The Father’s heart for mothers in ministry
By Amy Bareham Chapman | International
Stock photo by Xavier Mouton via Unsplash
As a parent, especially a mother, full-time cross-cultural mission work can be particularly tough.
When Selam* was a newlywed, things were simpler. She and husband Dejen* could travel at a moment’s notice. They slept in remote villages and drove roads less travelled. There were fewer concerns at home, and they often stayed out late with friends.
Then, children came along, and Selam felt the weight of increased responsibility. She wasn’t just discipling nonbelievers, she was shepherding her family’s next generation too.
Since those early days, juggling babies’ sleep schedules and ministry commitments, the children have grown a little. So has Selam. After a decade of serving tribes in Ethiopia, Selam and Dejen relocated their young family to North Africa where they are joining Faithful Witness in bringing the gospel to least-reached communities. And while the scenery may have changed, Selam says the trials and triumphs of mothering on the mission field reman much the same.
“When we started this journey, we told the kids, ‘God wants us to go here – not just mummy and daddy, but all of us. He wants us to invest our everything in this country. We’ll have to leave our home, our friends, our school – everything. Are you willing to do that?’ And they said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”
Help at hand
To help Faithful Witness families have these conversations, SIM connects them with Third Culture Kid (TCK) Coordinators, like Mindy who works at SIM International. Her role is to provide care, resources, and wisdom as parents consider the ways a placement will impact their children. She explains, “There are 1,600 kids in SIM, and every one of those children has different needs. With SIM personnel in 50 countries, we are able to address these needs.”
As any parent can attest, the enthusiasm of a child comes and goes. For instance, Selam’s daughter, Miriam*, was overcome with sadness when they left Ethiopia. “She said, ‘From now on, no one will know our language, and no one will look like us.’ She listed so many things that made her feel upset,” Selam remembers.
Grief is a common response. Mindy says, “Their sense of attachment and belonging can suffer. When they move cross-culturally, the way they make sense of their world must change from their peers who stay in one cultural space. This means there can be multiple layers of loss. they lose the ability to make sense of their world. There are multiple layers of loss.”
If a child’s parents didn’t live cross-culturally during their own formative years, it can be difficult for them to rationalise sudden shifts in their children’s demeanour. Mindy shares, “In early childhood education, we say that behaviour is communication. You’ll see extra emotion or changed behaviour around a particular transition.” more lashing out, a child crying lots, extra emotion around a particular transition. Kids might hesitate and pull back from people, or they’ll make friends way too quickly.”
This can be troubling for parents. Mindy says, “They’re in the throes of a major transition themselves, trying to remember where they put the diapers or what time dinner is at the next supporter’s house. They’re handling any number of crazy details in ever-changing crazy circumstances while processing their own sense of homelessness and un-rootedness. And then they’re trying to navigate their child’s emotions, too.
“While this is quite a trial, we have each other and the Holy Spirit, who is always with us. As these emotions of fear, sadness, and frustration come, we have the opportunity to be the tangible love of Jesus in our children’s lives. Emotions are our body’s signals. For example, when we feel sadness, it is signaling that something needs to heal. A sad child is telling us that they know something is broken, and we get the privilege to be with them comforting and lamenting with them. ”
As Miriam, still sorrowful, arrived in her new country with her parents and brother, God blessed her with a touching reminder of his lovingkindness. One of the other Faithful Workers used Miriam’s native language to greet her. Selam laughs as she remembers. “Miriam said, ‘That’s so amazing! Someone does speak our language!’ And I said, ‘See, God will provide. That’s just how He is.’”
Loneliness and love
Helping children acclimatise to foreign environments is unavoidably overwhelming, so a flow of care is used by TCK coordinators to better support families during these fragile seasons. She observes, “It can be really isolating for stay-at-home mums. While dad is out building relationships and investing in his new career, the mum is experiencing the opposite. She is at home trying to get settled in a place that feels unsettled…it can be lonely. Many mums will tell stories of those difficult early days. But there are also often stories of how the Lord brought a new depth of care and love to their marriages as they navigate these challenges.
Mission work is physically and emotionally taxing – for adults and children alike – yet Selam has seen her children develop in ways that refresh her spirit on the hard days. Of course, she’s listened to numerous complaints (most recently about the shortage of toys in their North African home), but Selam also sees her daughter and son flourishing as young believers. She shares, “The week they started school, my daughter went to the toilet and locked the door. When she tried to leave, the door wouldn’t open.”
Miriam tried unsuccessfully to get out and later told her mother, “I almost cried. Nobody could hear me. Then I prayed Lord please help me, and a voice came to my mind. It said, ‘Try once more.’”
The door opened. After this incident, Miriam said to Selam, “Mummy, even though you and Daddy weren’t there, God was there. He helped me.”
Then there was the moment Selam and Dejen’s housing contract fell through. “We expected them to have the contract ready in August, but in this country, they have a different way of preparing contracts. It was terrifying, because without that rental agreement, we couldn’t get a work visa,” Selam recalls. She and Dejen were scrambling to find a solution, when she says, “Our son just knelt down. He said, ‘God, you are seeing me now. I am bowing down. And you will get this contract signed today.’” The family’s contract was approved that afternoon. Selam smiles and exclaims, “That’s my son!”
She adds, “Sometimes, kids challenge us, because they make us realise we’re still maturing. They fully believe when we’re really hesitating. And so it’s heartwarming to see all the things God gives us when they pray on our behalf.”
It is this audacious faith that, Selam observes, makes children such a gift to a ministry environment. “People may think they can get more done without kids, but I disagree. It is a privilege to have children, not a burden. You can feel very discouraged in missions, and children will just come along and lift you up. They are a blessing and teach you a lot.”
Walking with the Good Shepherd
A mother’s love is beautiful to behold, but it pales in comparison to the Father’s love. Mindy’s encouragement for mums in mission work is to remember, “God’s writing the story of your kids. So, despite the fact that it’s different from your story and the stories of your family, it is always God’s story. The safety we give our children to recognize and name their emotions with us as parents begins to teach them that that they are safe with the Lord who sees them and knows them. Ultimately it is a precious space of discipleship, walking together with the Good Shepherd. ” She continues, “And you’re not alone. SIM cares, and we’re working on resources that are very tangible to help.”
The story of two special children in North Africa will, without doubt, minister to those who are living and dying without hearing the good news of Jesus. May their fervor be a source of deep, overflowing joy for their mother: one of the first faithful witnesses they ever met.
• Ask God to establish Selam, Dejen, and their children in their new community. Pray for them to find consistency in their coming and going. May they settle into rhythms that are life-giving.
• Pray for the family as they study language. Ask God to provide the parents with margin to learn and process information.
• Intercede for the children as they navigate big feelings and learn how to communicate their needs. Ask the Lord to reveal more of his character to them, that they might encounter His peace and joy in all circumstances.
To support the work of this Faithful Witness family, visit https://www.sim.org/donate and use missionary number 041924.
*Names have been changed