The “grandparent test” — sharing photos and videos of their grandchildren’s antics — was on full display at the International Mission Board’s National Parent Retreat at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia.
One couple from Florida scrolled through their phone to find a video of their grandson eating a scorpion. Another showed blonde-headed grandkids and their friends running barefoot up a dirt path lined with thatch homes.
The pictures might not seem like average grandchild photos, but for this group of parents to International Mission Board missionaries, they are a lifeline to family serving in countries all over the world. To be able to openly share with others who understand the sacrifices and dynamics that go into being a parent of missionaries is almost as priceless as the photos.
John Brady, IMB vice president of global engagement, pulled out his own phone to show off pictures of his grandchildren. After growing up on the mission field as a missionary kid, then serving as an IMB missionary, he has now joined the ranks of “parent of missionaries.”
“Now that I’m one of you,” Brady said to the group, “I think being a missionary parent and sending [your child to serve], is definitely harder than being the one to go.”
A calling ‘unto its own’
Heads nodded in agreement around the room. Being the parent of a missionary is a calling unto its own. Ralph and Brenda know from more than 20 years of experience how difficult, but also how rewarding, it is to watch their children follow God’s call to proclaim the gospel. Shared family events and holidays are missed. Current events around the globe hit closer to home because their child and grandchildren might be nearby. Brenda laughed and said even though her worry ebbed and flowed through the years, their prayer life became more and more important. Prayer, they discovered, is the most important way to support the missionaries they hold most dear.
The North Carolina couple have been to five IMB national parent retreats. They return each time to see old friends and encourage the new parents of missionaries. Brenda spied a woman she met at the last retreat where they exchanged prayer cards of their children. They spent the last years praying daily for each other’s family. She rushed over to talk.
‘One big family of God’
“I need to know how their son is doing,” she explained. “We are one big family of God. We want the gospel proclaimed to every man, woman and child. It’s a blessing to walk this road of supporting our children with others in this room.”
Helping families connect and support one another was exactly what Laura Harrell, IMB’s new director of Alumni and Engagement advocate, loved seeing. She thanked the families for raising up missionaries and being part of the call to go.
“Be proud of your children. They love Jesus so much that they go across the world to share Jesus with others,” she told the parents. “Know that the International Mission Board loves you and your children.”
Paul Chitwood, IMB president, echoed Harrell’s thanks to the room of parents. Thanks to their children and local partners, in the last year 728,589 people heard the gospel with 178,177 choosing to follow Christ as their Savior.
“I thank God that your families are out there addressing the greatest problem the world has ever known and taking the solution — the good news — with them,” Chitwood said. “Thank you for being a part of the most important work in the universe.”