My Long Journey To Goodbye, Part 1

A Look Inside the Journal of a Mother of a Missionary

This 3 part guest series is written by our friend Lori Strickland and it shares her experience watching her son’s journey to the mission field. We hope you gain insight on what it’s like for a parent who’s child is called to GO.

A Little Background…

I think he was 6 years old. That’s when I knew…or at least, I had my suspicions. That’s when my journey really began, even though I didn’t know it at the time. He had started kindergarten in a small private Christian school in Kansas. Half way through that year, our family moved to Southaven, MS. Southaven is a southern suburb of Memphis, TN, and at the time was in the fastest growing county in the United States. There were all kinds of people from all over the world emerging on that city. It was booming, and because of this, my son met, and become friends with, all kinds of people with varying backgrounds and ethnicities.

We used to laugh and say that he had his own little United Nations at school. He and three or four other little boys in the 1st grade became good friends. Our son was white, Leroy and Josh were Hispanic, and there was another little boy (also named Josh) who was Korean. (Prior to moving from Kansas, his best buddy was named Israel, and he was black.) At that age, I don’t think he noticed that anyone was any different than anyone else. They all got along great and had fun. I point this out to demonstrate what I began to notice about him. He was always drawn to people who were different than himself. If it wasn’t skin color or ethnicity, then it was something else. Many times, throughout his growing up years, I noticed he was friends with kids who were younger than him, kids who were picked on by others, kids who had special needs, kids who had much different interests/abilities that he did…it didn’t matter to him. I’m not sure if he sought them out or they were drawn to him, but as I look back over those years, it’s very easy to see that he loved and accepted people for who they were. He didn’t see how being “different” from someone made them any less likely to be a friend. I loved that about him…I still do.

When he was 11 years old, he told his dad and me that he wanted to be a missionary. I was not surprised. I smiled, told him how wonderful that would be, and forgot about it…at least for a while. I wanted to think it was a passing phase, a romantic ideal that he considered adventurous. He kept talking about it though. “Nothing will come of it,” I tried to tell myself, but in my heart, I knew better. I’ve always been that way. When I don’t want to deal with something, I tend to bury it or ignore it until later. Then, I hope beyond hope that later never comes.

During my son’s high school years, I watched as he lived his faith for the world to see…even if that meant he was alone. He didn’t seem to even consider budging. He knew what he knew to be true, and he was willing stand up for it. I think that’s why he was able to influence so many during those years. I watched several times as my 15-, 16-, 17-year-old son baptized his friends into Christ. He had guts, and grit, and conviction, but most of all, he had no reservations about telling people of the salvation that could be theirs if they came to know Jesus.

His first mission trip outside the country was right after his freshman year of college. When he told us where he wanted to go, it made me nervous. I wanted to tell him there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to give my teenage son permission to fly (alone) half way around the globe, live in a Communist country for months, and share the Gospel with people who could turn him in and have him arrested. He would be living in an apartment in a city of 10.5 million people, for Pete’s sake! What mother in her right mind would allow such a thing? Well…this one. It wasn’t because I wanted to, (I fought it kicking and screaming for a while) but because my husband reminded me that he was a grown man (18 years old) and could do what he wanted. “After all,” he said, “we’ve known forever that he wanted to be a missionary. We might as well let him start getting a taste of it.” Wait…what?! That set me back a few steps… I had to make myself admit that there might be a chance he could be serious about this. I cried a lot that summer. I’m not sure if he knows that. He loved it though, and emailed home about some of his experiences. He was confident that this was the life for him, but I cried. He returned home that fall and went back to school. I immediately went back into hiding. I ignored it. I denied it. I didn’t want my son living on the other side of the planet…now, or ever.

At some point during his sophomore year of college, a new family started attending the church we were ministering with. When we got to know them a little, we found out they had a daughter who was a missionary in Haiti. “That’s nice,” I thought. I can’t really remember all the details, but somehow (through Facebook, I think) my minister husband (and some of the other elders at our church) got to know her a little bit. The church helped her out financially in her work, and when it came time for her to visit “home”, we were able to meet her in person. That’s when I knew. My son had to meet this girl. (My husband had the same idea and hooked them up on Facebook.) As they began visiting with each other online, we began scheming how we could have them meet in person.

It finally happened in February 2013. They met…in person. It just so happened they were in town at the same time, and they had exactly an hour and a half before my son had to leave to head back to college, and she had exactly 18 hours before she had to leave to go back to Haiti (her home at the time, and her mission field). She showed up on our doorstep, they went for a walk together, and an hour and a half later our son returned with a smile on his face.

He was able to visit Haiti himself that summer, and they spent time working together. It was like clock-work, they complimented each other perfectly, in work and in personality. I think that pretty much solidified what they were already feeling. They spent the rest of that year praying and preparing. They knew they would spend their lives together spreading the gospel.

She returned to the United States in January of 2014. He proposed the same night. Four months later, I had myself a daughter-in-law. It was understood from the beginning that they were to live the missionary life. It’s kind of hard for me to explain my feelings about this. I had wanted them to meet each other because I knew that they had the same heart for missions and the Lord. I wanted that for my son. I wanted him to have the perfect help-mate in his ministry. At the same time, I hoped and prayed that they would choose to do some sort of ministry in the United States. After all, I reasoned, there are all kinds of people that need Jesus right here in our own country. That was my selfish mother’s heart taking over. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

My prayer is that this somehow…in some way…will be a blessing to another parent that may be having a hard time learning to say goodbye to their missionary child. I don’t have all the answers. Gosh, I don’t have any of the answers. Everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s feelings are different, everyone’s goodbye is different. I know that. However, one thing is almost always consistent…saying goodbye with peace and joy is hard to come by. It’s a journey that takes each of us time and lots of hard work. There is no one way to do it, and there is no formula that will achieve it.

When it became clear that they would be leaving the country soon, I decided to keep a journal of sorts to try to help me cope. Some of the entries were just venting sessions. Others were information I didn’t want to forget. Still others were more like prayers. The excerpts that I will share tomorrow are from that journal. There was a month or two that were particularly hard for me, so I have decided to focus on those entries. I have since added some thoughts (shown in italics) that go along with some of the things I was going through when I first wrote it.

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