On Sunday, I’ll be handing out arrows.
Two sets of parents will come forward. They’ll stand before the church holding newborns. I’ll say a few words. We’ll put an arrow in their hands. And then we’ll pray. Of course, we’ll pray for little arrows to be sent. But we’ll also pray for mighty archers to send them.
I’m speaking of what you might call “the sending parent.” This is the father and mother who accept their commission from the Lord and before the church to raise up children to become all God created them to be. And that means some of those children will grow up to become missionaries.
Call to Arms
I draw this vision from Psalm 127. It is a song of ascents, a hymn shared by the people of Israel as they drew near to worship in Jerusalem—many of them with children in tow. Together they sang,
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Ps. 127:3–5)
Here we see no defensive posture. The analogy is quite the opposite. To be a warrior with a quiver full of arrows is a picture of confidence. The Lord has boldly blessed parents. He has taken the initiative by sending them children. Therefore, they can be just as bold. After all, what’s a stockpile of arrows kept in the quiver?
Yet that’s precisely what parents often desire when it comes to God’s global mission. Having a child grow up and move far away—let alone to the Middle East—is a fearful thought. Indeed, it should be if we love our children! We don’t want them to miss Christmas. We have no desire to part with grandchildren. We cringe at the thought of their return in a casket.
But perhaps our love is not too strong but too weak.
Call to Love
Over my years working with missionary candidates, I’ve come to expect their greatest relational obstacle: unsupportive parents. Whether their parents are Christians or not, the antagonism can range from subtly manipulative comments to downright hostility. It feels like I’ve sat a hundred times with weeping pre-field missionaries, encouraging them to love their grieving parents with the same love they have for unreached peoples. This struggle can be a useful crucible, preparing them for pains overseas. But it shouldn’t be so.
I do believe this can be redeemed. It’s possible for parents to become supportive senders. I’ve pastored them too. Watched their weeping develop traces of joy. Witnessed their own journey—going from an obstacle to an ally.
But the best-case scenario is for parents to be proactive senders, to cast a vision for missions to their children, to pull the string and release the arrow. One of the finest examples of this comes from the autobiography of John G. Paton, a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific. Patron credited his deep sense of calling to his parents. When he finally found the courage to admit his desire to be sent, his nerves were forever calmed by their remarkable response:
We praise God for the decision to which you have been led. . . . When you were given to [us], your father and mother laid you upon the altar, their first-born, to be consecrated, if God saw fit, as a Missionary of the Cross; and it has been their constant prayer that you might be prepared, qualified, and led to this very decision; and we pray with all our heart that the Lord may accept your offering, long spare you, and give you many souls.
The Patons didn’t take a defensive posture. Rather, James and Janet Paton had long been honing their little arrow, eager to send it if God so willed. And when he did, to their delight, they became archers to the South Pacific.
Call to Sacrifice
This sacrificial sending was no less difficult for such warrior parents. Later, Paton gives an emotional description of his departure, when his father accompanied him as far as possible before their final goodbye.
His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks of which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting-place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!” Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. . . . I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me.
To this day I can’t read this without tears. It’s a song of ascents, sung to the tune of the bowstring. It’s moving not simply as an example; it draws my heart to become a more sacrificial sender.
When I consider the idea of one day releasing one or more of my four daughters into the hostilities of global missions, I’m reminded it’s an offering worthy of my God—the God who first sent his Son, Jesus Christ. The pain I’ll bear in watching my child’s form disappear into the airport, then seeing her endure the daily death of a missionary, will only serve to make me more like the sending God who lives in me.
The same is true for you, dear parent. So on Sunday, I’ll be praying for archers as I hand out arrows. And maybe, one day, I’ll release a few missionary arrows myself.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition on April 13, 2023. Used with permission.