O.K., I’m getting a little tired of writing about my own trip, so I’m sure you’re getting tired of reading about it. I just wanted to post a few final thoughts. (If you have any more questions about our experience, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.)
Yesterday I mentioned that watching the faces of the children was a highlight for me. I absolutely loved watching my own three daughters get to know missionary children as they loved them and served them. It was wonderful to see dear Maggie, only 10 years old, come alongside a 6-year-old boy from Australia and be his buddy for the week.
And Abby, who is naturally more reserved than my other two, stretched herself from her comfort zone a little bit and held babies on her lap and played games with some of the older children.
Kate, who is naturally outgoing, made friends with all the 8- and 9-year-old boys. They loved her rough and tumble way with them and had a blast hanging out with her.
It was so good for my kids to connect with children who are growing up in places so unlike suburban America. It was good for them to hear stories of these children, like those whose family keeps a huge duffle bag packed at all times just in case they have to flee from their home. They have used that bag a few times.
Or to meet children like M and A who are making the most of their time on the mission field by learning five, yes FIVE, languages (English, Chinese, German, French, and Arabic if you really must know!) . A, the sister, is only 8; M, the brother, only 10. These are remarkable children in their learning, sure, but also remarkable in the love and kindness they showed to the other kids around them.
And then my girls had the opportunity to get to know others who live in Europe but sometimes don’t see their dad for a month or two at a time because he is embedded in a village, trying to learn a new language. They got to hear stories, firsthand, of the sacrifices the children of missionaries make; sometimes we only think of the sacrifices of the parents, but we found that the children make sacrifices, too.
One kind of “new” experience for us was meeting people who had never been to America before. Two little boys, who live most of the time in France, told my girls that they thought all Americans were fat (all they know of America is that McDonalds comes from here and in France the only people who go to McDonalds are fat people). We were happy to dispell that idea.
As we planned for this trip, we talked as a family about what it’s like for these missionaries to live where they live and to do what they do. We didn’t know much about their work before we left; in fact, the most we knew was that many of the people who would attend the conference lived in undisclosed locations. Which, to me, sounded a lot like being called to Eastern Outer Mongolia. How could they do that? I wondered.
But now, after meeting these wonderful people and getting to know their children, I realize that I have learned something, too. These missionaries live where they live and do what they do, making tremendous sacrifices, because they are completely dedicated to the Gospel. They couldn’t NOT do it. God’s call on their lives is so firm, His hand on them so sure, that they have to do what they do, even if it puts them in harm’s way.
A few years back our church planted a new church in downtown Chicago. As the pastors were talking with the congregation about moving into the city, they responded to the many questions they had received about their safety. Some asked, “Aren’t you afraid for the safety of your family if you move into the city?”
I will never forget one pastor’s response. He said, “I am less safe, out here in the suburbs, if I am out of God’s will than I will be in the city, doing His will.” And these missionaries, who sometimes live in difficult circumstances, know that with all their heart. They live it. Every day.
I pray that I will have the strength and the courage to live with the same conviction.
[Note: You may have noticed that I did not include pictures of any of the children we worked with. This was intentional as the mission agency and the parents do not want the children to be recognized. Trust me—they were, each and every one, as cute as can be!]