The Missionary Family – A Review

Review of The Missionary Family: Witness, Concerns, Care, Dwight P. Baker and Robert J. Priest, eds.

No. 22 of the Evangelical Missiological Society Series was published by the William Carey Library in the fall of 2014. It “points to a feature – the missionary family – often considered to be a distinctive of the Protestant missionary movement” (xi). The book is divided into three main sections: 

  1. Part 1: The Family in Mission, 3-115; 
  2. Part 2: Responding to MK Sexual Abuse and to Reports of Abuse Based on Recovered Memories, 119-202; 
  3. Part 3: Forum on Sexual Orientation and Mission: An Evangelical Discussion, 205-293.

Parts 2 and 3 are more intense than part 1.

The six articles that make up Part 1 explore various aspects of family life in a mission setting. Chapter one examines the “power couple” model of Walter and Ingrid Trobisch. I was quite surprised how much their family suffered while they were writing and lecturing about dating and marriage. The author concludes,

Many women today want to continue working part-time after they have children. Many men want to cut back so as to be able to spend more time with their children. How might the missionary community enable them to do this? Might it be possible to share a position, so that both can work part-time and care for the children part-time? Ultimately, how can the missionary community foster the ability of both fathers and mothers to feel fulfilled in their work as missionaries without sacrificing their ability to be good parents? (20)

Chapter two describes a study of risks for missionary families in dangerous areas. The authors write, “One of the key insights that surfaced from the interviews was the recognition that adequate information and preparation will enable families to manage many of the risks that arise through living in a cross-cultural context” (40). Chapter three is a reflection on family life in missions concluding that, “The family is a strategic part of God’s plan to enhance missionaries’ witness, to nurture children in a deeper walk with God and understanding his will, and to sustain the legacy of the missionary call to subsequent generations.”(59)

Chapter four is a very interesting case study of a Korean mission’s program of caring for missionaries’ parents. This would be a good subject for “sending churches” to explore.

Chapters five and six are historical in nature, exploring maternity challenges in 19th century Africa and William Carey’s vision for missionary families.

Part 2 contains four articles addressing the issue of child sexual abuse. The first (ch.7) focuses on the legal issues of protecting children and the organization. Then chapter 8 deals with the difficulties of dealing with past abuse. Chapters 9 and 10 address the issues involved with recovered memories which according to these articles are deemed unreliable.

Part 3 is a forum on sexual orientation. The lead article, “Gay and Lesbian Christians: Framing Questions and Clarifying the Debate about a Place in Church and Mission for Evangelical LGBTQ Youth” is written by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter. This is followed by 13 responses that are then followed by a response from Lingenfelter. This section truly was “framing questions”. This is an emotionally charged subject today with the growing number of individuals “coming out”. Lingenfelter shares that he has an adult daughter who is a lesbian. There is respectful tension in the discussion desiring to be faithful to biblical teaching and gracious as well. The forum does not advance the discussion beyond raising the questions that only some of the participants seem willing to answer.

The book as a whole will make you think. It is not an answer book but describes the landscape well enough for the reader to chart their course. There was little said about the education of MKs and nothing about special needs children in missionary families. The reader with interest in these areas will be disappointed.

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