Thursday, June 12, 2008

YOU MAKE THE CALL: Family and Missions

I try not to write a lot of personal stuff on this blog, and if I do I make an attempt for some missiological or spiritual application. Such is the case with the post today and I appreciate your indulgence.

Yesterday afternoon my 88-year-old dad was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. A bit of a shock as we knew he is confused a lot lately, but thought it was dementia or just plain old age. As we think of the future for my dad and, certainly for my mom, it’s challenging time for all of us.

My wife and I moved back to the states last December for the express reason of lending a nurturing helping hand to my parents as well as my wife’s father (my mother-in-law passed away two years ago). Our siblings are local and have been taking care of family matters for the 40 years that Sandy and I have been either overseas or located in some other state. It wasn’t necessary for us to return, but we made a conscious choice to be around in the waning years of our parent’s lives. As a trainer and non-resident missionary, my role has evolved since our pioneering days in the bush of Kenya and I don’t feel it’s imperative for me to physically be on the foreign field to be effective in missions. With the news we received yesterday I think we made the right relocation decision. But the question must, should be asked, is it legitimate for a missionary to come off the field to deal with family issues?

A friend of mine is in California taking care of his mother, who also has Alzheimer’s. He is the only child and he told me his mission agency was not sympathetic to his problem and has asked him to resign. Some of his donors, he confided, also question him on how long it will be before he goes back to the field. He has no idea. Alzheimer’s is not something that has a well-defined time-line. Another friend was home several years because one of his kids was having psychological and emotional problems. After seven years the sending agency asked for his resignation and he is still bitter about it. Were they right to take such action?

Like everything, BALANCE is the key. I do believe that there is a biblical principle as it relates to family and ministry. In Luke 9:59-62 there was a man who hesitated in following Jesus, saying, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he (Jesus) said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In the service of Christ family issues cannot, should not, take preeminence. At another, time, however, Jesus criticized the religious leaders for not taking care of their parents, using the work of God as an excuse to let them live in poverty (Matthew 15:3-7).

While not addressing my particular case, you make the call. What are your thoughts on missions and family issues? It’s a difficult decision that missionaries face everyday.