My husband and I sat with a couple dozen college students one night to listen to a missions’ mobilizer answer their questions about going overseas after college. The first question was one we’ve heard many times: How do you go about raising money when you’re just about to graduate from college? I know the young man probably got a little confused when his question was met with a smile and a shaking head. The mobilizer told them that money wouldn’t be their problem, and instead he asked the students to guess the primary barrier to them going to the mission field after college.
Answers like student loans, lack of training, and fear were all met by another shaking head. As the room grew silent, the mobilizer’s eyes met mine. I smiled because I knew the answer very well: it’s me.
The number one barrier these young men and women face in trying to take the gospel overseas is often parents just like me.
Part of it is understandable. We haven’t been with them much of the time while they’re in college, and the truth is, many of us don’t hear a lot from them while they’re gone. If they’ve grown, parents don’t necessarily hear about it. Add to that, most of us had to work hard and pay a lot of money for them to get their degree. Even if unconsciously, many parents are expecting some sort of return on that costly investment. Then there’s the impression we get from their lives on social media . . . a lot of coffee pics, sports, and of course, selfies. And now all of a sudden, they have a passion for the unreached? Yes, some parents are skeptical, and some for good reason. How do we know our kids don’t just want to delay getting a job for a few more years?
Does that seem harsh? It might be, but if you’re a college student, it probably sounds a lot like what you’re expecting to hear from your parents. So, what do you do about it? How do you approach your parents to sincerely share about all that God is doing in your heart for the unreached peoples in our world? Here are five things to consider.
1. Let your parents in on the journey early and often.
Your desire to serve overseas shouldn’t be spontaneously announced like you do when you’ve decided to drive to the playoff game or change your hair color. Your parents don’t want to suddenly hear, “Mom, Dad, when I graduate I’m moving to Cambodia.” Share the journey as you walk through it, even in the earliest stages.
If you read a blog post that impacts your perspective on global missions, send it to your friends who agree with you, and to your dad with a note about why you loved it. If you hear a sermon that stirs you, send your parents a link and tell them about it. Don’t worry about their lack of response to it. This isn’t about convincing them. It’s just showing them what you see. When you come to them about what you want to do, it should not be a surprise but simply the next step in all God has been doing in you.
And what if they’re unbelievers? Share it all anyway. You have no idea how God will use it. And yes, I know even that much may not go well. Remember, you don’t manage responses. Concern yourself with your obedience, not what they’ll do with it.
2. Do for them first what you want to do for others.
Don’t ask them to export overseas what they don’t even want living with them in the first place.
Want to go take care of orphans . . . but you leave your dishes in my sink?
Want to rescue girls from the sex industry . . . but won’t make plans to spend time with your little sister?
Have a heart for the unreached . . . but roll your eyes at going to our family reunion?
You think you can fly across the world . . . but can’t manage to get your homework in on time?
Want us to ask our friends to give you money . . . but you just bought another pair of Toms and that latte you just tweeted about?
Jesus commands us to go, to make disciples of all nations, but don’t forget that he told the apostles to start in Jerusalem — where they were. If you want your parents to believe that you’ll be faithful stewards out there, give them an idea what that looks like right here.
Don’t tell them that you’ll get started “when you have to.” All that says is that you’re looking for external pressure to motivate you; it doesn’t mean your heart has been touched. Show them the kind of person willing to go, and they might just believe you should.
3. Watch your attitude.
Parents have never done well with fits, and the greater the fit, the more they know you definitely don’t need to be given whatever it was that you’ve demanded. When your parents have doubts and concerns, or are even dismissive, are you angry or turn a cold shoulder to them? Are you dismissive of them and their concerns in return? It will feel very much like a fit to them . . . no matter how old you are. If you question their heart for God and the unreached because they believe you might not be thinking things through, or if they are simply asking questions, it may just be proof that they should be questioning you.
Remember, you are telling them you want to take this good news to people who are indifferent at best, often hostile. Those people will ignore you, question you, and ridicule you. So when you’re met with that attitude in your own home, how do you act? We want to know because what you are in those moments will likely be what you are when you go. You say you can love those who don’t get it? Show your parents. Show your faith in God’s sovereignty and goodness by the way you handle adversity, by your confidence and joy in him when things don’t go your way.
4. Make sure that the reason you “have not” isn’t because you’ve “asked not.”
How did you awaken to God’s heart for the nations? Are you just that smart? Just that loving? Just that in touch with the needs of the world? Do your parents just need to be more like you? Or are you the humble servant who was blind but now sees because of God’s gracious movement in you? If so, prove it through your prayers for your parents. As you pray for those you love overseas, pray for mom and dad. God alone moves hearts. If you really understand that, you’ll beg him for the hearts of your family to be on fire for his glory to be displayed in this world more than you will preach to them about it all. He’s honored to answer your prayers because it shows off the depths of our dependence on him and the glory of his grace towards his children. So, kids, pray.
5. Love your parents well . . . even when you can’t follow them.
It may be that after all this, your parents still don’t get it, and you still go. But as you go, they should know by your life how much you love them, that you’re only obeying a higher authority over your life. In fact, they will know that you have become the very person they wanted you to become. You will love others well, serve wherever you are, be respectful to authority, communicate without fits or causing harm, and pursue with great intensity the things you feel passionate about.
At the end of the day, they may not get it. But they will be so very proud of you anyway. It doesn’t hurt your parents when you reject what they think. You hurt them when you reject them. Love them well as you make the first of what may be many choices that your parents disagree with.
Great is the Lord who delights in the welfare of his servants, Psalm 35:27 says. He is for you, and he is for this good work of going to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. After all, he began it, and he will complete it.