How has international church planting challenged your marriage and parenting?
I come from a very close family (especially being a twin) so I knew it might be a challenge for me to live far from them. However, the excitement of living drastically for the Lord far outweighed my concerns of missing my family. I saw moving to Ireland as our adventure with God! Then came our babies. I never imagined how sad and difficult it would be to have our children so far from the comforts of family (and also to see my siblings having children and missing out on being the drop-in auntie).
My hormonal roller coaster of eight plus years of pregnancies and breastfeeding led me to moments of serious doubt. I doubted not only our calling, but also the Lord. I would even find myself blaming Jason for my heartache (as if he dragged me to this far away place!). After all of my pouting, blaming and threatening to give up on it all, the Holy Spirit would gently remind me this was the Lord’s plan for us, and His plans were good. Not easy, but good.
I find comfort in Abraham’s story of God calling him to pack it all up, leave his family, and head for the Promised Land, knowing that my Promised Land is heaven. And the Lord would use Jason to tenderly affirm me through my doubts and ranting. It is amazing how the Lord works it for one spouse to be up while the other is down!
As for parenting challenges, I’ve realized I need to let go of my concept of “normal” parenting and embrace the life my children have as third culture kids and the pastor’s children. They feel Irish, but are constantly reminded that they aren’t, really, because their parents are from the U.S. They are surrounded by Christ’s love through our family and church; yet, most of their friends come from nonbelieving homes.
We battle the culture of deception and lying, foul language, loose censorship and alcohol abuse, and at the same time use opportunities from the culture to teach our children to love and influence their peers for Christ. We’ve learned to call them kid missionaries instead of missionary kids.
If you could sit down over coffee with a wife who is about to internationally church plant with her husband, what would you tell her? What should she expect? What are the most important things for her to know as she prepares?
Before I say anything, I will go ahead and admit that I need to follow my own advice! So here goes. I think the most important thing to remember is to continually prioritize your relationship with the Lord above everything (spouse, children and church). It is easy to get caught up in ministry and “doing” things for Jesus, but this will leave you empty, exhausted and resentful. Church planting often requires us to do things outside of our giftedness, and being with the Lord is the only way to sustain you through that.
Secondly, I would say it is important to love and support your husband and family. You are all working together in the church plant, so be a team and cheer each other on. Keep negativity and complaining to a minimum, and continually praise and thank the Lord for the big and little things.
And last I would say to frequently remind yourself of your love for the people you are reaching. There will be times when it is hard to love them, especially when you’re clashing with their culture or you see no fruit from your labor. If you lose your love for the people where you are serving, apathy will creep in and suck the life out of your church plant.
Also, related to this, I would advise you to study not only the culture you are moving to, but the one you are coming from as well. Sometimes we think things are Biblical, but they’re not; they are just part of our Christian subculture. Before moving to another country, it is important to understand that cultural differences aren’t necessarily unbiblical or wrong, just different. (Bonus Advice: Lower your expectations. And just when you think they are low enough, lower them even still!)