We were exhausted from a blisteringly hot day of wandering the streets of northern Brazil. We sat slumped on our respective beds with the fans blowing directly on us, our ties loosened, too tired and sweaty to change just yet. In a brief moment of escape, we closed our eyes and reminisced about food. Anything that wasn’t rice or beans put a smile on our faces and made our stomachs grumble.
In an awkward segue my companion joked that he’d go home if he could. It didn’t seem quite sound like a joke so I pressed him. “If you could go home?”
He looked down sheepishly and forced a laugh. “Yeah. When I left, my dad said that if I come home early, it better be in a body bag.” He glanced up momentarily to see my reaction, ready to pretend it was a joke, if needed. It wasn’t a joke.
I was shocked. At the airport as I was leaving, my parents said, “We’re proud of you,” “We’ll pray for you,” and,”No, you can’t hug your girlfriend.” I couldn’t even imagine “I’d rather that you die than come home early.” I was too blown away to respond with anything better than, “Wow, that’s messed up.” We quickly moved on and never talked about it again. It stuck with me for a very long time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time I heard a missionary say that his dad gave him the same words of wisdom.
I had to wonder, what could his father possibly have been thinking? He couldn’t possibly have meant it… right? I tried to image how he would feel if, like so many missionaries, his son actually did come home in a body bag. Could he possibly live with himself if his wish came true? What a slap in the face to the parents of any missionary who’d lost his or her life in the field.
Let’s be honest – this mentality has nothing to do with your desire to see your child to serve and grow. What you’re really saying is, “I’d rather you die than embarrass me.” It’s selfish, short-sighted, and manipulative. Like so much of the social pressure to serve a mission, it’s a tool used to create fear. The only possible result is that your child will end up despising you and his mission. Too many missionaries already come home with life-long mental issues without your help.
A real father who loves and understands his missionary son supports him in his decisions, especially the difficult ones, whether he agrees with him or not. More than anything, missionaries need the support of their families. Be there for them and don’t ever make his mission about you.
Did one of your family members tell you that they’d rather you die than come home early? If so, tell us about it.