“If it was just the two of us, this decision would be so easy. When you have kids, you’re making decisions that are going to impact the rest of their lives,” explained Markus*, who joined the OM Near East Field (NE) in 2016 with his wife, Vicky*, and two small children.
Still, families following God’s call into missions in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region have discovered His faithfulness as they’ve taken their children abroad.
When Markus and Vicky started their relationship, they also made a goal to serve as long-term missionaries. A trip to Southeast Asia two years after they married showed them they needed to find a different area to serve, but their first daughter’s birth changed their plans for another short-term missions opportunity the next summer.
They began looking at other options, but “as soon as it seemed to get more specific, it fell apart.” Markus described. “We kind of gave up. We let go. I think that was the turning point.”
Vicky and Markus watched the movie A Good Lie, which broke their heart for refugees worldwide. “Sitting in that movie, I just looked at Markus and said, ‘This work would fit so well with your heart and your gifting,’” Vicky remembered. “At the same time, I felt the Lord had told me we needed to look into an organisation and not a country…We realised we’re not called to a country, we’re called to a job, a specific work.”
As soon as the couple started exploring options with OM, “it became very clear very fast” that the NE was the best fit. They decided to move to the field in fall 2016 — enough time to prepare and to have a second child.
The biggest shock on their vision trip to the NE, Vicky said, was seeing how difficult it was to get around with young children. “A few days after we arrived [in the host country], we made a couple of lists of things we knew we would have to fast from and things our children would have to fast from not living in the Western world.”
Nevertheless, Markus and Vicky decided it was possible to move. Their sending church and the field agreed.
Two weeks before they left, Vicky questioned everything. “I knew coming was what we were supposed to do,” but it all seemed chaotic, she said. Their children, a baby and a two-year-old, were not sleeping well, and Vicky wondered if she could start over again. “The hardest things were closing down the apartment and then that initial saying goodbye the morning that we flew off,” she remembered. “Taking that step to go is just hard.”
Arriving on the field as a family, however, Vicky and Markus were surprised by God’s provision: an apartment with an outside courtyard for the kids to play. Most importantly, they recognised the value of moving together. “I have three people with me who are very close to me who are sharing all the ups and downs together,” Markus explained. “There was hardship, there will be hardship, but through it all God’s been so faithful because He wants us here, it’s so obvious. He’s answered our prayers.”
Andrew* was already serving full-time with OM USA when he and his oldest daughter went to Malta on a short-term trip. During that time, “God stirred up something really significant in my life, and He pulled me into a deeper relationship. We left knowing something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what,” he said. With two teenage daughters and a special needs son, “we didn’t even know it was possible to go somewhere.”
Andrew, his wife, and their three children put a world map on the dinner table and started praying for unreached countries. In January 2015, the family flew to the Arabian Peninsula (AP) for a vision trip. “Children who are teenagers, they’ve got to be part of understanding that they are called as well as the parents,” Andrew stated.
By the time the trip ended, the whole family knew God was calling them to the AP. A year later, they had all moved into their new home.
“Watching God work in my kids’ lives” has been the biggest blessing of life on the field, Andrew said. The way his daughters have embraced the language, the culture and their local friends has helped the family’s transition. “The girls have had their up and down struggles, but they’ve always been pretty solid in their faith…Somehow when God does something in your child’s life, it’s fuller than when He does it in your life.”
The hardest part has been the choice of home-schooling. Their oldest daughter had to take an extra class in order to graduate; their second daughter didn’t function as well on the home-school programme. In addition to learning language and visiting friends, Andrew had to design and oversee every problem of every lesson for his autistic son, Ben*.
Beyond educational uncertainties, Andrew also wondered how Arabs would relate to Ben. But Andrew soon discovered his local friends were infatuated with his son. “They remember his name, and they don’t remember mine!” he exclaimed.
In the local culture, “seeing a family care for and love a special needs child is important,” Andrew noted. “A lot of times maybe they look at children with special needs as shameful. But I do know they see see something in him that’s pure and special, and they see something in the way we care for our son…and they see Jesus in that.”
As a worship leader, “I have a heart to pray for the nations,” Andrew shared. “I believe you come and you take the presence of Christ and you put it in the middle of a place and you pray.”
One day, Andrew had a close Muslim friend visiting. Since the man was interested in music and familiar with other cultures, Andrew asked his daughters to sing a few songs while he played along. After a few songs, his second daughter started singing “Your Great Name” by Amy Grant.
Listening to the lyrics – “Jesus, son of God, Lamb of heaven” – Andrew looked at his friend, wondering how he would react. His friend sat, head bowed, foot tapping to the music. “Wow, that is so stirring,” he said when the song finished.
“We got to worship, real genuine worship, with this Muslim man sitting in the middle,” Andrew said. “That’s cool.”
Philip* and Cassidy* had a nice house, good jobs and three teenage daughters thriving in their suburban schools. But the longer they lived comfortably in the West, the more dissatisfied they became.
“Parallel to that, our girls got a real vision,” Philip remembered. “They said, ‘You really have to be called to live in the US, don’t you?’ It seems like it’s really easy, and it seems like there are plenty of Christians.”
For the next three years, the family started to think and pray about moving overseas. One night, Philip and Cassidy were hosting a former field leader for OM NE. Sitting on their back porch, he asked, “What are your gifts that you give the body [of Christ]?”
“Hospitality, mentoring younger people, worship,” they told him.
“That is exactly what I need on the field,” he responded.
His question pushed them to go, Philip said. Their destination in the Near East, Cassidy added, resulted from prayer trips she had taken to the Mediterranean region, “that Isaiah 19 highway into Jerusalem.”
The couple sat down with their girls for a final vote: “Either we are all in, or we are all out,” they told their daughters. “If anybody says, ‘No,’ we won’t go.” In their own time, all three girls agreed to go.
Within five months, the family raised enough money. “It is possible for families that are mid-career professionals to raise support and go. People want to send,” Philip emphasised. “It’s not impossible to send a family like ours.”
With the girls signed on, the family left their North American five-bedroom house in the suburbs for a three-bedroom apartment in the Middle Eastern city. They found ways to plug in and serve: organising prayer, leading worship and running a small group for young adults. Philip facilitated OM NE’s significant Syrian and Iraqi relief project. Cassidy used her counselling degree to help others walk through difficult situations. The girls thrived in their school and community, and the family enjoyed exploring the host country on weekend outings.
The voluntary loss of their previous careers, their inability to communicate in Arabic and the distance from their extended families made the initial experience humbling, Philip described.
Nonetheless, he celebrated his daughter’s achievements and local friendships as well as his family’s acquired closeness. Serving overseas “really bonded us. It’s an amazing thing to do with your family during a period of time when so many families are going [separate] ways in the States,” Philip shard.
Reflecting on their time in the Near East, Philip said his family’s experience could encourage others to go. “Any missions organisation needs more doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers…Think about it: you can go and help a team right away if you have a professional skill, even if you’ve been married 20 years and have kids.”
*Name changed for security
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.
Published: Thursday, 30 November 2017