By Bart Barber
I recall the day I became an expert missiologist. I was 15 years old, and I’d just gone on my first mission trip.
Somehow, becoming the world’s leading expert on just about any subject matter came easier as a teenager. So, after one week of short-term missions, I knew it all.
I don’t know what all happened in the intervening 35 years, but it seems all I’m learning is how much I don’t know.
Another, more recent trip reminded me I still have a lot to learn and gave me a new appreciation for missionaries and a new way to pray for them.
Our Family’s Opportunity
Our church family in Farmersville, Texas have spent the past eight years trying to reach an unreached, unengaged people group in West Africa with the gospel.
Each trip I take is another crash course in how much I appreciate career missionaries and how little I realized the difficulty of their jobs and the challenges that they face.
On my most recent trip, I did something I’d never done before. I took my entire family with me.
When it comes to my family, I’m blessed. I have an amazing wife and two teenagers. And so, I had every reason to expect this trip would be nothing but one spiritual highlight after another.
Introducing my family to local believers? Attending worship together with the church we’ve planted? Going from village to village, from house to house, sharing the gospel with those who haven’t met Jesus?
I just knew each evening would include share times when we’d all rejoice over what God had done through us and in us each day.
Somehow, I forgot I was taking my family to a dangerous, foreign, spiritually-dark place.
Our Family’s Challenge
My wife, who never has medical problems, suddenly couldn’t breathe after our sixth mile of hiking through the villages one day.
My son, who doesn’t know how to get sick, found his stomach wasn’t tolerating the food well. My daughter also fell ill, hobbling our small team.
Our patience with one another plummeted.
I, often even-keeled, lost my patience with the whole lot of them in a way that’s uncharacteristic of me, and I did it right in front of our wide-eyed translators and local believers.
New Way to Pray
I’ve long appreciated the ways missionaries move away from their TV channels, restaurants, sporting events, extended family members, mild climates and Interstate highways to live in places that often lack all of those things.
I’ve long appreciated the ways that spending years planting the gospel in hard soil must sap away enthusiasm and test the perseverance of even the most motivated and heartiest souls.
What I’d never even considered until this trip was the way unceasing spiritual warfare on the front lines of the gospel could pull on the loose threads of a family structure.
How, if we’re not careful, it can turn the strongest asset of the missionary—a core family group of believers who share the same purpose and love—into a dreadful liability.
And that experience was only for a week! I can’t imagine, and have only glimpsed, how hard it must be for a family, as a family, to undertake this task and wade off into this sea of spiritual warfare hand-in-hand.
So, precious missionary families, when I pray for you now, I’m praying for some new things that hadn’t previously occurred to me.
My hat is off to you. My heart is with you like never before. I’m so proud to be one of the ones holding the ropes for you.
BART BARBER (@bartbarber) is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, the husband of Tracy, and the father of Jim and Sarah.
Editor’s Note: Find out how you can help your denomination or church network with international missions. If you’re a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, learn how you can pray, give, and go with the IMB.