Thursday, April 11, 2013

How Becoming a Middle-Aged Missionary Is Different

In previous times, it was common in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, to send out missionaries fresh from college or seminary, lives not started yet, kids not present or still very young.  In general, that is not the norm now.  (and it is not that there weren't families that went later in life, it wasn't the focus in recruiting).

In our orientation class last year, this was not the case.  A few were short-term missionaries that received career calls, but of the rest, we all had lives that we believed were fairly established.  We didn't come from the already transient lifestyle of the student.  All of us had kids.  Three out of the five clergy families had kids that were school-age (all of us homeschooled), and two of these families even had high school aged kids who are being asked to leave behind their friends, their activities, and everything familiar a couple of years earlier than they planned for something completely different and entirely unasked for.  While older kids in many ways are less labor-intensive than younger ones, moving and changing a life is much easier with little ones than with school-aged kids because of these things.  Little ones have to be loved through the adjustment, but they still have most of what is important to them with them.

In my case, as well, I had my nine month internship left to complete on my Masters degree.  We had a house full of stuff to sort through, cars to sell, pets to find homes for, and in general, a full life to disassemble.

The newly-called missionary doesn't get to leave right away for places far off.  We work to raise the funds needed to support a year of our mission work.  This takes about a year.  But when we have kids, school, work, pets, and other such things to sort through, it is not like we can just embrace the traveling lifestyle and abandon all.  A year of that kind of life isn't good for kids, and they want that time to be with their friends, enjoy their church, and feel normal for just a little longer, so unlike the missionaries that can start out from college or seminary, or ones that are coming back on furlough, the congregations that we are visiting don't often get to see all of us.  A lot of times, they get Jeff, or Jeff and me.

In the end, I think the focus is different.  It is about dismantling a life, rather than waiting to begin one.  I WANT my attention to be on what is ahead.  I want to be excited about it, and deep inside, I am....but in the end, my attention is much more focused on how we are going to get my son's Eagle project done and his braces off before we go, or whether we should use this time for Maggie to start piano lessons, and whether or not I am going to get enough counseling hours in this term so I can graduate on time, and all the mom-guilt that goes along with too much to do and way too much fast food. 

And our focus getting there is probably different, too.  While we know that we will be devoted to serving the people in Papua New Guinea.  We are comfortable with that part, since we have been serving God's people for fifteen years.  That part is not new to us.  So what we end up expressing, talking about, focusing on is making a home for our already very established family.  Our concerns go to thinking about how our kids will adjust.  

I'm not trying to toot our own horn (no pun intended) or call attention to what we are sacrificing.  Our sacrifice is not really any bigger than those who start off at the beginning of everything to possibly spend the rest of their lives in the mission field.  The emotional and logistical factors involved look different, though. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. I am a middle aged mother and grandmother who is headed to the mission field for the first time and was looking for an article about middle aged first time missionaries. No matter the age though, there are issues to deal with and things to sort through. I pray that your mission will be very successful and your children will adjust nicely to the new surroundings.