In hundreds of conversations we have identified six "challenges" our generations face when considering ministry in a missions-related role. The six are: Faith, Finances, Family, Fit, Future and Fight. The purpose of examining these challenges is to help us see that God is really carefully managing our journey and not getting in the way of a desired goal with all these obstacles.
As our parents enter the stage in life where they need more care, we experience a role reversal. We find ourselves needing to help them in ways they used to help us. While it may require time and patience, it is certainly much easier for them if we are physically close. But what if we are in a completely different country and there is an emergency? This is a good question with many right answers. Each one of us needs to find our own answer to this issue if we do have aging parents who are dependent on us. It is one of the decisions we face when we find ourselves drawn to make a global impact.
It may be that because we are the only resource for them, we need to find a way to make an impact closer to home. Perhaps we can invest ourselves in developing a ministry through our church, one that needs our experience and skills to make it happen. It may mean we need to connect with an existing local ministry and invest our time and talent into helping them move to another level. It may mean that for now, our time is invested in concentrating on our parents without any extensive outside involvement. In a situation like this there are several good answers. Our task is to take steps toward the answer we feel is best and seek God's peace in that path.
If, however, we have a strong sense that we are to leave this country or even be in another region of our own country, and our parents are at some level of need, there is usually more than one right answer. Other siblings are often the answer. Intentional discussion with them of what needs to be done, timetables, finances and each one's responsibilities can bring clarity to the options and provide the peace to continue with relocation.
Freedom to return home from time to time is another right answer. Sending agencies have learned to value the Baby Boomer, and many have revised practices and policies to accommodate their special needs. When parents know we will be returning from time to time and that we can always return if there is an emergency, it is a comfort to them and allows us to follow what we know God has for us, with peace of mind.
Many Boomers looking for global impact are empty-nesters. The children are out of the house, and exciting new options are suddenly open. But these independent adult children represent a significant issue when we begin talking about global impact. Are we going to leave them? Will we be here for family gatherings? When will we be back for visits? These and many other questions can give us pause as we consider a cross-cultural move or even a move to a different part of this country.
Again, there are any number of right answers. The best approach is to surface the spoken and unspoken questions and have adult conversations about them. Pat answers are an insult to such discussions and devaluing to those with real questions. We must take the initiative to meet, to deal with the issues that have been expressed and probe for others. Such times can prove to be a great growth step in a family. They can even bring healing to other issues that need to be addressed. These are not parent-child discussions. These are peer-to-peer conversations, respecting each other's input, fears, answers and decisions.
In working with mid-life adults for several years we have observed that many of them are considering relocation even before their children are out of the house. Dealing adequately with the questions and concerns of those children is extremely sensitive and important. They need to be able to talk about such fears as losing their friends, changing schools and maybe learning a language. It is a complicated life issue for a Jr. Higher or High Schooler to be asked to leave their native culture and establish themselves in a new culture. Time needs to be taken to enter into proper dialogue without demanding change and without using control or manipulation tactics. God knows the exact make-up of each member of his harvest force. Each one is vital and plays a significant role in the new impact he is calling a family to make. Take the necessary time. Build the right foundation. Be careful not to lose these valuable members of the team God chose to give us.
One of the issues that arises with our children is the issue of their children - our grandchildren. If we leave home, will we totally miss their youth and childhood? Is that responsible? When will we be able to see them? Our children will often resist our moving away because of the loss of contact with our grandchildren, especially if we live close enough to provide occasional babysitting.
Again, there are multiple right answers. One may be the ability to return home with a frequency satisfactory to all involved. Or, resources being available, visiting Grandpa and Grandma is a wonderful opportunity for everyone. Having the grandchildren spend time with you in your new home is a privilege and lifelong gift to them.
We believe grandparenting should be intentional, whether we live in the same city or around the globe. As grandparents, our responsibility, and our privilege, is to build into the lives of our grandchildren. This necessitates an appropriate relationship with the parents of our grandchildren. Only then can we have the kind of impact God intended as he crafted the extended family. As grandparents our impact on grandchildren is powerful. We do not take the place of parents, but there is a unique connection possible that can have a life-long effect on their value system.
Being away does not negate this responsibility nor its effectiveness. It does, however, change the way we do it. Long-distance grandparenting is very possible and can have positive effects on those children. Emails, phone calls, text messaging, on-line chatting, visits both ways, shared interests, annual traditions, all combine to provide opportunities for effective long-distance grandparenting.
One additional unique aspect to the Baby Boomers' reality is the number of Boomers who are raising their own grandchildren. It turns out that a very high percentage of the children in this country are actually being raised by their grandparents, and you may be one of them. Our hats are off to you. We are cheering in your balcony. We are proud of you. What you are doing is very difficult. And, if you have been bitten by the global impact bug, you are living with both physical stress (trying to keep up with grandchildren when you are not in the same shape you once were) and spiritual stress (feelings of guilt, questions of roles, obedience and significance).
Among the possible right answers for you, one may be short-term impact trips, taking along the grandchildren. This can keep you involved and start to build a broader worldview into those children. Or, it may mean a significant impact role locally rather than in another country. If so, that is exactly what God has been preparing you for, so do it well, remembering even this is preparation for a next phase - even though you're not sure you'll live to that next phase because of the 24-hour treadmill you're on with your grandchildren!
Whether it's parents, siblings, children or grandchildren, leaving them is difficult. But God is not on the sidelines for this challenge. Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30: "No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."
Over the years I've heard many people covering for God, somehow feeling they had to interpret these verses in such a way as to protect him. They obviously felt that God had not come through on this promise so they had to find a way to explain it down to their perceived reality. It seems to me that there is a fairly important qualifier here: "for me and the gospel." If God is leading you to leave these things for him and to help spread the good news of his salvation, then you've been offered a benefit package far beyond your 401 (K). And it's not just about physical wealth, it includes family and relationship wealth, which is the greatest value we experience. I'd say, go for it! Trust that God is good for his side of the deal. He hasn't failed yet!
Finishers Project 2010