For The Joy edited by Miriam Chan & Sophia Russell
I wonder what preconceptions you have in your head as you think of what a missionary is like? I think I’ve often perceived them as people who have it all sorted out. They seem to be some sort of superhuman breed that never doubt their decisions or struggle with the trials that God might have for them. We can sometimes feel that they are made of sterner stuff than the rest of us and it’s this extra special quality they have that enables them to do what they do. Of course, as I have got to know different missionaries over the years it has become apparent that they are just like every other Christian. They are forgiven sinners, seeking to serve the Lord they love and with just as many weaknesses to accompany their gifts as any other disciple. For the Joy is a collection of 21 different accounts of what being a missionary mother looks like, all written by Australian women. One of the things I most loved about it is how open and transparent they are with us about their weaknesses and struggles.
Let me give you a taste of some of the ways in which we see this in the book. A common theme is how the expectation of what mission would look like is different to the reality. Not speaking the language well is humiliating. There can come a surprising bitterness when people aren’t grateful. The manifold difficulties of transitioning cultures are just plain exhausting and can leave little energy for anything else. For some there was a big adjustment to be made between the type of missionary they thought they would be and the ways they could actually manage to serve. We can assume that missionaries love what they do, but in the introduction one of the editors, Miriam Chan, shares how her missionary friend confided in her about her jealousy at another family being instructed to leave the mission field for medical reasons. She shared “If only someone in my family had a terminal illness…at least then we would have a valid reason to leave this place”. It gave me a real insight into the despair that can sometimes overcome someone on the mission field. What these women do is hard, and they need our prayers.
The chapter written by a woman with the pseudonym Mai was one that really encouraged me. She describes how her dream of serving in Vietnam alongside her husband and baby became nightmarish as she suffered from stress and anxiety to the point of breakdown under very trying circumstances. My heart wept for this poor woman who really tried to push on through such difficulty. But through this terrible trial she grew so much. She shares how she learnt that “what we do for God—even as missionaries—becomes an idol if it replaces our relationship with Him”. She was able to shift from her identity being focused on what she was doing for God to what He had done for her. They left the mission field to recover and are now back, with three children, serving God again in Asia.
With 21 stories come 21 different personalities and view points on what it means to be a missionary mother, so there may be some in here you don’t quite agree with. There is a tension to be held for all of us who are raising young children between the time we spend investing in them and the energy we have to invest elsewhere. For the most part these women had much wisdom on how to navigate this tension. I loved Sally’s encouragement that “my personal independence at this stage of life could not be selfishly coveted, but continual joyful service to my little people had to be prized and desired” as she worked to not feel angry that her children “got in the way” of ministry. On the other hand, I bristled at Jessica’s description of her being freed from taking care of the family and household to “release me into God’s service”, as though serving God is something we can only do outside our homes. This compilation of stories will help you mull over how we balance our commitments to loving our husband and children with ministering outside the home.
If, like me, you sometimes feel missionaries are a slightly different species, this book will open your eyes. They are normal Christian women, they are us, so I can’t think it is just their superhuman-ness that enables them to go. Is it perhaps just their willingness that differs from mine? What a challenge that is to me. This book will help you to know more of what it is these sisters of ours face in their daily lives. You will be able to support and pray for them with more understanding, and you will be encouraged by their faithfulness through many trials. It is the same faithful and loving God that has sustained them that sustains you, and their stories will give you much cause to praise His name.
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.