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Parents of missionaries draw support from others at retreat

MARIANNA, Fla. (BP)–Parents who have grappled with the hard task of saying goodbye to children who are called to international missions gathered for a retreat in Florida, where they heard from International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin and others who understand the price that is paid when loved ones leave the United States to share the Gospel abroad.

Rankin and his wife, Bobbye, were missionaries before he became the IMB president, and for years their son and daughter were on the field in different countries with their own families. They’ve known the heartache of infrequent visits and especially the longing for more time with their grandchildren, but the Rankins told missionary parents at the third gathering of the National Missionary Parent Retreat at Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center in Marianna, Fla., that the sacrifice is worth it.

Bobbye Rankin reminded the parents that many of their children are in places where people have never held a Bible or heard Scripture in their own language. Because of them, new believers will be able to tell the story of Jesus “to their children and their children and their children, and a new generation will arise who will know Jesus Christ,” she said.

“As you have told your children that story, they are now in places telling that story for the very first time to so many children as well as to adults,” she said. “It is an honorable calling.”

Jerry Rankin mentioned that being the parent of a missionary is a privilege, though the world does not comprehend the motivation required by missionaries and their families.

“When God touched your sons and daughters and planted in their heart a passion, a burden, a brokenness for a world that does not know Jesus Christ,” Rankin said, sometimes the world will look at them and say, “How tragic. What a waste that they would be walking away from a successful career, a promising ministry in a stateside church — how tragic to go and live in a place like Yemen or Central Asia or West Africa.”

Though few understand, the urgency of the calling remains, Rankin said, and parents should be grateful for the role God is allowing them to play in His Kingdom’s work.

“I am saying to you that you are fortunate because through your sons and daughters, suddenly your life is contributing something of eternal significance,” he said. “When they stand before the throne of God … and they see the [people groups throughout the world] gathered around the throne of God, it’s worth it all because they were willing to go.”

Carrie McDonnall, the lone survivor of a group of five IMB workers who were ambushed in Iraq in March 2004, also addressed the group of missionary parents, though she wondered if her story might do more harm than good.

“I kind of was a little bewildered, honestly, because my story is kind of the story of the worst possible nightmare of most missionary parents,” she said.

McDonnall told of how news of the attack affected her parents.

“My mom was at work when she received the news. She hit the floor before she could hang up the phone,” she said. “Many of you all can put yourself in their shoes. I’m sure your heart trembles at the thought of what they dealt with in those next few hours and then months later.”

Though she encountered tragedy on the path of following God in missions, McDonnall said she learned valuable lessons about His larger plan, particularly in the Arab world where the light of the Gospel is desperately needed to dispel the darkness.

“That’s why you pray for your children,” McDonnall said. “That’s why you pray for their presence. I encourage you as you miss your family and you miss your children to continue to seek after Christ.”

Parents of missionaries also heard from Vanessa Sanders*, a missionary to deaf people in Eastern Europe, and her husband, Mike*. Sanders recalled the time she told her mother she wanted to become a missionary.

“I can’t do this. I can’t let you go. I cannot let you go overseas,” her mother said, Sanders recounted.

“So, does this mean you want to take me back out of the Lord’s hands?” Sanders asked her mother at the time.

“No,” her mother replied with a change of heart. “I spent a whole lifetime preparing you for this and you will go.”

Sanders told the missionary parents it hasn’t been easy to live far away while her mother lives in a nursing home, but the love and support of her mother allows her to remain on the field and share the Gospel with deaf people.

“Regardless of how difficult it is, to live in that righteousness brings peace and joy,” she said.

A missionary family currently serving in a country closed to the outward spread of the Gospel also spoke at the March 31-April 1 conference, relaying the importance of keeping the faith when the going gets rough.

“When we come to that point of helplessness, that’s when God sustains us,” the husband said, thanking the missionary parents for supporting for their children.

“God is doing something, and I just want to say thank you. Thank you because of your obedience. You were obedient in letting your children go,” he said. “You were obedient in giving your blessing to your kids. … That part of the world will never be the same … because of the lives of your kids that you have willingly given to God.”

Nearly 150 parents from 12 states who collectively have children in all 11 regions of the world attended the conference.
*Names changed for security reasons.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com. For more information about future events for parents of missionaries, contact Terri Willis at the International Mission Board via e-mail at [email protected].

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  • Joni B. Hannigan