Supporting the Families Left Behind: Parents of Missionaries

A heartbreaking goodbye launched a new ministry to support parents of missionaries—and sustain missionaries’ ministry on the field.

Dan and Amy W. were blindsided when their daughter and son-in-law announced that they were moving their young family to Asia as missionaries.

Before long, Dan and Amy found themselves standing in a parking lot, wrapping their arms around their grandbabies and choking down sobs to say goodbye.

Dan and Amy drove home in stunned silence as their daughter and her family prepared to board a plane.

“Everything around us reminded us of them,” recalled Amy. “We went through the stages of grief. We felt shock, anger, confusion, fear, and an overwhelming sadness.”

Overseas missions was not foreign to Dan and Amy. Both committed Christians active in their local church, they had supported missionaries and served on short-term missions trips. They had used their professions—Dan as a college professor and Amy as a school librarian—to teach their children to serve God wherever they were. But while they believed in sharing the gospel with the unreached, they had never realized the cost of missions on the families left behind.

“When it’s your child, it changes things,” Dan said.

Dan and Amy turned to their church for comfort but found many believers ill-equipped to offer help or understanding. Well-meaning individuals encouraged them to “count it all joy” or remember that “the reward will be great in heaven.” Unable to reconcile these admonitions with their pain, Dan and Amy began to question their faithfulness to the Lord.

Desperate to find support, Amy employed her training as a librarian to find resources for parents of missionaries. Her research revealed few options. She finally discovered a small gathering in Dallas. As Dan and Amy arrived, they were greeted with words that immediately soothed the longing in their hearts: “Welcome to where everyone understands the ache.”

God used the Dallas retreat to melt the hurt, fear, and anger Dan and Amy had experienced and to provide a path forward to fully embrace their daughter and son-in-law’s ministry overseas.

“We realized that we weren’t just grieving the loss of our sweet family members; we were grieving the loss of our identities and how we thought our lives were supposed to look,” explained Amy.

As Dan and Amy experienced healing and reconciliation, they often wondered why they had to travel all the way to Texas to find this group of couples.

Their question quickly grew into a passion. “We had this burning desire to help other people walk across this bridge,” Amy shared. “All of us go through a range of emotions, and they’re complicated by the fact that we’re fumbling around in the dark, trying to find each other.”

Caring for parents of missionaries is crucial for not only their own well-being, but to maintain the longevity of missionaries on the field. One of the top reasons that missionaries leave the field is due to family relationships—including the relationship with their parents.1 Every year, young people pursing ministry overseas are dissuaded by parents who ask them not to go.

To meet this vital need, Dan and Amy joined the ABWE Member Care to launch a new ministry for parents of missionaries, offering online support groups, one-on-one connections, and retreats around the US. Recognizing that every parent will navigate unique challenges, they offer resources for saying goodbye well, staying connected, parenting and grandparenting, and working through difficult emotions.

“Not every parent reacts the same way, but all do face challenges,” Amy recognized. Even parents who prayed for their children to become missionaries may benefit from practical ideas for communication or navigating security restrictions. Other parents may need encouragement at different phases of the journey—when new grandchildren are born, for instance, or when the missionary’s field experiences unrest.

“We want everybody to feel there is something for them,” said Amy.

To help bridge the gap between missionaries and their parents, Dan and Amy share a parent’s perspective with new missionary candidates.

“That fire you feel, that calling you know—your parents may not have that,” they explain. They highlight the importance for both groups to communicate their calling and struggles. Many do not realize the impact of distance or time zones: families cannot easily provide help with daily life or travel quickly in times of crisis, so they must seek proactive, creative ways to stay connected.

How to Encourage Parents of Missionaries

Dan and Amy also offer advice to those seeking to encourage parents of missionaries.

“It’s ok to say, ‘that’s got to be hard.’ We tend to want to fix it and say the Sunday school answers or make somebody feel better quick. It’s okay to just put your arms around somebody and listen,” Amy explained.

Churches can support parents of missionaries by recognizing them throughout the year—for example, on Grandparents’ Day—and including them in prayer along with their missionary children. They could periodically raise funds for airline tickets for parents or missionary children who desire to visit in person, which helps encourage and refresh both the missionaries and their parents who may go several years without seeing each other face to face. Sending churches could also incorporate parents and other family members into the commissioning service before the missionaries depart for the field.

Dan and Amy note that even simple gestures like sending cards can communicate care to parents of missionaries.

By supporting the parents of missionaries, families can remain strengthened and connected, and missionaries can retain their focus on sharing Christ in communities across the globe.

Want to hear more about the Parents of Missionaries ministry? Listen to Dan and Amy share their story.

1. Andrea Sears,

Are you a parent of a missionary?

Every parent of a missionary faces unique challenges, emotions, and life changes. But you are not alone in this journey. The Parents of Missionaries (POM) ministry offers encouragement, practical resources, online support groups, and one-on-one connections to help you maintain strong connections with your missionary family. The POM ministry also hosts retreats each year throughout the US. Join us and find a community that understands the joys and sacrifices of following God’s calling for your children.

Katelyn Hawkins

Katelyn Hawkins is a communications specialist with ABWE. She serves as managing editor for Message Magazine and the ABWE blog. She holds an M.A. in Social Sciences and B.A. in Communications, and has lived in locations across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.