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…and how to deal with it.

Cross-cultural missionaries have families, who experience difficult emotions as a result of their loved one moving away, how can we address this well?


I want to recommend wholeheartedly and briefly reflect on this blog of the same name, written by ‘Ann Bowman’, for our partner blog: A Life Overseas

Ann (writing under a pen-name) shares the painful journey she went through as a ‘missionary mother’; her daughter chose to move to a faraway nation with her family for cross-cultural mission. Ann’s raw and honest blog is a personal reflection on a common phenomenon amongst missionaries: 


One of the greatest sources of discouragement for global workers is often from their own families back home, yet many of these relatives are committed church members.”


One of the most critical things a field worker needs is a solid support base. As they leave all they know and adjust to a radically different culture, language, ministry, plus a thousand more minor changes - they’ll undergo a real trial as they adapt and learn to find their feet in this new environment. Knowing they have a support base behind them will be a firm foundation for when times become tough, and the inner circle of support is usually the ‘PACT team’ and the family. 


If a field worker has properly tested their call, then they should feel confident that they are in the right place. In this instance, a family trying to bring back when the going gets tough can be extremely unhelpful, in the case of Ann’s daughter:


“She told me once that of all the team members in their area, her parents were the only parents who didn’t offer tickets home and encourage them to give up. I count that as God’s victory...”


So we can see this may be a point of tension between loved ones in this situation. Therefore, the family needs to prepare for their own mini ‘culture shock’ of a loved one departing. 

A Real Struggle

It is difficult for anybody to accept that your beloved family member is now a long distance away, and therefore you will inevitably see less of them. It is a sacrifice for them to move so far from home, but also a real loss for those they leave behind. There can be compounding issues, for example, Ann speaks of feeling robbed of her role as a grandparent to her daughter’s children. Though she tried to put on a brave face, she found it difficult to contain her emotions during and after their departure. 


It’s undoubtedly a real struggle, and the feelings a family member experiences are valid, so should be addressed with love and wisdom. Ann reflects on her process: 


“In turning to the Lord in honesty, I was met with tenderness and compassion, not condemnation. He understands the mother’s heart He created in me that must balance the desire to protect with the command to release my children to do all that God calls them to do. My season of dying to my dreams was like being crushed in an olive press. It was painful, and some days felt like hand-to-hand combat with my emotions.”


This journey may seem difficult at first, even impossible, but it is one which God can still work for our benefit.


For the Family Members

1. Process your Emotions in a Healthy Way

We would advise leaning on your own support network as you process this transition instead of burdening your departing loved one with guilt for the pain you may feel (this doesn’t mean you cannot be honest with them, only to be mindful of how you share it). By intentionally working through this with friends, church leaders or other family members, you will be in a healthier place to support your loved one as they prepare of their own journey.


2. Your Role Has not Been Removed, Only Re-oriented 

So life will not be as you may have imagined, but you are still a parent, brother, sister etc just as before! The benefits of technology allow us a closer long-distance relationship than ever before. So instead of dwelling on what you can no longer do, consider what you can do - and embrace new opportunities!


3. Get Behind the Ministry 

Hopefully, your loved one has left because they are passionate about serving the people of their adopted home - we encourage you to be engaged and proactive in learning about the nation, their ministry and praying for it yourself! Why not learn the language so you’ll be able to chat with their new friends if you can visit? 


For those leaving family behind

1. Finish Well

Don’t leave your goodbyes to the last minute! Take time to build a RAFT (this stands for Reconcile, Affirm, Farewell and Think destination) as you prepare to leave so your departure is not too abrupt.


2. Stay in Touch

You are on your own journey into another culture with its own challenges, and we would encourage you to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly, but do make some space to keep your PACT team and loved ones updated - they care for you! And furthermore, when things become difficult for you, it’s important that you have a strong connection with them, and that they are aware of your context so they can support you effectively. 


Do check out Ann’s story here to see how she dealt with this situation and the wisdom she acquired through it. If you’ve experienced this, we’d love to hear your thoughts and tips! Comment below or get in touch.


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Published on January 3, 2022
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Christine Paterson
Reflections from Our Journey - Our Missionary Blog

Email: [email protected]
Courses for Cross Cultural Missionaries: Browse Here
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