by Steve Maybee, M.A.
Over the last few decades the church has been doing an increasingly better job of caring for its missionaries. We have also been doing a much better job of caring for the children of missionaries, or MKs (missionary kids). Now it’s time to take the next step and make strides in ministering to the whole missionary family.
One of the defining characteristics of the missionary family is that they tend to live “between worlds.” There is regular and sometimes frequent travel between their passport country and their country of service. As a result, they tend to live in a state of constant transition, with people coming into and going out of their lives. Typically, the one constant in all of this transition is their family.
It has also been shown that the strength of family relationships is one of the key factors in the overall well-being and emotional stability of the MK, in spite of the number of transitions that the MK has experienced. With upwards of 20% of MKs abandoning the faith of their parents, we have to focus on building family relationships that are strong and vital, both for the sake of the missionary family and for the sake of the Gospel.
While there are currently few resources that address ministry to the missionary family as a whole, some intentional focus, creative thinking, and a deep concern for and commitment to ministering to whole families can often yield some great ideas for effective family care. It really isn’t that hard; we just have to make it a priority.
As missions committees and churches interact with the missionary family, are we intentional about engaging the whole family? Do we make a priority of building up the family in their relationships with each other even more than in their relationships with us? Are we holding missionary parents accountable for taking regular time away just to be together as a family? Do our activities and the things that we are asking of our missionaries serve to divide or unify them as a family? Can we make sure that the family is having plenty of time and energy to really enjoy one another? These kinds of questions can get us started as we think about our ministry to the missionary family unit.
As we celebrate improvements in ministering to individuals who serve in missions, let’s not forget the family unit as a whole. Building those relationships may do more than anything else to help build another generation of strong, vibrant people dedicated to the cause of advancing the Kingdom of God.