In 1793, Dorothy Carey, pregnant with her fourth child, refused to accompany her husband, William, to India. He took their eldest son and boarded the ship without her. Evangelism over family! At the last minute, with one day to spare, friends convinced Dorothy to go. She hastily packed and boarded the boat. She subsequently lost one of her children (after losing two in England) and, eventually, her mind.

In later generations, children as young as five were left in England or the United States while their parents served as missionaries abroad. Evangelism over family! For their education, for their protection, for the success of the mission.

This history lingers in the subconsciousness of many Christians. One of the first questions today’s missionaries are asked when they announce their intention to move abroad is “Are you bringing the children?”

When the person asking contemplates the question, they retract it sheepishly. Of course the children are going. To Paris, Nairobi, Beijing, Beirut, La Paz.

Once there, missionary parents face a relatively new question, one that few actively address before leaving their passport country but one that comes laden with unspoken expectations. What is the role of the family in kingdom ministry?

It’s Complicated

The question is complicated. A thorough answer requires consideration of physical context; type of missionary work; expectations of organizations and sending churches; the ages, personalities, and faith of the children; the personal conviction of parents; and more.

The question is problematic. After all, are the children of surgeons involved in surgery? Are teachers’ kids expected to help plan lessons or grade exams? Does family play a role in trading stocks ...

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