How do missionaries balance their family responsibilities well?

Sam helps coordinate OMF’s Mekong Minorities work. He was originally sent to North Thailand from Singapore as a single missionary. There, he met Kul, who he later married and today they have four children. In this interview Sam reflects on what these family changes have meant for his ministry.

How did you meet your wife?

I met first met Kul when I was serving as an OMF associate in North Thailand with the Shan people.

She was part of the team teaching the Shan children with her aunt, an OMF missionary serving with the Shan. I couldn’t speak Thai then, so for the first few months, she and her aunt were my language helpers.

There were no immediate sparks, nor was it love at first sight. But there was an incident some time later that made me start to pray about courting her seriously.

Once, after school classes, Kul and another lady stayed back to help two children with their homework. The other lady was telling the child the answer to the questions, but Kul did it differently. She asked the child if she understood each question, explained the choices available, then asked the child again what she thought would be the right answer. At that very moment, I saw Kul in a different light.

At that instance, I prayed, “Lord, this is how I want the mother of my children to be like.” What attracted Kul to me is that she is a very capable lady, is creative and has such patience to help others learn well.

I prayed, “Lord, this is how I want the mother of my children to be like.”

When you decided to marry, did you worry about how it would change your ministry? What made you go ahead?

I did not worry much. In fact, I felt it would be a blessing if the ministry had a couple serving together.

There were many things that a single man couldn’t do that a married couple could – and could do it well. At the time, many of the people we were serving were from broken families, and many of the youth who were interested in the gospel were girls. That’s when I realised that there was a ministry opportunity for a young married couple in the area.

How did Kul respond?

Kul never imagined life married to a missionary. She had helped out in ministry voluntarily, but never thought that this would eventually be her calling and ministry.

Initially, this was our biggest barrier. Kul was not ready to be known as a missionary or a “full-time” worker. It took a lot of praying together, speaking with mentors and allowing time for one another before we came to a decision.

Eventually, what helped Kul was a mentor’s comment that obedience to God’s calling also necessitated following and supporting the call of one’s spouse. This helped Kul to take the first big step in allowing God to slowly affirm her role and calling in this missions journey together.

What was the most challenging part of preparing for marriage in terms of your ministry?

It was the period between making our decision to marry known to others, and the marriage itself. We had to be extra careful and intentional in setting up boundaries not to be too close and intimate. It was funny because one would expect that since we were engaged, we would spend more time together. But we wanted to set a good example. This was probably our most challenging period in ministry, because people trusted Kul and me with the space and time to spend together alone, even in ministry. It was challenging personally because there seemed to be more temptations to cross that line of intimacy.

The other challenge came because I had joined OMF as a single. So Kul and I had to “leave” OMF and re-apply to join it. But this worked out for us because we were planning for further studies in Singapore, where we could re-apply to join OMF as a couple.

How did marriage change your ministry?

In the early years, adapting to one another’s strengths and weaknesses dictated the shape of our ministry. I learned to step out of my comfort zone, and to learn from Kul’s gifting and watch her minister in her strengths.

It was the same for Kul. After marriage, we got more involved in personal discipleship with youths. We were able to meet them individually at our house and host small groups, which I felt really impacted them in their decision to commit themselves to Christ.

Being in a cross-cultural marriage is no different from a same-culture marriage; we take a lot of things for granted. But I got to learn my lessons faster because of our cross-cultural marriage. I think learning each other’s love language is important.

The initial years of miscommunications and misunderstandings were probably some of the biggest challenges in life and ministry, because adapting to each other on a daily basis took time and effort. It was tiring and sometimes, we were left with little spiritual, emotional and physical energy to minister to others. Kul and I had been brought up to see marriage as a private affair, and to keep all our problems to ourselves.

The initial years of miscommunications and misunderstandings were probably some of the biggest challenges in life and ministry.

But through the difficulties, we came to a point where we had to acknowledge that we needed help; that was when we decided to look for a marriage counsellor to help us. It was such a difficult step for the both of us, because it seemed to suggest that there was something very wrong with our marriage. And both of us were not used to sharing such private struggles with a stranger. But we got so much help in learning how to listen better. That was also our turning point in deciding to be trained as marriage mentors, so that we can journey with others.

And now you have four kids! How did parenthood change your ministry?

Parenthood expanded our ministry. Now we have a 24-hour ministry right in our own home!

It didn’t take us long to realise that parenting is a ministry itself – and an important one. We had to learn to take time off from other commitments and put time into parenting well. In the initial years, time was the biggest challenge. Whether you are single, or married with four kids, you only have 24 hours.

We still struggle today with the dilemma – is this good for the family or good for the ministry? There are costs in every decision

With our expanded ministry as parents, we had to learn to put in time for parenting while committing to build up our marriage and also to minister and disciple others.

We still struggle today with the dilemma – is this good for the family or good for the ministry? There are costs in every decision. Something that would benefit the family may not be strategic in terms of ministry. Something that would be good for the ministry may not benefit our children. But we thank the Lord that in such tensions, he always shows us how he is in control and he is providing for our family and children.

With four kids, it must be quite a challenge to balance your role as a missionary, husband, and father. How do you cope? How do you spend time with your family?

The reason I can take on different roles and not fall apart is that Kul is doing a lot to hold things together. She is like an invisible tape that holds all my different roles together.

Every month, I block out a date for a timeout with God in my schedule. I do this in advance so I know when to say “No” to a certain appointment or assignment. Fridays are for the children, we call them our movies night. Then Kul and myself make it a point to have a date every month.

We like to walk around the Thai evening markets together, eating as we walk. And the daily prayers as a family before bed are essential. There are high and low seasons in ministry, and during the low seasons, Kul and I will plan more activities for the family. Kul regularly reminds me that having set aside time for the family, I also need to be “present” in spending quality time with them. Sometimes, while I am physically present, my mind and thoughts are on ministry. This is something I am still learning, and I constantly need the nudge from Kul to be “present”.

What would you advise missionaries who are also thinking of getting married?

Never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray about the desire to be married, and pray for your marriage and spouse. Most of my lessons about prayer were in the context of marriage. Find a mentor to journey with you through the transitions, especially when it comes to married life. The ultimate aim for marriage is not just for our happiness, it is also for our holiness.

Will you pray for OMF’s workers?

  • Pray for missionaries balancing family responsibilities and ministry responsibilities. Pray for wisdom in each decision families take together.

  • Pray for missionaries who are thinking of getting married – for good and godly advice, wisdom in decisions.

  • Pray for parents, especially in decisions they have to make about their childrens’ schooling.

  • Pray for workers who are single, married and those with families we ask that their family life, relationships and marriage would honor you. Help them build strong relationships.

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