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Eight To-Dos When Your Child is Planning to Serve Across Cultures

Eight To-Dos When Your Child is Planning to Serve Across Cultures

By Sue Eenigenburg

Saying goodbye is one of my least favorite things to do. I also dislike not knowing what awaits my children when they leave. Even when they move to a different state, the goodbye is painful. But the pain seems to expand as the distance increases. I have experience as a goer and a sender, and if I had to choose which is more difficult, I would say that being a sender hurts a bit more. So, what can we as parents do to love our children well as they begin a new journey of faith serving overseas?

Let go.

For cross-cultural workers, it is hard to leave. It is even more difficult when family opposes their plan and pleads with them to stay. For parents who are believers, letting go is a conundrum. We want God’s will for our children. We want them to love and obey God. But we also want to keep them nearby and if not nearby, at least safe. We want them to be financially secure and cross-cultural ministry doesn’t guarantee that.

Yet, all believers must look beyond satisfaction in this world to that which is eternal. Letting go is always challenging for parents, but we must surrender our children to the Lord and His call on their lives. Isn't His will for them what we’ve prayed for from the time they were conceived? Remember their first steps? First day of school? First trip overseas? Life is a series of letting go of those dearest to our hearts.


Pray for them and their ministry. Sign up for their prayer updates and go to churches when they share the vision God has given them. Read books and articles about the country or religious block they are going to. Ask questions. Contact their mission agency for more information. Learn about what they do and how to pray knowledgably. Bring all your concerns and all their concerns to your heavenly Father. Let them know that you are praying and how you are praying for them. Encourage others to pray with you. Ask close friends to pray for you as you say goodbye. We cannot over-pray.

Say goodbye well.

Don’t let the sorrow of a future goodbye rob you of the joy you have together today. Before they leave, make time to forge new memories that you can all take with you. Ask how you can help them pack. Be willing to store things for them to make it as easy as possible for them to leave.

Consider what you want to say to your loved one who is leaving. Are you a letter writer? Write it out. Are you a hugger? Hug away. Find resources to help you, such as the Parents of Goers website. As a family, talk about how to say goodbye and what each of you needs from one another in those last days before they leave.

Goodbyes don’t get easier with practice. When they come back for home assignments or short visits, it will soon be time to say goodbye again. Be prepared to say a good goodbye each time.

Stay in touch.

Find different ways to stay connected. Learn about apps like Marco Polo, WhatsApp or Signal. If you are afraid of technology, find someone who knows about it and take notes. Texts, emails, video calls and social media are all tools to keep up with one another. Loneliness will be a battle for them, and loving touches from home are life-giving.

Also, understand that it won’t be the same as when your children lived in the same country. It’s important for them to bond with their new culture, so give them freedom and don’t get upset if they can’t respond right away. They will be working hard learning language and culture, and developing new life rhythms where they live is a must for their well-being.

Visit if you can

but not right away. Let them get settled a bit first and learn the lay of the land. Ask them when would be good for them to have some visitors. Take an extra suitcase filled with goodies for them that they can’t get where they live. Go to serve and help. Meet their neighbors. That will help you and them feel more settled. As you make memories with them in their new home, it will feel more like home for them. You will also be comforted as you can picture their home.

Or, if they need to get away, meet them somewhere else and you can all explore a new country. Ask them what they need from your visit and share what you’re hoping for in your time together so you can plan a meaningful visit for everyone.

Get to know their teammates.

Realizing their teammates will become like their family, you will want to get to know them. It is a comfort to know their new friends and the people who will care for them. You will enjoy hearing about them and how God has led them to serve in the same place as your loved one. Sign up for their prayer updates. Pray for them. Pray for their team.

If you can, try to mean these teammates families who, like you, support their loved ones from afar. As you all get to know each other, it can feel like your extended family is growing.

Be grateful.

Becoming bitter and bemoaning that your children are leaving affects you and your relationship. But longing for what we want is normal. Take the time to recognize that God has called your loved ones to serve Him in a new place and that it is a privilege. Thank the Lord for the times you have together. Thank Him for his call on your kids’ lives. Thank God for how He has gifted them and the opportunities they will have to learn, grow and serve. Thank Him for how He is using their going in your life. We can be grateful that our sorrow has purpose. God will be glorified as we each serve Him where He leads us.

Grieve as needed and as often as necessary.

Sometimes you just need a good cry. Don’t squelch the sadness, but don’t let it take over either. Grieve well. Everyone has a way they grieve; know how to discern between healthy and unhealthy ways of grieving.

Saying goodbye is always draining, especially if the goodbye is for a longer period of time. I find journaling a good way to process my grief. Grief isn’t a once and done deal. Sometimes, after chatting on the phone or after a video call you will need to grieve again. As you grieve, be open to the comfort that God gives and the healing that comes from trusting Him through the grief. Recognize that you have something in common with God. You both want what is best for your children.

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