Living as a single parent on the mission field

My husband was the Field Director of OMF Japan when he was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. I served on the leadership team, and we had two sons with us in Japan and two at university in the UK. Since our younger two were at Japanese school, we chose to have treatment locally rather than the more usual route of returning “home” to our passport country. The doctors gave their best, but after many long hospital stays, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and a stem cell transplant, he died exactly a year later.

Reflecting on that time, I know it was only by God’s special grace that I could continue in ministry, manage things at home, and do the hospital visits. But then I faced a new challenge: living as a single parent on the mission field.

Single parents are rare in missions, for good reason. Not only are you responsible for all that goes with being a missionary (ministry, prayer letters, corresponding with supporters, finances), but you also have responsibility for your children without a partner to share the load, and far from family for support. You don’t fit in with your single colleagues because you have children, and you don’t fit in with other missionary families because you don’t have a spouse. It can be a very lonely experience.

And yet from the vantage point of six years on, I can see many things I have learnt, and continue to learn. The loss of my husband, whose strengths helped cover my weaknesses in ministry, life and parenting, left me feeling exposed. But this vulnerability drove me to rely on God’s strength in ways I never had before. As an extrovert, ideas person and verbal processor, losing the person who (almost!) always listened meant that God instead became my primary confidant, the one I bounce ideas off, talk with, and complain to. The absence of someone who was usually physically present has made me so much more aware of the One who is always with me spiritually. Being a single parent on the mission field is hard, but God is with me and is working to change me.

In his book A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser writes, “I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace.”

By Lorna, an OMF missionary

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