown up over here, and were saying goodbye to life and family as they have known it. All were full of love and gratitude for what they have lived and the people they have known within JV.I’ve been around life and ministry long enough to know that disagreements and disappointments between people happen. And the closer you are, the more often they occur and the more bitterly they sting. I haven’t been involved in this group of people long enough to have felt it yet, but I know it’s coming: especially in the demanding, high-stress lifestyle of overseas ministry, it must. I was very aware of this as I watched the goodbyes. And I was struck by the lack of competition or hardness, the absence of having to defend or apologize. Life is hard and we hurt each other, period. But we love and forgive and keep on living together, and that’s family.