The woman looked me directly in the eyes and shattered me when she said, “Jake doesn’t belong here.”
Those four words sliced my sensitive mother’s heart in half almost eight and a half years ago. The woman felt that our five year old son Jake should not be enrolled in her school and we should return to the United States.
“What are we going to do?” I wailed as I drove myself home from the school meeting.
Shaming questions, accusatory questions, doubting questions tortured me.
Were we out of our minds when we thought we could bring a child on the autism spectrum to the mission field of South Africa?
Were we naïve to think that Jake’s educational needs could be met outside of the United States?
Were we crazy to think that our son could not only live, but thrive on the mission field?
Eight and a half years later, I confess that we were naïve. We were out of our minds. And yes, we were crazy. We believed that we could raise Jake and his brothers on the mission field.
It turned out to be a far more emotionally charged, intellectually-taxing, spiritually challenging, and faith stretching experience than we would ever imagine. Yet, we are still here. And yes, thirteen year old Jake’s life is an incredible example of what our God will do when we trust in Him.
What made the difference?
John and I don’t quit. Some of the qualities I most admire in my husband are his faithfulness, dogged determination, and desire to seek creative solutions to challenging situations. John and I believed that our God wanted our family in South Africa. And if this was true, then we needed to find the path that our God had for us to help us make it.
We have a supportive team on the field. Without our team and the accommodations they made to assist us, we probably wouldn’t still be here. At the time of our arrival ten years ago, our team families were required to attend certain churches, team children were required to attend a particular school, and we were required to attend functions at certain times. None of these things worked for Jake. We needed a place of worship that would accept our son. Ultimately, we would need to homeschool. And in terms of the team functions, we needed flexibility of time so that Jake could get to bed when he needed to. Our team graciously granted these allowances for our family and each has made a significant difference in Jake’s life.
We have a strong prayer team. For over ten years, our family has been blessed and cared for by a faithful group of people who have committed themselves to praying for our family. We have shared the joys, sorrows, and the challenges of our missionary lives in a very intimate way with this group. Without their love, prayers, and support, we cannot imagine where we would be today – it certainly wouldn’t be South Africa.
We developed a set of family values. John and I discovered early on in our missionary life that we needed to set some guidelines for living on the mission field. Not only were the needs of our family significant, but the ministry needs surrounding us were beyond imagination. There was far more work to be accomplished than what we would ever be capable of and John and I wanted our sons to observe healthy responses to living life here. Our family values center upon four central themes:
We love God – we immerse ourselves in Scripture and seek God in prayer.
We love others – we seek to be available and do what we can.
We celebrate failure – we recognize that failure provides opportunities for learning and personal growth
We seek wisdom – we strive to be prudent in our decision making.
Over and over and over again, we return to these values to guide our family.
We make decisions that honor our God and serve the best interests of our family rhythm. As I shared, there is always some one who needs help. There is always a great ministry opportunity, and there is always something new in our missionary life. However, we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to anything that disrupts the positive and healthy rhythm of life our family enjoys. We aren’t always perfect in that, but we need space in our lives for rest, for play, and family fun.
We listen for God’s word and seek His truth and counsel, rather than strictly rely on the spoken word of man. Everyone has opinions. Everyone has answers. Everyone has motives and agendas. However, not everyone has our family’s best interests at heart. Had I listened to the woman eight and half years ago and believed her counsel was correct; we would have abandoned our missionary service and returned to the United States. I am certain we would have lived the rest of our lives in regret.
These are some of the valuable elements that contributed to creating a positive life experience for our son, Jake and his brothers in South Africa. For when we considered the types of things that Jake needed, we determined that Micah and Caleb needed them as well.
Eight and half years ago, I was told that my son didn’t belong in South Africa. As I shared, those harmful words tore me apart. Yet, because of them, John and I sought a new direction and as a result our son is not just living life in South Africa, Jake is thriving!!!
Jake does belong here and we’re so grateful for the tremendous amount of love and support we have received to affirm this truth!!!