There, I said it. Cue the jokes.
Although stereotypes only contain a grain of truth, pastor’s kids are a certain brand of weird. Now, with that confession out of the way, we can move on to how that relates.
My dad, Jerry Pelfrey, has been a pastor for over 35 years at the same church, Grace Baptist Church in Mason, Ohio—the same church that sent out my family and my siblings’ families as missionaries to Tanzania and church planters here in the US.
In my mid-20s, the fateful day came to finally tell my dad that God was calling my husband and I into missions. I was thrilled and expected him to be equally elated. I knew the moment would be met with words of deep and meaningful affirmation and encouragement. Honestly, an actual celebration party was a realistic response in my imagination. Of course, I wanted a party. Remember, I’m a pastor’s kid. I wanted the verbal equivalent of the iconic scene after Rudy finally gets called in for a play against Notre Dame and is hoisted onto his team’s shoulders. Cheers. Tears. Euphoria.
The last emotion I expected to feel was sadness.
So, you can imagine my shocked reaction when my dad looked down for a long time and then answered, “I am so proud of you, but I can’t shield you from the pain that you are going to experience.”
I was stunned. The words, so unexpected and different, sounded like they came from a stranger—not my father. Not the man who could write a book of the miraculous ways that he has seen God move over the past 35 years. The same man who could also fill shelves with tales of discouragement, seasons of doubt, wounds of betrayal, church splits, and painful memories of treacherous waters that our family survived. An entire five chapters could be dedicated to the many resignation letters that he never submitted.
When asked to write an article to encourage Christians who feel the Lord tugging at their heart for missions, my father’s words came rushing back into memory. I felt the best way to communicate my thoughts would be through a letter, echoing my father’s counsel to naive believers, like I once was, on the brink of plunging into missions.
Dear pre-mission field Christian,
The missionary life is a beautiful one. But no one can prepare you for the pain, the loss, the mental and spiritual fatigue, the criticism, the doubts. You won’t believe the ugliness that will emerge from your own heart as you battle discouragement and the confusion of living in another culture.
Prepare yourself for rejection, misrepresentation, and real danger. When your loved ones and close friends back home eventually continue on with their lives without you, it will hurt more than you expect. Year after year, milestones and important events will pass on without you and make you question why you chose this life. To put it simply, there will be moments when you want to turn back time and not surrender to missions.
But don’t lose heart, because Jesus is worth it.
You will witness miracles and God’s hand in ways that you could never expect. What you thought were your greatest strengths will tempt to destroy you, while your most flagrant weaknesses will be used by God in ways that you never anticipated. It is a beautiful and humbling irony.
At times, you will feel depleted, dried up, and a shell of who you used to be. But, our Lord will meet you in the desert and replenish you with his living water (John 4:14). Your roots will be loosened from your previous comforts and be forced to grow deep down into the river of his grace (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
When you are close to drowning, he will meet you in the deep waters and carry you through. If you dare to enter the boat, Jesus will get you to the other side (Luke 8:22-25). When storms rage and you forget of Jesus’ presence in the boat, you will cry out, “Master, Master, we are perishing” (v. 24). And he will answer. Like the frightened disciples on the boat, Jesus will ask you a painful but refining question: “Where is your faith?” (v. 25)
I joke that this “Scare ‘Em Straight” approach might make me the worst missionary recruiter of all time. But like my dad, out of love I won’t promise you anything that our Lord himself didn’t promise.
What I (and my father) can promise you is this—following Jesus into the mission field comes at a great cost but will produce an even greater reward—a reward that you might not fully realize this side of eternity. But just as Jesus endured the cross for the joy on the other side (Hebrews 12:2), you will learn to fix your eyes on the sovereign joy of serving the King of kings amidst the trials.
This perspective requires complete surrender to God. And utter dependence on the one who sustains us is perhaps the greatest gift of missions.
So, for those of you willing to join, I welcome you. No one can shield you from the pain, but he will amaze you with more of himself. No regrets.