When I was seven, my parents walked away from everything they knew to become life-long missionaries to France. My dad had been a high school chemistry teacher and volleyball coach, my mom stayed at home with my me and my two siblings in our two bedroom house in southern California. Moving to France was both exciting and difficult as we learned another language, navigated government agencies, and got our bearings in a completely different culture.
Our agreement with our mission board was to return to California for one year for every four years we lived in France. This year back in the States was called a “furlough” or a “home assignment” where we were expected to reconnect with our sending churches, give updates on the progress of our ministry, and raise more financial support. As a result, I spent every Sunday of my sixth grade year in a different church in California. My mom was often in charge of speaking to kids’ Sunday school classes about God’s work in France, a task made more entertaining by her amazing ventriloquism skills. She had a whole routine with her wooden doll Renee on her knee to talk about what it was like to be a missionary in a faraway and exotic land called France.
My mom would usually end her routine with this: “Remember kids, whether it’s across the street or across the ocean, everyone can be a missionary!” I would be sitting to the side, quietly smirking, because surely that wasn’t the case. WE were the TRUE missionaries. We moved. We gave up a steady paycheck. We learned a new language. We had to go to new schools and make new friends. We had to go without basic necessities like peanut butter and Oreos. All for Jesus. Inviting a friend to church with you on Sunday hardly qualified you to wear the missionary label.
This is what I grew up believing: Go big (for God) or go home. Whether my parents taught me explicitly, or if I internalized it on my own, I still don’t know. But it fueled years of spiritual discontentment once I came back to the states for college. Reading my Bible and praying every day didn’t seem like enough. Joining the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America didn’t seem big enough. I longed for mission trips where I could see measurable progress towards a worthy goal. Going to class and living every day college life made me feel useless for the kingdom.
Eventually I became used to life outside the mission field (or what I thought of as the “real” mission field). I accepted that I couldn’t live from mission trip to mission trip, that Big Things for God weren’t readily available. I made peace with doing the things that I could do: read my Bible, pray, volunteer for the occasional service project. Over time, however, even the simplest of spiritual disciplines began to feel impossible; after the birth of my second child, I found myself at home with two boys under two. Finding the time to brush my teeth was a struggle, never mind getting enough quiet minutes in a row to read my Bible and pray. And doing anything, big or small, for God? Not unless changing diapers and playing cars counted. I felt restless. I didn’t even have my job as a special education teacher to point to and say: “See? Look what I’m DOING! I’m making a difference!”
One day when I was walking our two dogs, one of my boys in the baby carrier and the other one in the stroller, I offered up a one-liner prayer. (I only had energy for one-liner prayers in those days, and they were on a fairly predictable rotation: “Get me through this, Lord!” “Make him sleep, God, PLEASE!” “Help me, Father!” and “Thank you, Jesus!”) My prayer on this day was: “Lord I want to serve you, in whatever way I can; show me what that looks like in this stage of my life.”
In those days, the highlight of my week was Tuesday mornings. On Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11:30, I got to be an adult: I got to talk to other adults, sip coffee uninterrupted, and make use of my brain cells. I was a part of the small, local MOPS chapter at our church. MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is an international organization seeking to “encourage and equip moms of young children to realize their potential as mothers, women, and leaders, in relationship with Jesus and in partnership with the local church.” To me, this meant that every other Tuesday morning, I got to drop the boys off in childcare, chat with my friends, and hear a guest speaker. It was my lifeline.
One Tuesday morning not long after my prayer, our MOPS coordinator pulled me into a nearby church office. While I stood and swayed with my five month old over my shoulder, she told me she was stepping down from her position and was hoping I would take over. I said “Yes” before I could give thought to any misgivings (which were many, and reasonable). Something inside me said This Was It. The thing I had been praying for.
Her description of the job made it seem so simple, we were such a small group after all: just book the guest speakers, and serve the coffee. Over the course of the last three years, however, I’ve learned that it’s so much more. It’s making sure everyone feels welcomed and loved. It’s creating community in one of the most isolating stages of life. It’s being attuned to those who are hurting, and to those who are grieving. Since our group is located in San Diego, temporary home to many military families, we have the joy and privilege of being a tribe to those with no other family nearby. Over and over we rise up to help the mom whose husband is deployed, or who can’t afford a sitter, or who is desperate for friendship.
I no longer feel that I need to move across the world and sacrifice my comfort for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am no longer that smug child sitting in Sunday school, unwilling to call anyone else a missionary. In my role as MOPS coordinator, I have seen the need in our own affluent backyard: marriages teetering on the brink of failure, the grief of infant-loss, abusive relationships, depression, the pain of addiction. I know first-hand the sacrifice it requires a young mom to double a recipe for a friend in need, and I know from experience the glorious taste of food prepared by someone else. Making an extra batch of three bean chili IS my Big Thing For God. Jesus’ hands and feet are needed everywhere, not just in third world countries, not just in the run-down part of town. But that impeccably dressed mom you noticed at the playground? The one who looks like she has it all together? She may be falling apart on the inside. Go, say hi. The mission field is all around you.
**If you enjoyed this post, consider sharing it! And be sure to sign up below to get The Scoop, a twice a month newsletter filled with helpful links to the best posts and podcasts around the internet!