An American raised in Pakistan, who has lived and worked in both Pakistan and Egypt, a mother to 5 children, and a public heath nurse in Boston, Marilyn Gardner blogs at communicating.across.boundaries to foster dialogue and promote understanding between the many worlds she holds in her heart. Published in its entirety below, “Lost to a Call” was first posted on her High Calling-affiliated blog, and received strong response from her readers. As a third-culture kid (TCK) now raising her own TCKs, Marilyn gently reflects here on how parents’ sense of call can overwhelm their children’s emerging understandings of identity and place.
“I was Called”
“We were Called”
The words are rich with spiritual punch. They represent deep times of prayer and searching scripture, agonizing over decisions and seeking guidance.
And those words can be lethal to a child.
At every intersection the child of missionaries operates between worlds. Between the worlds of passport country and country of calling; between the worlds of school and home; between the worlds of Christian and Non; between the worlds of overall call and family needs.
Always between worlds.
We were molded and shaped by parents who loved us and were called to a work that included a Bigger, Broader world. A work that didn’t include the phrase “Nine to Five” or “Weekend.”
And for some children, the broader, bigger world won; the family lost in the shadows of a greater commission, a higher calling. Well-meaning parents whose hearts flamed with a passion but whose children were lost in the process.
This makes the inevitable identity struggle that comes later in life even more difficult, the parent’s strong, but perhaps misguided, sense of calling figuring significantly into the older missionary kid’s sense of self.
As I reflect on this I think about my own parents — for they too had a call, they too answered a challenge posed to them in college – “Will you go?” “Will you leave family, security, belonging, home and go to a country that you don’t know – for the sake of the Gospel message?” They too lived between the broader world of being a part of a mission community and the smaller world of us – the Brown Family.
So why was I not lost to a Call?
I’m not sure. But I know this: Never did the call supersede our needs. Never was I told that I was in boarding school for the sake of the gospel. In the deep places of my heart I knew that if I needed my parents, they would be there. Pakistan was precious – their children more so. Somehow love for us won.
Because Calling had a capital C – not a little c. Their Calling was to God Himself and that would never change. That call was irrevocable. The call to Pakistan was little c. If they had to leave, God was still God. While their ability to stay in Pakistan could potentially change, their Call to God would never change. And their Call to God included their children.
I have spoken and cried with missionary kids who were lost to a call; kids who love their parents but struggle to reconcile their sense of loss and abandonment with their faith; a faith shaped by call with a little c.
Even as I write this I struggle. For as a parent I know what a struggle it is to live out a faith that is winsome, not destructive; a passion for God that brings the family alongside, not sprawled in the dust.
But – God is Big – bigger than our experiences, larger than our losses, loves us more than any earthly parent ever could. And those who feel they were lost to a call often end up found by the God who Calls.
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Photo: Subhadip Mukherjee