As Western cross cultural workers, the access we have to information, communication, and connection back to our “passport country” is unprecedented.
This has been a tremendous blessing, but it also creates challenges that missionaries going to the field a hundred years ago didn’t have to face.
Today, we live in a global travel and information society.
Missionaries must live in between two worlds.
We can physically be just about anywhere in the world in a day or less. Through the internet, we can stay connected like no other time in human history. The two worlds of our “passport country” and our mission field intersect now on a regular basis.
These realities make family choices different for today’s cross cultural worker than they were for our pioneering forefathers.
Missionaries who left home back then left with very little thought of ever coming back home. The possibility of it was not readily available. They left everything behind and traveled to new lands with their wife and children to begin a new life in a new land. Most were basically cut off from their homeland except for the occasional report sent back by handwritten letter. The journey to get to their new home took months of travel by boat.
More often than not, upon arrival their children were educated in local schools or taught at home with little resources. They were totally immersed in their new culture’s life with little information of what was happening in their home country and culture.
There was no Skype conference calls to check in with grandma and grandpa. There was no visits back to the home land where they would be compared to their friends and relatives their age socially and culturally. They did not have to compete in global educational standards and worry about the possibility having to return home in the middle of the educational years only to find out that their children were behind a grade or more because the standards were so different.
On the more dangerous side, there was very little available in regards to hospitals, medical treatments, and no chance of helicoptered medi-vacs if the children faced serious illness. In fact, history records that many of these pioneer missionaries and their families died within months of arriving on the field.
If they made it through the disease and other threats on their lives their mission field, they still faced the loneliness that came from being cut off from the outside world. Obviously, there was a price to be paid for the decision to follow Jesus’s commands and take the Gospel to the nations.
Because of the failures of the past we have been able to learn what to do and what not to do in regards to missionary life.
There is the thinking, especially in the West, that if we could possibly do something for our kids and family and don’t it would be regarded as neglect. There is also thinking that if you win the world to Jesus and lose your family then you will have gained nothing.
The idea is that the priority is God first, family second, and ministry/mission third. This thinking actively influences a new generation of missionaries and their choices, especially in the area of medical treatment and education, and I believe it rightly should.
As I consider the missionary biographies from the past and I learn that many men lost wives and children in opening up lands to the Gospel. I wonder if those same missionaries would have been able to do what they did if they lived in our age of information. They may have been brought to jail for neglect, especially if proper medical care and education were available and they chose not to access it. My point is that they made decisions within the context of the age and circumstances in which they lived.
The reality for them was that these modern necessities, along with overnight flights back home, were not easily accessible. The details of what they were going through would not be broad casted back to the world in an instant via their Facebook or Twitter updates.
They were THERE for good and had little chance to come home so they HAD to stick it out. There was no other way.
Their kids HAD to accept a lower quality of education at times.
Their wives HAD to suffer in hard ways too.
In some ways, this is the world of the people we minister to and those with whom we minister along side of in our mission field. Sometimes, they simply don’t have the same choices. This is what they have learned to accept and have grown up with. They are used to it, and within their own society, they are able to navigate it effectively and work within the system.
But most of the time, we cross cultural Westerners can get our children an education that will ensure that they are not way behind their peers in standards “back home.” We can get the medical attention our family needs even if we have to pay more for it or travel to get it. We can move to a new location if needed and adjust more easily through access to travel.
To have all this access opened up now and not be willing to use it, is to neglect our family.
It is to open ourselves up to criticism and rebuke from the other world from which we came. It is not the challenge that our forefathers faced nor is it the challenge that our fellow brothers and sisters in our mission field face. It is the challenge that comes from living between two worlds.
In one way, we are both fully identified with our mission field, but we are also fully identified with our “passport country.”
We answer to both.
When talking through some of these issues, I agree with the assessment of some who say that our generation can be lacking in the area of commitment when the going gets tough. We, especially in the West, have made ourselves immune to suffering for the Gospel. We want things done quickly and we don’t want to have to pay a price. We could learn a lot from many of our Eastern brothers and sisters in the price they pay on a daily basis to reach their nations.
I do believe that our God still send Western families cross culturally in the 21st century despite the new challenges faced. I also believe that He has made provision for them there, will give them grace and help, and if need be, the grace to endure. But I believe what we SHOULD endure and what we MUST endure are two different things.
In the 21st century, the “should” and the “must” have changed for the missionary.
But the challenge is still always still there.
One of the many, is the “challenge of living between two worlds.”
I would love to hear your thoughts and insights on this. Weigh in on the comment section below.