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Bob Burnham

9 Ways to Care for Your Family on the Mission Field

Missionary you are on the front line and in harm’s way. You, your spouse, and your kids struggle as you labor for Christ in your adopted culture. Your support network is far away and the emotional, spiritual, and physical toll on your family is high. You are the human who can most positively impact the struggles of the ones you love. Glorify God and serve your family by making their care a priority for you while serving in missions.

To those fulfilling the Great Commission, or about to, here are a few practical ways you can decrease the burden missions can inflict on those closest to you:

1. Family Vacations
Spend some time away from daily ministry and relax. Remind your family members they are at least as important to you as those to whom you came to minister. Have fun together and laugh with the special ones with whom God has entrusted you. Turn off your cell phone and put someone else in charge of your daily ministry for a few days. You don’t have to travel far or spend lots of money to have a family getaway.

2. Cultural Experiences
God has called you to serve Him in a culture that is not your own. Learn to enjoy the culture in which you live. Explore and learn about the people, food, and life together. Your ministry is made easier if you understand the culture of those to whom you minister. When you see the culture through the eyes of your spouse and kids you comprehend deeper the people you are discipling.

3. Date Night
No matter your station in life, never forget to date your spouse. Remind yourself how special your spouse is and remind them they still matter to you. Get out of the house, away from kids and away from daily ministry, and enjoy each other’s company. Go to special and intimate escapes together. Continue to fall in love no matter how long you have been married or what country you live in.

4. Prayer
Pray together and pray for each other. Let your family hear you pray to God for their wellbeing. Petition your Father to help your family members feel loved, safe, and valuable. Remember to pray for your spouse and kids in your private prayers and family prayer. Teach them to pray for each other and those you serve. Pray for your first ministry—your family.

5. Language Acquisition
Make sure your spouse and kids receive adequate formal language instruction. A stay-at-home spouse or homeschooled kids still must participate in commerce, interact with neighbors, and contribute to the ministry. A family member who struggles at their new language may feel marginalized and less relevant to the family. Practice together and help each other improve in language in a nurturing environment.

6. Traditions
Maintain family traditions and holidays. Use family traditions to help you feel connected to those far away from you. If your resources are limited celebrate Thanksgiving by eating a chicken or decorate your Christmas palm tree. Remember your old culture and embrace your new one. Combine old traditions with new flavor. Remembering your home and the culture you came from does not dishonor your new calling.

7. Seek Counsel
As you, your spouse, and your kids are struggling, seek the guidance of a spiritual advisor or therapist. There may be both in your new culture, but if not, use technology to communicate with professionals back home. Seek guidance from trained experts. Do not feel negative stigma or weakness for seeking help. Allow your family to grow with Godly marriage, individual, or family counseling. We all struggle, only the honest seek help.

8. Minister Together
Include your kids and your spouse in your ministry as often and appropriate. Allow your missionary kids to be kid missionaries. Make sure your spouse has opportunities to minister as his or her time and abilities allow. Don’t force your family to embrace your ministry, but instead find ways they can minister that allows them to utilize the gifts God has given them. As is possible, minister side by side.

9. Familiar Contact
Use letters, Skype, e-mail, phone calls, and social media to maintain communication with your friends and extended family back home. While encouraging your family to get to know people in your new culture, do not discourage interaction with those you left behind. If those back home can experience your ministry and familial love they will be more supportive of your missions work and know better how to pray for your family.

Caring for yourselves and your family is healthy, biblical, and increases the probability you will serve longer on the mission field. You and your family are already paying a price, don’t make it worse by neglecting each other. You have no business ministering to another culture when your own family is suffering.

Do not allow your kids and spouse to be casualties of your missions work. As you would back home, care for the special needs of your family while you involve them in your missions work and adopted culture. You may be surprised what a Godly witness a healthy and loving family is to the culture you have been sent to serve.

Mike Pettengill has served with MTW in Honduras and Equatorial Guinea. He is now the director of MTW’s West Coast office.

Mike Pettengill, Missiology Reflection Aug 16, 2016
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Pray for our single missionaries serving internationally in the midst of their unique struggles. 

Pray for missionaries to remain faithful in the mundane and not get caught up in striving to perform for the praise of others. 

Pray for missionaries who are doing valuable work yet have trouble raising support because their work or field is deemed less exciting or less important than other mission work by some in the church. 

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Pray for missionaries who are experiencing homesickness on the field.

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