By Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer
To protect the safety of certain family members who have chosen to follow God into places of the world that are closed to the gospel, the names in this story have been changed.
What is missional living? The traditional answer to this question usually includes moving across an ocean, learning a new language, and serving under a mission organization. But this is only one depiction. Missional living is defined in thousands of different ways by people all over the world as they choose to follow God’s call to join him in his work — each one unique, important, and beautiful.
While we must ultimately look to God for what missional living looks like in our own lives, it can be helpful to examine the stories of others to learn from and gain inspiration. Many examples of missional living can be found in the Bible, throughout history, and in the lives of those around us today.
Edmund and Florence Book are a couple who have been following God’s call for many years. In the Book’s story, we see three generations of families choosing to serve God in a missional way. Each family’s story is built on the influence of the generation before, and each is a picture of God’s faithfulness and provision for a family that has chosen to say “yes” to him.
Edmund’s parents said “yes” when God called them to church planting in Northern Minnesota. Edmund had seven brothers and one sister, but his parents always made room in their van on Sunday mornings to take neighbor children to church. It was a decision to be flexible and graciously allow hurting people into their home and life, even when it would be easier to keep the mess outside.
Florence’s family followed God’s call to Alaska when she was four. They intentionally lived out their faith in a way that people around them would notice. They left familiarity and family to live starkly different from the people around them, while loving these people with complete sincerity.
With parents who were dedicated to missional living, all that Edmund and Florence knew was following God to new places and reaching out. So when they started their family together, it is no surprise that they found themselves moving to Alabama to work with a prison ministry. It was not easy to move three children under six years old across the country, but they knew this is where they were called.
After spending some years in Alabama, they felt God calling them to be involved in a church in Florida. As their family became a part of the community there, Edmund and Florence wanted to involve their children in ministry just as their own parents did with them. It was not unusual for one of the children to accompany Edmund on a hospital call or church visit. The four children were not shielded from the challenges faced by their parents; they shared their struggles with their children, and called them to prayer about these things. The children were engaged as their parents followed God’s call to different communities, churches, and ministries.
It can sometimes be hard to know how much to involve children in ministry, and how to divide time between these two important facets of life, but they both had strong feelings and ideas about how to meld their family and ministry.
One way they did this was homeschooling their four children. The time spent learning together at home was an important way to bond with the children and grow closer as a family unit. Florence says that if you were to ask any of her children what their favorite part of the school day was, they would say the beginning. She started each day by reading true stories of Christians who served God all over the world. These books promoted the idea that following God is hard, but it is an adventure that should not be turned down – an idea that was also encouraged by the way their family lived.
Another choice Edmund and Florence made when raising their children was involving them in the big decisions and establishing a bond of loyalty with them. No matter how young they were, the children were always assured of their place in the family. Edmund remembers instances from his childhood in which his parents believed in him during a challenging time, and that meant so much to him. The Books not only supported their children, but they made sure that their children supported them. They moved a lot, and every time they made a decision to move, the opinions of their children were of extreme importance.
“They have learned that discomfort and transition are worth the reward of following God, and they will praise him no matter what happens.”Facing the struggles as a family was hard, but it made them stronger. Their children are their best friends, and now they are watching them move on to begin their own ministries. The Books taught their children to say “yes” to God’s call, even when it is frightening to do so. And when God called the Book’s children away from the safety of their parents, they followed. All of their children are involved in foreign missions in one form or another.
As their children move away and make decisions to live missional lives, they see God’s hand of protection again. They know that there are dangers to living in foreign countries, but one thing resonates with them as they pray for their children: “When we read about the apostles being persecuted in the book of Acts, they did not pray for safety, but for boldness. We are not called to be safe, we are called to follow Jesus.” Edmund and Florence saw their parents following that call, they followed the call, and now they have to trust God as they watch their own children following the call. They know that “there are dangers out there, but if that’s where God is calling, then that is where they need to go. Being in God’s will isn’t always the safest place, but it’s the best place.”
Florence cried as she admitted that releasing her grandchildren into God’s will is challenging. These were not tears of disappointment or worry, but of sympathy. She knows how hard it is to live a life set apart for Christ. She knows about the cost. When her grandchildren come back to the United States, they will not fit in. Living in foreign countries will fill them with experiences that others cannot relate to, languages that others cannot speak, and hurt that others cannot begin to understand. But these experiences, languages and hurts will also make them incredibly rich and beautiful people.
These children are not only affected by their parent’s ministry, but the ministry is affected by them. Edmund has heard his son say that “the children are a vital part of the ministry.” They open doors, helping to make natural connections with the families around them.
Their children have moved on, but Edmund and Florence are still on a journey. They continue to earnestly seek out God’s will for their life and are currently being called to begin a ministry in yet another community, building relationships with those who have turned away from organized church. They have learned that discomfort and transition are worth the reward of following God, and they will praise him no matter what happens.
The Books know that the Lord is the one who did the work through their lives. They said “yes” to God, allowing him to lead their life, and he is taking them on an amazing adventure. It has not always been an easy journey, but God has been faithful, and they know he will continue to be faithful.