Warning..I’m going to call out the women in this one. Which I can. Because I am one. And I’m 50 too. Which means I have been a woman for a long, long time, so I know some stuff. And I’ve been a mother for 22 years and a wife for almost 28, so I know some stuff about that too.
Recently Curt and I spoke on a panel about living overseas. Our audience was prospective international church planters. When I learned about a very serious issue facing the global organization we worked for when we served in Southeast Asia, I jumped at the chance to address it. The problem? The prevalence of families serving overseas who (in the organization’s words) “want to recreate a middle class American family existence overseas where the wife stays home and the husband does the ministry.” In short, they are finding that wives do not want to be held to the same expectations as their husband when it comes to learning language and sharing the Gospel. They want to have the freedom to stay at home to raise their children, be a housewife, and leave the “work” to their husbands.
Since you can always count on me to have a strong opinion (I wasn’t born and raised in NYC for nothing), let me preface this the way I did that night to the people in attendance: In the 22 years that I have been a mother, I have been both a working mom and a stay at home mom. And yes, I believe that being a stay at home mom was the far more rewarding role and the one that absolutely was best for my family. So this is not a stay_at_home_Mom_hater post. Read on.
When you become a follower of Jesus, your life is no longer your own.
” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV).
In addition, all of Jesus’ followers are called to make disciples.
“And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
Although disciple-making is something every Christian husband and wife is called to do, when you are called into full time ministry, and become “professional Christians,” 😉 you don’t take on a new job, you begin a new life. If you then compare your husband’s work hours with someone who has a 9-5 corporate job, it won’t be long before the “overworked and definitely underpaid” aspect will get to you. Don’t ever look at it as a job. Remember, its a life, and one that is being well spent!
But that applies no matter what side of the world we find ourselves on. So specific to those serving overseas, I broke my response down into 5 of the roles that I now play..
My family and I financially give as generously as we possibly can to the organization that sent us overseas for one reason.. so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel. Remember that. Your salary and benefits are a result of people giving “sacrificially.” (I’m not such a fan of the whole ‘sacrificial giving’ description..Jesus is the only one in every equation who made a ‘sacrifice’) As international church planters, you made a committment to devote your lives to seeing the Gospel transform entire people groups. In the case of our sending organization, both the husband and the wife sign the contract. No one financially gives so you can transplant your American life overseas, brag about being “bilingual” to your friends back home, and post exotic photos on your blog.
In Curt’s role at the Summit Church of training and leading international church planters, he will not send anyone who is not a well equipped disciple maker fully committed to the main thing, male or female. People who are not already actively engaging unreached people in their own culture won’t do it in a foreign one. We expect both husband and wife to be doing this, while they are still in America. There are only missionaries, not ‘missionary wives’ (which sounds like a bad reality show). If you aren’t both called, then you aren’t ready to go, because you don’t yet fully understand calling.
As Curt’s wife of almost TWENTY EIGHT YEARS, I was designed by God to be a helper to him. That’s why I participate in helping him train and equip others to take the Gospel to places where Jesus is not yet known outside of America. Although I still have a child at home, who is homeschooled, I don’t use that as an excuse not to join my husband in the work God has called us to do. As my husband and spiritual leader, Curt is called to encourage me in my own giftings in our ministry. We are one another’s first partner in the Gospel.
None of us lead single focus lives. For example, I am a Christ follower, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, an author, a pregnancy care center director, a volunteer, a friend, etc. I want to model for my children what I hope to see them do: make disciples. That is not “Dad’s job,” it’s who we are as a family. And before you say, “Oh Hilary, you don’t understand how HARD it is to learn language and do ministry when you have babies or little ones.” Yes I do. First of all, Jordan and Molly weren’t born awesome teenagers. They were babies too once. Secondly, I lived alongside wives and mothers who were actively engaged in what we were all there to do. Finally, don’t forget that during my term overseas, I transitioned a middle schooler and a high schooler who had lived their whole life in the States up until that point, and were having to be homeschooled for the first time in their lives while I did language and ministry. That was not easy or relaxing. When I was home with the kids in Southeast Asia, I made my house helper my best language teacher by talking to her for extended periods of time every day. She was the first person I shared the Gospel with in SE Asia. In addition, Curt made sure I had time every week to get out of the house and be with friends that I was actively sharing the Gospel with. Your husband can and should do that too. And think about the great mothers who have gone before us all…Ann Judson, Elisabeth Elliot, Maria Taylor, Betty Stam, just to name a few..were they sitting at home while their husbands did the work? Definitely not.
I’m so thankful to have served on a highly successful and highly functioning team in SE Asia. Although we were (and still are) FAMILY, we were also employees of the same company. And as someone who has years and years of work experience in many different roles, one thing was the same no matter where I worked: employees don’t get to pick and choose what part of their job they will do. They call those people, “former employees.” In our organization, during the first year we are paid to learn the language and culture so that we can share the Gospel in the local language and in culturally appropriate ways. If you make excuses about being too busy or tired with the kids to learn, then you are taking money for a job you were hired to do that you aren’t doing. Besides, in the part of the world where we lived, males and females were segregated for the most part. It wasn’t appropriate for Curt to share with a woman. So if wives don’t learn language and culture, how will the unreached, unenaged women hear? I wouldn’t want to be on a team with a woman who wasn’t actively engaged with the language, culture, and ministry.
In short it comes down to two questions..
Are you going overseas to facilitate a specific lifestyle? If so, do that on your own dime.
Or are you going overseas willing to do whatever God asks you to do so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel? Fifty percent of the unreached and unenaged won’t hear the Gospel if fifty percent of those sent to proclaim the Gospel are silent. So learn the language and culture and share the Gospel because ministry is not “your husband’s job.”