Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

children of missionaries

My children chose not to believe

This blog post was originally posted on the blog “A Life Overseas“. The full title of the blog post was “I went to a foreign country to share the gospel. My children grew up and chose not to believe”. It is reposted with permission from the author who has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy. If you wish to reach out to her for support, please leave a reply at the bottom of this blog post. The SEND U blog editor will then connect you to the author through email.

Raising up children on the mission field

I never intended to be an overseas missionary. Then in 1997, I found myself living in Russia with my husband and four small children. We believed God had sent us to this place, and we had a glorious ten years of serving and ministering there. When we arrived, our children were two, five, and six, and eight. I homeschooled them, and they enjoyed being a part of the local church family.

I had always believed that if you raised a child in the love and nurture of the Lord, they too would follow Jesus. We believed the verse, “Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” You can only imagine the shock we felt when our son entered university, lost interest in spiritual things and began to date an unbeliever!

How could this happen to us?

We were wholeheartedly following the Lord! How could this happen? We tried to get him to go to the campus fellowships, but there was no interest. Little did I know at the time that two of my girls would follow the same path. My next oldest daughter went to a Christian college near our home. I didn’t want her to attend a secular university like her brother! She was fine for a while, but then she, too, began to drift. Eventually she lost interest in being a Christian. My next daughter stayed closer to home, faced some difficulties at college and did not stray from her faith. My youngest daughter, after graduating from a Christian high school, followed her brother to the secular university near our home and also lost interest in the things of God.

What can I say? I never expected this. I honestly thought that since they were being raised in the Lord with a loving and involved family, our children would never depart from Him. Since that time I have blamed myself, my husband, our mission, and even our church. But in the end I realized that it may not have been any of these things. I have come to believe it was their free will. They became curious about life “outside” the Christian world they were raised in. They, like all of us, need their own salvation experience, and though we trained them in the fear of the Lord and tried to do our best, God gave them the freedom to make their own choices. 

Wrestling with their choices

I have wrestled with their choices and struggled not to compare our kids with others serving the Lord around me. I have been to dark places of disappointment with God where I felt betrayed by Him. After all, I laid down my life in obedience on the mission field and gave up so much to evangelize and bring his gospel to the Russian people. How could I have lost my own children in the process? It crushed me to see so many come to faith and then watch my children lose their own. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about prodigals, trying desperately to find some answers. 

A vision that set me free

It was during this time of praying and crying out for His peace that the Lord gave me a vision. He showed me a lighthouse on a hill overlooking a harbor. Tied to the shore were four small boats. He revealed to me that those small boats were my children. Some of their boats had come undone and were starting to drift out to sea. My husband and I are the lighthouse on the hill. Our job is to abide in Him and shine His light so that it is visible to the children when they need us to guide them safely back into the harbor of His love.

This picture really set me free from the temptation to nag and guilt my adult children back to Jesus. Their salvation belongs to Jesus. He is the Savior. He is the one who leaves the ninety-nine to seek the one. I can “just be Mom!”

The need for unconditional love

As I write this, my children are in their twenties and thirties. I have learned much about prayer, faith, and total trust in the Lord through this long trial. 

For one, I have learned about my need to have “unconditional love” for these children God has blessed me with. I didn’t realize that I was not loving them in this way until one year when we were on vacation. The pressure cooker seemed to explode. Our son and daughter said these words: “I feel like you will only accept and be proud of us if we do what you want, if we become the ‘Christians’ you want us to be. Then you will love and accept us.” These words were incredibly hard to hear and broke my heart. But I began to examine my attitude and the words I was speaking to them. It was a revelation into their hearts.

Since that painful encounter, I have determined to simply put my whole trust in the Lord and enjoy my children, the four gifts that He has given me. I have come to realize that it’s not about me and what I have done or not done. I do not have to feel the shame of their decisions or take the credit. All glory in their salvation belongs to the Lord. This has really set me free. We are now enjoying a closer relationship with our kids, one that allows us to do the loving and the Savior to do the saving. 

The need for support from others

These painful circumstances led me to start a prayer group for moms of prodigals. I believe it is of vital importance to have others around you who understand your pain. We often felt misunderstood and judged by people in the church (usually those with kids still at home) who would ask us questions like, “Are your children going to church?” Or “Are they dating a Christian?” And then I would feel the judgment come. Each of these questions was like another knife in my heart. Then I would meet with my ladies, and the pain would lift. It is a wonderful gift to meet weekly with these other moms who feel and experience the same challenges. We are a living testament to the truth of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Waiting for the salvation of three of our kids has been an unexpected cross to carry, but the comfort, help, and presence of the Holy Spirit has kept us abiding and shining the light for Jesus. His word keeps me grounded, and meditating on the truth gives me great hope in what He has done and will do in the future. I know these kids belong to Him. I will pray and wait and watch for the salvation of my God.

In Him we have this hope as an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast and which enters the Presence behind the veil.

Hebrews 6:19

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4 Comments

  1. Kimberly Burkett

    Thank you for your openness… I too understand.

    • Mary Lou Bryan

      Hi there, I’m Mary Lou the gal who wrote this article. I would be so happy to connect and pray with you if you desire or need that. We are all pilgrims on this journey together. The Lord is at work even if we don’t always see it. Let me know if I can be of any help,
      In Christ, Mary Lou

  2. Marlene Braun

    It must be very painful to have 3 out of 4 not believing in Jesus for their salvation. We have 1 out of our 6 children that has denied his faith in God. You encouraged me to show love and let God draw him. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Marlene,
    Yes, it is hard BUT it’s exciting to see the Lord at work and He is at work in their lives. We are all very close and they all are softening more and more to the Lord. I would love to pray and or talk to you sometime if you want to connect with me. I’d love to hear your story and pray for you.
    Thanks for writing,
    Mary Lou

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