'Hard work never killed anyone,' and other dad lessons for missionary life

My parents were in their mid-40s when I was born. I think they’d watched others raise children and decided to be a lot more laid back. I benefited! Here are some of my father’s favorite adages that have helped me in global ministry.

1. Change will happen. Be ready. Embrace it.

Dad was a change agent. He lived through two world wars – too young to fight in one, too old for the other, but he knew change was inevitable. He observed seismic global change and adapted to it both as a pastor and an educator. He saw theological trends come and go, and was always ready for a good discussion on points of contention. “Let’s look at it from another angle,” he’d say. This has helped me move from country to country, ministry to ministry, without holding tight to the past.

2. Being a girl doesn’t mean you are fragile.

I was tall like my dad, so he’d say, “Pick up the other end of that piano and help me move it.” My brother and I got equal chores, not separate, gender-specific jobs. He’s a great cook and I like mowing the yard. Living around the globe is hard work and entails a lot of back-breaking physical labor. I never expected my husband could do all the work; we worked together. My Asian neighbors were often surprised to see us doing our own work, but it demonstrated that even as “wealthy” foreigners, we weren’t above a hard day’s labor. Yes, we hired local workers when culturally appropriate, but I would hear my dad’s words echo in my mind, “Hard work never killed anyone.”

3. Take risks.

Isn’t this why God gave us fathers? Dad often took me to different subway stops in the big city where he taught. He’d help me get on the subway and tell me to get off at the railroad station, buy a ticket, and ride home to our suburban town. “Don’t tell your mom, though, because she’d be horrified.” I realize it was a kinder world, but these experiences not only helped me have no fear of navigating public transportation in huge Asian cities, but also helped me let go of my own kids, allowing them to travel around cities and across the world.

4. Don’t be impressed with yourself.

My dad was a Bible teacher who spoke all over the country, but he was never impressed with himself, or for that matter, anyone else in positions of prominence. One neighbor friend said to me, “Does your dad have a doctorate?” I said he did, and she said, “Funny, I always think of him as the guy who takes the trash out in his fuzzy yellow bathrobe.” Whenever I’ve been tempted to think more highly of myself than I ought for this or that honor, I am reminded that I too am just the person who takes out the trash.

5. Gifts of the spirit are not distributed according to gender.

This might be the most important thing my father ever taught me. He fully believed in being culturally appropriate in the exercise of spiritual gifts, but he believed that if God gifted you in something, you were expected to find ways to exercise this gift. This prepared me to work closely with Chinese women and pastors. I have no desire to pastor in my own culture, but have heard many powerful messages in a Chinese church delivered by a woman. In global ministry I’ve never been tempted to think, “Well, that’s something only the men should do – or vice versa, that only the women should do.”

Each Father’s Day, and in fact many days of the year, I think of my dad. I was a young mom when he died, and I wish my daughters could have had more time with him and being encouraged by him.

This original article can be found on SEND International

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