For The Joy edited by Miriam Chan & Sophia Russell
I think all of us who are mothers recognize the feeling of channelling a fierce mama bear. We naturally want to protect our children from harm. The thought of them being hurt or falling ill can terrify us. And the thought of someone else hurting them can arouse a surge of anger that might seem quite at odds with our normal dispositions. Missionary mothers are, of course, no different in this regard. They love their children intensely and want to protect them from pain and suffering. Yet many of them willingly go, with their children, to dangerous, impoverished places for the sake of making disciples of the nations. For the Joy is a collection of some of their stories. The book has 21 Australian missionary mothers give a short account of some aspect of what parenting and life has looked like as they have crossed cultures.
There is such a diverse range of experiences shared in this book. It has opened my eyes to what life on the mission field can look like for different women. There are incredible stories in here. There’s Liling who spent much of her time living and home-schooling her children on a converted bus, as they travelled around delivering medical help to remote Bolivian towns. There’s Dorca, who had her son get caught up in a terrorist attack at his Christian school in Pakistan. Then there is Julie’s heartbreaking account of the death of her 19-month-old son while on the mission field that I read through floods of tears. There is a chapter from Gladys Staines, who is well known for staying on to serve in India after she lost her husband and two young sons in 1999 to a mob attack on the Jeep they were sleeping in. There is much sadness, much joy and so much to be encouraged by as each of these women share how they seek to live lives worthy of the gospel through the most challenging of circumstances. Each testifies to the goodness of our great and sovereign Lord throughout it all.
Something that surprised me in these accounts was the judgement some of these women received from other Christians back home. Red, who serves in Arnhem land, when home in Sydney was once handed money with a pitying look and told “It’s for your children”. She writes of how she deals with the perception that she has chosen a path that disadvantages her children. I loved her challenge to us that “If I choose to abandon His mission in order to pursue worldly success, pleasure and comfort, then my kids are disadvantaged.” Similarly, Gabrielle was publicly “counselled” online and accused of being an irresponsible mum after her precious child suffered horrific burns far from medical help. Both Sally and Lyndal describe having to deal with criticism from locals in their mission field who did not like the way they managed the baby stage. We are all so sensitive to the idea that we are a “bad” mum. I was so encouraged to read of how these women dealt with this disapproval. We can so easily accept the world’s version of what a “good” mum will look like, but as Red writes “as a mother, the best thing I can do for my kids is to follow God’s call”.
Of course, while there can always be criticism from outside, it is often wrestling with our own sense of being a “bad” mum and failing our kids that can be so difficult. Gabrielle describes this battle well, and how so often our idea of what a “good” mum looks like comes from ideas we have accepted unfiltered through the lens of the gospel. Paula, in Indonesia, shares in her story about her son Ethan who was diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder after years of difficulties and crippling anxiety. Where they served, they lacked access to the resources and understanding he would find here in Australia. She openly shares of her struggle with the fact that it was her that chose the mission life and not her son, yet he is the one facing so much difficulty because of that choice. The brave and open stories of these women paint such a rich picture for us of how these mothers balance their desire to love and shield their children with the knowledge that it is God alone who can truly protect them. As Paula writes “It is worth every struggle because He is always good, and He is always faithful.” The title of this book is so fitting. Like the Lord Jesus Christ these faithful women are, for the joy that is set before them, running with perseverance the race that is marked out for them.
Next week I’ll share a little more of some of the ways in which they challenged and encouraged me.
Meet our contributor | Jocelyn Loane is married to Ed, who lectures in Doctrine and Church History at Moore College. They have five children and enjoy church together at St Peters, Cooks River. Her children think her hobbies include laundry, finding lost shoes and making multiple versions of the same dinner.