I’m not even sure how to write this post about the missionary family left at home.
I actually started to write it around the holidays but I couldn’t continue.
Thinking about our family back home around the holidays is one of those bitter sweet things of life.
I know they are there… right in the places that I left them.
Working, going to church, school… life is continuing on at the same pace without us.
And with the sense of loss I feel when I think about them, I know there is a sense of loss for them as well.
The sometimes forgotten people in the life of a missionary are the family members who are left back home.
The family adjusting to having a sibling or an aunt or an uncle or a cousin or a child living far away, on the other side of the sea.
And I write this post, not just about my family. Or Jeremy’s family. But all the families of missionaries.
I remember during our support raising travels, I talked to a very sweet friend at one of our supporting churches.
She is the sister of a missionary.
She has to watch her nieces and nephews grow up through pictures on facebook and precious moments on facetime. She rarely gets to see them in real life. She regularly battles knowing that her sister is living out God’s plan and the desire to have her home. To see her sister’s family living safely, closely, normally back home with the rest of the family. She wants them to succeed in their place of ministry yet she wants them home. She mourns holidays and birthdays yet knows that God has provided new “family” overseas through new friends and the rest of their missionary community.
She experiences new senses of loss with every new milestone and year that goes by…
She wakes up late in the night to pray as God prompts her. She carries the burden of keeping family and friends updated back home with how her sister is doing overseas. She helps with stateside business and paperwork and phone calls on behalf of her sister. She pays exorbitant shipping prices to send the most inexpensive yet treasured things to a country she has never physically experienced for herself.
She is proud of her sister. Yet sad.
There is a natural distance that happens when someone in your family leaves for the mission field. and it is hard to let go and let God.
This is a pretty common story for the family members of missionaries.
Another church we visited was attended by the mother of a long time career missionary.
She expressed so many of the same things.
These families are proud, grieving, giving, and completely, fully aware of the immense sacrifice of family and time and so much life happening without them.
They miss sports events and parties and the birth of babies.
They miss school programs and art projects and all the other things that Grandmas like to see.
This Grandma said she sees pictures of the artwork and skypes for birthdays but for her it is still so hard… missing so much life.
Even though it hurts, this sister and this grandma that I talked to both expressed deep appreciation for the connection they have through modern technology with their family overseas.
Even though it hurts.
Yet it isn’t the same.
The families that are left at home struggle.
They carry many, many burdens. Happily, but burdens still.
Shopping for the next season’s kids’ clothing or storing bins of stuff in their garage or handling mail or making phone calls or receiving faxes or whatever else needs done. All the crazy details of moving overseas.
They hear the hard stories of their grand kids struggling in school.
They see the difficulty of everything.
from far, far away
They watch the news and see the state of the world. They hear a country’s name in bold headlines and their heart stops.
They can’t fix it or help.
They stand on one side with thousands of dollars of travel money separating them from another part of the world where pieces of their hearts reside.
The family left at home is something rarely talked about and a whispered topic of conversation between quiet moments in a missionary’s life.
No one wants to really think about the years that fly by so quickly.
There is a precious calling to be the family of a missionary.
To be the home church family. The friendship family. The missionary family. To be the close network of a missionary living overseas.
Those with a front seat view to the realities of missions.
We are blessed with an incredible network and we wanted to shed a little light on what it is like for the family members back home.
For when you bless and pray and give and support a missionary, you bless their family at home too. And when the family at home is well, the missionary is well too.
I know my mom was overwhelmed at the beautiful, wonderful people who remembered her in the days around our first time moving overseas.
I know that Jeremy’s family experienced some of the same.
People who prayed with them and hugged them and gave them an understanding, encouraging word.
Sweet notes on facebook or a card in the mail. It all has a big impact on the families working in missions. At home and away.
Do you know the family of a missionary? Do you have a family member living overseas in a missions context?
Updated to add:
I just found this beautiful blog post from another point of view for the family back home. I wrote here about the struggle they face, the battle they wage within knowing that this is right even though they don’t want to see their family go so far away. I hope you hop over and read this post as well.