Missions perspectives from those who grew up overseas
by Rebekah Erway and Emily Day
For some students here at Cedarville, missions is more than just a concept or a future plan. These MKs, or missionary kids, and internationals have seen some of what the work of missionaries is like on the other side of the field. Growing up in the midst of missions gave them some insights about it. Some names and country names have been altered or withheld to protect those in secure locations.
Abbie Belcher, a senior math major, only served with her family in Hungary for two years. However, that in no way minimized the impact it had on her life.
“Being introduced to so many different cultures just opens your eyes to how the Lord is working in different areas of the world,” Belcher said. “Just to the fact that we all are different, but we serve the same God. That is really cool.”
Belcher and her family moved to Hungary at the end of her sophomore year of high school so her father could serve as a pastor at an international church. Being an international church, his primary purpose was to reach out to the English-speaking population in Hungary. While this meant that most of the congregation isn’t Hungarian, there are multiple ethnic groups represented. Typically, there are around 30 countries represented every Sunday. Many of the people came from missionary, business, and military families.
Though her time in Hungary was brief compared to some, Belcher said the Lord really used it to open her eyes to how God could use anyone in his service, which is something she believes Cedarville emphasizes really well.
“Anyone who wants to serve the Lord, can be used by the Lord,” she said. “He can use teachers, he can use pastors, we even had engineer friends there, military friends. We saw all kinds of people serving the Lord together in their own way. That was really cool to see because I now want to do missions when I graduate and I really believe that was because I saw missions being done in that way.”
Daniel Cable, a junior IT management major, said when he was younger, he thought he had missions “figured out.” His parents left for Romania when he was three and are still working there to train the leaders of the native church. During the 16 years Cable was there, he served where he could, including with youth group and the worship team.
“I was kind of living mission, in a way,” Cable said.
Cable said he assumed he could go anywhere because he grew up in missions and did not have to face the traditional struggles with culture and language barriers. As he grew older, however, Cable said he realized that missions would be more difficult if God called him somewhere other than Romania.
“I’d be an outsider,” he said. “So, [I thought] that’s actually kind of scary, maybe I don’t have this figured out. And I didn’t.”
Cable said his parents left steady jobs in the U.S. to become missionaries at an older age, which had been a challenge for them. They had to move their whole life overseas. Through it, though, the family has been able to train native Romanians to teach others about Christ. Cable said he noticed that there are blessings that come with seeing God at work in other places.
“Don’t be afraid if you’re feeling God is calling you to do something radical,” he said.
Aimee Spice, a junior linguistics major, said she didn’t feel like she had the same kind of MK experience as most. While her parents served in Jerusalem, Spice was not allowed to tell people her parents were missionaries.
“I didn’t have that mindset,” Spice said. “For me, I was just kind of an American who moved to Israel, living life there.”
Spice said most of her nine years in Jerusalem were just going to school like a normal kid. For her, the times when she most felt like an MK were coming back to the U.S. and going to mission conferences. Spice described how people would assume that returning to the U.S. on furlough was like coming home for her, but it wasn’t.
“Israel, that’s home to me,” she said. “I honestly felt safer in Israel than when I lived in Cleveland.”
Spice said that she enjoyed being an MK and thinks being an MK should be viewed in a positive light.
“Get to know MKs as people rather than as ‘all MKs are like this,’” Spice said. “Get to know them for the unique person they are.”
Aogu Suzuki, a senior Christian education and youth ministry major, is from Nagano, Japan, and while he is a national and not an MK, he said he definitely benefited from missionaries who came to his country, which has a Christian population of less than one percent.
Despite that fact, Suzuki said not a lot of people support the mission work in Japan. Because of this, short-term mission trips, while good, can be burdensome to the mission field.
“I personally like short-term missions; they’re fun, you get to make a difference for God,” Suzuki said. “You can even go to Japan, but one thing we all need to remember is we’re not just going there to help them. People in the field, they’re doing a lot to enable you to be there. As much as ministry is important, ministry to those who are in the field is very important as well so that they’ll be encouraged and they’ll be empowered by the time you leave.”
Suzuki encouraged students to get involved with missions but to keep the right mindset as they go out.
“When we go to the mission field, one thing we need to remember is, regardless where you are, you are not just a Japanese citizen or an American citizen: You are part of the kingdom of God,” Suzuki said. “More than expanding your own culture, we need to be just focused on expanding God’s kingdom and its cultures.”
Honor was born in a Middle Eastern country and lived there until she was 16. Both of her parents, who are still overseas, worked in a hospital to treat Muslims with long-term diseases. Honor said working with Muslims was difficult, and the missions team realized it would take a long time to get a chance to share the Gospel.
“In long-term missions, it’s a lot of the mundane,” Honor said. “Working through loneliness and culture shock and learning the language and people feeling stupid all the time because you only have the level of a four-year-old in communication skills.”
Honor said one problem she ran into as an MK was loneliness. Her parents worked in a rural area with few Westerners, and there were few extracurricular activities available for girls. However, Honor said she enjoyed the sense of connection she gained from being in a missions-minded community. Her favorite part was “the unity of having the same purpose and worshiping the same God.”
“Even though we come from a lot of different backgrounds and I know people from all over the world, we had the same love for God and love for others and a community that worshiped together,” Honor said.
Jesse Thompson, a junior international studies major, spent 14 years with his family in Brazil. Both of his parents were trained in the medical field. During their time in Brazil, they have worked with a missions hospital, drug rehab ministry, counseling and with the local church. Thompson said that his time as an MK gave him an enjoyment of different cultures and influenced the career he feels God is leading him toward.
Thompson also shared that life as an MK can be difficult. The constant back-and-forth travel of missionaries can be hard because MKs have to leave friends. Thompson said that while there are great benefits to learning another language and culture, parents thinking of becoming missionaries should recognize that their children have feelings and emotions.
“Even though they aren’t in charge of the household, you should always make sure they are handling it well and always having stuff to do,” he said.
Thompson said that MKs are not the only type of student on campus who have had experiences overseas and with travel. He said many experience growing up in another culture makes a large impact on someone’s life.
“Don’t feel like it’s just an isolated group,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing how many people actually did live overseas.”
Corinna and her family have been serving overseas since she was 9 years old. Her parents always had a desire to serve God as missionaries. However, it wasn’t until the occurrence of 9/11 that they felt God really push them to go.
“As soon as 9/11 happened, my family started raising support and they stared getting really serious about going overseas,” Corinna said. “Before that, my parents would always talk about it, but then I never thought it would actually happen until that point.”
Corinna went on to say that living and serving overseas has really shaped her perspective on different issues facing our world today, especially topics like immigration.
“It’s definitely made me more sensitive to people talking about immigration policies,” she said. “Like calling people aliens, that’s just very rude. It can just be very sensitive to a lot of people, especially if they have lived here their whole life and they feel like they are American and you are suddenly you’re wanting to kick them out. It just made me more sensitive in the way we say things, even if they are beneficial to the whole entirety of the U.S.”
Rebekah Erway is a junior journalism major and campus news editor for Cedars. She is a diehard Disney, Veggietales, and Lord of the Rings fan and enjoys speaking in a British accent.
Emily Day is a senior journalism major and arts and entertainment editor for Cedars. She is currently obsessed with the music from the new broadway show Amélie and may be listening to it on a constant loop.