When I meet with college students who are interested in serving as a missionary, they often share how their pastors, friends, and mentors encourage them as they pursue their desire to serve overseas, but their parents are slow to support this decision. In many ways, this makes sense. Their parents have the most to lose. But we must remember that the kingdom of God is not like the world around us. In the kingdom of heaven, it is those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake who are blessed (Matthew 5:10–12).
In his recent book, Don’t Hold Back, David Platt tells a story about seeing a video of a high school senior who was preparing for an 18-month mission trip.
Kristen is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group commonly known as Mormons. Traditionally, nearly every Mormon student who graduates high school spends the following year somewhere away from home sharing the teachings of Joseph Smith. To be clear, theirs is not the biblical gospel that saves but a counterfeit gospel that condemns.
In that video, Kristen was at home reading a letter she’d received informing her where her upcoming mission assignment would take her. As she read it, she shook with nervous excitement. When she came to the part detailing her assignment, her face lit up with a shining smile. Immediately the camera panned out and reveal her family and a host of friends who had gathered to cheer in celebration.
Is this how you would expect your parents to react? Would your friends and family gather to cheer in celebration to hear you announce where you’ll be moving to share the gospel? Unfortunately, very few college students who aspire to serve as missionaries receive this sort of support from their families. As Christians, we possess a gospel that has the power to bring people to salvation to the lost, and yet we are often slow to sacrifice so that others can receive it (Romans 1:16).
If unreached people groups are going to believe in Christ, they must first hear the gospel proclaimed. In Romans 10:17, Paul reminds us that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ. How will they believe if they’ve never heard the gospel? How are they to hear without someone telling them? The resounding answer is that someone must be sent. In this passage, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 to declare, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Be Patient with Your Family Members
If your parents aren’t believers, it is important to recognize they may never support your decision to go overseas. As difficult as this may be, missions doesn’t make sense to non-Christians, because they haven’t experienced new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Pray that they would come to know Christ through your commitment to him.
If your parents are believers, be patient as they process this news. While they may support other missionaries financially, they may have never considered that their child would move to the nations. Remember that everyone processes these decisions in different amounts of time. If this is the first time that you’ve shared this desire with them, they may need time to pray about this and talk to friends before they are able to begin the conversation with you.
Talk to Your Church
Since missionaries are sent by local churches, start by inviting your local church into the process, as early as possible. If you think that your parents will be hesitant to support your decision to go overseas, consider sitting down with an elder in your church to discuss how to approach this difficult conversation. Ask mentors and friends in your church to pray with you. As your parents process this decision, lean on your local church to encourage and support you.
Recognize Their Sacrifice
When you go overseas, you are not the only one who is making a sacrifice. You may be sacrificing comfort, familiarity, and safety to reach the nations, but your family is sacrificing their proximity to you. Take time to consider how this might change their life and expectations.
When you go overseas, you are not the only one who is sacrificing something.
If you have young children, they may be worried about being far away from their grandchildren. If you are going to a dangerous country, they may be worried about your safety. Listen to their concerns and patiently enter into this process with them.
Pray for Yourself and for Your Parents
During this time, spend time praying for humility in your heart. Aim to do nothing out of selfish ambition, but humbly and carefully consider your parents’ thoughts and emotions (Philippians 2:3). In this time, join with other believers in your church to pray for a change in their hearts. Remember that God is able to open doors that you may think are closed.
Humbly and carefully consider your parents’ thoughts and emotions.
Be Faithful to Obey God’s Calling
Finally, under the oversight of your local church, be faithful to obey the Lord. Certainly, make every effort to provide your parents ample time to process this decision, but remember that leaving is never easy. If you are moving overseas as a missionary, there will be a cost.
Going to the nations will be challenging, but we must remember that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We can join with believers around the world and pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers, but we also must recognize that we may be the ones that he is preparing to send (Matthew 9:35–38).