I’m not sure if I have made this confession on the blog before, but here it goes – I am a pastor’s kid. There, I said it. It’s out there. Cue the jokes. I’m ready. I’m bracing myself for you, my readers. Go on. Sit back. Swirl that cup of lukewarm coffee. Allow the smirk to emerge and the anticipated jests to flow: “Oh, it all makes sense now…you guys are always the naughtiest in the bunch.” It’s true. We deserve this. Pastor’s kids are a certain brand of weird. There’s no escaping it. Okay, I think can all move on now that it’s out there.
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 my family and my younger sister’s family out as missionaries to Tanzania and that sent my older sister and her family out as church planters in Loveland, Ohio.
I was in my mid-twenties, feeling thrilled to tell my dad that God was calling my husband and I into ministry – missions, to be exact. I expected my dad to be elated. I just knew that moment would be met with words of deep and meaningful affirmation and encouragement. I expected a
pep talk okay, fine I wanted an actual party. Of course I wanted a party, I’m a pastor’s kid. I wanted the verbal equivalent of the scene from the movie Rudy. You know, the one when he finally got to play for Notre Dame and was hoisted over his team’s shoulders. Cheers. Tears. Euphoria.
I didn’t expect sadness. 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…” That wasn’t the excitement or the pep talk that I had planned. Those words came from a man who could fill a book with all the miraculous ways that He has seen God move over the past 35 years, but a man who could also fill books with tales of deep discouragement, seasons of doubt, wounds of betrayal, church splits, recounting scenes of pain and sometimes what felt like years of dark and treacherous waters that our family survived. An entire five chapters could be filled with just his many resignation letters that he never submitted.
When I was asked to write an article to encourage Christians who feel the Lord tugging at their heart for missions, my dad’s words came back to me. So here is my
warning to run now before it’s too late encouragement.
Dear Christian considering missions,
It’s a beautiful life. 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 come out of your own heart as you battle discouragement and the confusion of living in another culture. You will feel like you are losing yourself. In many ways, you are losing a large portion of who you were. It will hurt. You will suffer rejection, misrepresentation, probably be robbed and experience real danger for yourself and your family. Your loved-ones in the States eventually continue on with their lives…without you. That will hurt more than you expect. Year after year, you will watch your friends purchase homes, save for their children’s colleges, while you struggle with questions of why you chose this life. There will be times where you will wish you could turn back time and not surrender to missions.
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 and your most flagrant weaknesses will be used by God in ways that you never anticipated. It is a beautiful and humbling irony.
You will feel depleted, dried up and a shell of who you used to be. But, our Lord will meet you in the desert. He will replenish you with His living water (John 4:14). Your roots will be loosened from the things and the people who used to comfort you and be forced to grow deep down into the river of His grace (Jer. 17:5-8).
You will feel like you are close to drowning. He will meet you in the deep waters and carry you through. If you dare enter the boat, Jesus will get you to the other side (Luke 8:22-25). There will be storms. At times you will forget that Jesus is in the boat with you and you’ll cry out “Master, Master, we are perishing (vs 24).” But He is there and He will get you through. Like the disciples on the boat, Jesus will ask you “where is your faith.” That will hurt and it will also refine.
I joke that I may be the worst missionary recruiter of all time. But like my dad, in love, I will not promise you anything that our Lord didn’t promise. We all want to know that our sacrifice and our missionary endeavors will pay off with radical and wild mission’s stories to put into our newsletters, thousands of conversions, exploding disciple-making movements and booming church multiplications, but I cannot promise that will happen. I can promise you what my dad promised me before I left for the mission field – that following Jesus means that there will be suffering, trials, being refined by fire, being hated and rejected. But more than any of these temporary sufferings we will face, we are promised HIM. He is enough. He will be with you in the storm. He will be with you in the desert. He will sustain you. He will be your refuge and your strength. You will realize how desperately you need Him. This utter dependency is perhaps the greatest gift of missions and ministry. 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.
Grace and peace,