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God-driven loss

Losing a family member to the mission field

Joshua Hill has lost his Mum to the mission field once before – and he’s about to do it again in a few months. Here he reflects on his pain and God's promises.

In my life I have lost all four of my grandparents, my youth, a pair of glasses, several cats that meant the world to me, and my father to divorce. Each has affected me in different ways, but with the exception of Tabby (my cat, she lived to be 14), nothing is as hard as losing Mum to the mission field. 


The Bible is full of missionary verses that ease the pain of leaving home:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”  

Isaiah 6:8

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Romans 10:14-15

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Mark 10:29-30


These verses are balms of healing for those who leave behind family – children, parents, siblings. I love these verses (especially Mark’s) for the peace and promises they provide Mum. However, I sometimes find it difficult to find the same sense of calm and peace from these verses – and I suspect that is because they are not meant for me, not really. 


Which leaves me once again looking to God to soothe my heart. Not because it is breaking or because I am fraught with despair at the thought of Mum once again returning to the field – because, if you have ever met Mum, you will know that there are very few so perfectly designed to serve God afield. As an adult, the attachment is much different than it was when I first said goodbye to her as a (relatively) immature 19 year-old: We have a different relationship, built upon friendship and trust and love; my understanding of Mum’s calling is wholly formed; my own independence not only exists, but is valuable and valued; and who in their right mind would hold someone from God’s will, no matter the attachment. 


But though all of this is true, I would just like to take comfort in God’s words in those times when I realise that I will miss Mum while she is gone again – when I realise I won’t be able to serve her, spend time with her, watch TV with her, give her a hug when she needs it, receive a hug when I need it. At a time when the future is the very definition of “up in the air”, I thought I would take a moment to look at what God has promised for those who are, for lack of any better way to say it, “left behind”. 


Left behind

In my experience over the past 12 years, I have found significant differences between the various assurances provided us. The assurance that comes from the knowledge and experience of others is valuable, but does not always come with that heartfelt peace that is sought after. Any family in any culture and at any age or situation will invariably be comforted by those older and wiser with true words of assurance – “God’s plan is sovereign, and He will look after your parents.” Then there are the internal assurances, the memory of verses that say God’s will is indeed sovereign and what happens is of His will. 


But where do you turn? In the dark? In the quiet? In the fear? What has God promised us? Beyond the quiet assurances of the Holy Spirit, what has our Father written for us to find? Where do we find God’s assurances – those assurances that do provide peace – the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). 


The first step in my attempt to hear what God has written for me are His innumerable promises. Two, specifically, have been attached to my life from my very earliest memories, and to dismiss their relevance now would verge on the insane:


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9


Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

    and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary,

    and young men shall fall exhausted;

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31


The God who is asking Mum to “go” has also promised me power, strength, and His presence. But these mean nothing if they are not put into their proper place, and Jesus, in speaking to His disciples, made it very clear just how verses such as these should be viewed:


Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39


Simply put, as much as I love Mum, she simply cannot be my first thought. God has made it very clear, through His Son, and through His own words, that if I am to follow Him than I must make Him first in my life. And as much as the anxiety of saying goodbye to Mum once again weighs on my mind every now and again, that is not how God has called me to live my life. When God commanded Joshua not to be afraid, that was no idle comment, toughened-up by an editor to appear more strong and “promis-y”. God is not known for his off-the-cuff commands. God has told Joshua, me, and you not to be frightened, not to be dismayed, and to be strong and courageous. 


If I am to love Mum more than Jesus, then I am not worthy of Him, and not a valid recipient of His promises. 


Harsh, but strong

It sounds somewhat harsh, and for all intents and purposes, it is. 


But harsh is what we need. Harsh was what I needed at three years old when I wanted to find out just what happens when you put your hand near the gas flame of a stove (yeah, I was that child). Harsh is exactly the manner I would expect my parents to be if they saw me trying to burn my hand. Because, at the time, my parents knew everything! So why wouldn’t I trust them when they told me to keep my hand out of the flame? (In all honesty, I probably did put my hand in the flame, because I’m that child, but the analogy works fine either way.)


God, however, does know everything, in a way my parents never did. I need to transpose that childlike faith from Mum and onto God, for two reasons:

  1. It is what God has called us to do. 
  2. If I have faith only in Mum, then who can I entrust her to? By placing my faith in God alone, I am able to place Mum in His hands, and know her to be safe. 

God is for me

As a writer I rely a lot on the English Standard Version of the Bible for its many academic qualities. However, when I look to find peace and personal assurance in the Bible, my initial step is towards the New Living Translation. They each have their value, but when I want to hear God speaking to me in the dark quiet, I turn to the NLT for peace:


What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

Romans 8:31-32 


God may not have provided me with a verse overtly-specific to my current experiences – that is, that of saying goodbye to Mum as she heads back to the mission field – but to think that God hasn’t provided me with promises of assurance is the height of arrogance. My situation might feel unique, but it is representative of hundreds of situations the world over and throughout history. 


Romans 8:31-32 is my lesson in this time. Not only is God for me, but He spared His only Son for me – and offered His richest blessings as well. God’s willingness to provide for His children never slackens, never lessens, and most certainly never fails. The moments of emotion that I encounter over the next months will come – and to hope God will make them disappear is to dismiss their importance. But God’s “everlasting arms” are always under me, and the “eternal God” is my refuge (Deuteronomy 33:27). These are the promises God has made me as I say goodbye to Mum, and to these promises I cling.

- Joshua Hill


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19/01/2015 9:00:00 AM | 0 comments
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