I’ve never been comfortable standing silently before a singing congregation during the “hymn of invitation” as they call it in the Baptist church. Even singing along feels awkward because I feel everyone staring at me. But, last night as I finished telling these people how the Williams family had come to feel called to become missionaries to Italy, Zach took me beyond uncomfortable.The ants in his pants were dancing.
Most of the time, I can stay focused on looking like a proper minister of God, but he climbed on the center-aisle-side arm rest of the front pew and was straddling it with a worried look. His face was saying, “I’m done. Help me set these ants free.”
I smiled at the pastor’s wife and looked back to my son then to my wife. I couldn’t tell if she was wearing an “I’ve-been-there” smile or a “control-your-boy” grimace. So, I proceeded to do my best from my station. With the congregation singing on, I stood before them snapping my fingers at him with a serious disciplinary expression and mouthing for him to sit still. Amazing that all of this could happen during one verse of a hymn.
We can’t take these kids to Italy with us.
We can barely take them to church.
These kids are not missionary family material.
What if they ruin our ministry overseas?
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. You probably wouldn’t question whether you should take your children along on a life-changing missional journey. You would be more mature about it for sure. That’s why we appeal to you more experienced, wiser readers to help us see it the proper way.
There are those many missionary families who have moved to foreign lands with greater personal challenges than high-strung, overly-dramatic, often selfish children who embarrass them. But this is where we find ourselves. It’s happening, ya’ll.
These are real thoughts and questions that have invaded our minds through the sketchy process of feeling called to leave what we consider familiar and enter a foreign culture to make disciples. In the beginning, I was too adventure-struck to feel this fear along with Amy, She was honest about it. As it all became more real, and we started being introduced as preparing missionaries, I began scanning over our children again. Gulp. Not pretty.
But, at the same time, I laugh thinking about the silly video Zach recorded from the back seat of a rental car we drove to Kentucky to share our story with another church. With all of his tone-deaf charm, he wildly moved his hands about singing about Italy. And, playing his song over and over again, I let my guard down. God whispered to me…
“They are learning to follow me to Italy, too…”
Months ago when we were telling everyone closest to us what we would be doing for the first time, they would ask us, “How do the children feel about this?” I didn’t honestly see this as a good question. It was to me wasted air. Children do what their parents do. Children of missionaries are missionaries. We’ll get them a puppy when we get overseas — they’ll be fine.
I’m seeing the value in this question now. I’m seeing their value now. They are our greatest treasure. Not this felt calling. The kid squirming in the front pew while I try to look holy wants me to disciple him before making disciples in Italy. He craves my attention and my affection before I give it to university students and immigrants and Italian natives.
The irony will be that our children will be our most effective bridge-building tool. Because of their general sense of informality, their openness to approach new, interesting people without fear, their lack of social barriers, they will carry us joyfully into living rooms, class rooms, and meeting rooms where we as a family will make disciples.
So, we have to take them too. Jesus didn’t call just the parents. He called all of us. And we will all do his work.