Your parents gave you life and love and it is natural for a child to desire to care for his parents as they get older or sick. Adult children with aging or infirmed parents are blessed to be afforded the opportunity to care for their mothers and fathers in the final years. Sharing the grace and mercy of Christ with our parents in their twilight is a privilege not all are able to enjoy.
Scripture is clear when it says Christian disciples are to honor their parents (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; Mat. 19:19; Mar. 7:8-13; Eph. 6:1-3) and to care for members of their family (1 Tim. 5:8; Gal. 6:10). Scripture is also clear Christians are to go into the world and disciple the nations (Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). How can an obedient Christian care for aging parents when he is half a world away sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in a foreign culture? What is a missionary to do when those commands appear to be in conflict?
As your parents get older it is understandable for them to desire the company of their children and grandkids. The importance of our family comes into greater focus the older we get. As a missionary, your obedience to the Great Commission, deprives you and your parents with the close, meaningful relationships desired by most families.
It is painful for a missionary to absorb the reality their departure results in greater loneliness for their parents. Even if a missionary’s parents say they understand, the missionary knows their parents are forced to sacrifice quality time with their kids and grandkids.
As the health of your parents declines familiar concerns are raised, but are magnified when an adult child is a missionary. Ensuring proper care is made more difficult by the distance. Sharing the time and financial burden with siblings becomes a near impossibility. Other relatives are forced to carry the extra load created by the missing missionary.
Inevitably, when the death of a parent becomes a reality the grief and self-doubt are multiplied for the missionary. The missionary is overwhelmed by a sense that their pursuit of God’s glory in a foreign land took too much of a toll on their family and the shame of not being around enough at the end is almost unbearable. The spoken or perceived sense that the missionary abandoned their parents in their greatest time of need is profound.
If the parents of a missionary do not have a saving relationship with Christ, the missionary agonizes over the assumed contradiction that they are laboring for the souls of perfect strangers while their own family is without Christ. The missionary places too great a responsibility on himself to save his parents. Yet, self-deprecation and the perspectives of other pain the heart of the missionary who has lost a parent for eternity.
The missionary feels a crushing guilt and even shame for not being around their parents in the final years or during prolonged illness. The missionary may have a firm theoretical grasp on the unwavering sovereignty of God and truly know our Savior is in control of everything. Yet, while that fact absolves the missionary of any real culpability, it doesn’t always address the palpable guilt a missionary feels by being away from family in times of need.
The joyous reality is, when a missionary is called by God to serve in another culture, God has accounted for and ordered every related detail. The Creator knew the timing of illness, salvation, and death of your parents long before you put on your missionary training wheels.
God is very clear in his Scriptures. Our family does not come before the Creator of the Universe (Mic. 7:6; Mat. 10:34-37; Luk. 14:26). The glory of the Lord is the ultimate purpose of each disciple. We are called to place Christ ahead of our own life and health and ahead of every member of our family.
Whether your parents understand it or not, the best gift and example of Christian service a missionary can offer, is obedience to the Lord’s calling to go into the nations. Love and honor your parents and share with theme the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ. But, obey your eternal Father before all. The call to missions carries with it many burdens the missionary is asked to carry. Being separated from elderly parents while laboring in a foreign land excises a surprisingly heavy toll on a missionary.
Remind your earthly parents your love for them is great and you will honor them by obeying Jesus, no matter where he sends you. Communicate with your parents while on the field and help them to be part of your journey. Visit when you are on furlough and invite them to experience your new life. Ensure them, that our sovereign Lord has control over them and he can provide for them far better than you. Provide your parents and extended family an example of unwavering obedience to God, and show them an example of steadfast submission to a perfect Lord.