Dads who serve ministries all over the world feel the constant tension between meeting the needs of their ministries and meeting the needs of their families. When you factor in overseas missions, it can be even more challenging!
Daniel Lewis is a youth pastor who served at Bingham Academy in Ethiopia alongside his wife, Rachel, who is a special education teacher. Along with raising their two children, Daniel and Rachel care for the children of missionaries who serve in Bible translation, helping families learn to thrive overseas.
Daniel shares five tips for fathers who are preparing to serve in missions with their families.
1. Don’t put limits on God.
Daniel never originally planned to serve in overseas missions. From the time he was 13, he confidently pursued a role as a U.S. youth pastor. It wasn’t until college when he met his future wife Rachel, who was going overseas as a special education teacher for missionary kids, that he began praying about the possibilities.
“God really had to work on my heart,” Daniel said. “I thought I couldn't be a youth pastor overseas. I had built up my own assumptions that I needed to do it stateside.”
One Sunday Daniel and Rachel visited a little Baptist church where a retired missionary teacher happened to be speaking. After the service, Daniel and Rachel shared their story with her. When Daniel started to make an excuse about why he couldn’t serve as a youth pastor overseas, she looked at him and said, “Man, you’re really limiting God, aren’t you?”
“That statement struck me really hard,” Daniel said. “I realized I had put restrictions on how I thought I would best serve God. I had a calling from God but then I had put all these caveats on how I wanted my gifts and skills to come to fruition. After that I said, ‘Okay, God knows how to use me best and that could be overseas.’”
After five years of ministering to kids and families overseas, Daniel looks back on the moment he stopped putting limits on God with assurance. “We love our ministry [overseas]! It’s been exactly what we hoped for,” Daniel said.
2. Think of your family and your ministry as one and the same.
When Daniel and Rachel first left for Ethiopia, they didn’t have kids. As they began to think about growing their family, they realized they couldn’t separate the two: their family was part of their ministry.
“We’ve seen that choice to include our family [in our ministry] lead to stronger relationships where we were serving,” Daniel said. “It’s not been easy … [but] people valued the effort we made to stay [overseas while raising our family] and do life with other young families.”
As a youth pastor, Daniel observed that children and youth who struggled the most on the mission field were often ones who did not feel like they were a part of their parents’ ministries, even if they understood its value.
As much as possible, Daniel encourages parents to include the kids in what they do. It’s important for kids to not just understand why their parents serve, but also that they are valued and a part of the ministry. This helps the family be united, and the kids won’t feel like they are left behind or brought to the mission field against their wishes.
3. Prioritize your family.
“Our first year with a kid was our hardest transition for our whole ministry,” Daniel remembered. “I was trying to do the same amount of work I used to, and I didn’t make the correct allocations of what my family and especially what my wife needed.” He continued: “I was initially unwilling to give up godly ministry for the sake of family … and that brought a lot of bitterness. A lot of pressure and guilt was put on my wife so that I had the time and space to do more ministry. That was wrong.”
Daniel was challenged and encouraged by passages of Scripture that acknowledged how having a family changes the amount of time a person can put toward ministry. 1 and 2 Timothy also reminded him of the expectations church leaders have to prioritize family. Daniel continued: “I now realize how important it is to give up ministry for the sake of family, and that choice is in itself a ministry.”
As Daniel shifted his priorities and his workload, he was affirmed by the school administration and people around him. He was reminded that how you treat your family is just as much of a ministry to those around you as your actual ministry work.
“When people asked why I wasn’t able to do something, I was able to voice my commitment to my family. It helped us stay on the field longer and be prepared to go overseas again.”
4. Surround yourself with like-minded people.
One of the most important things that helped Daniel as he served overseas was surrounding himself with men who had similar priorities. “That encouraged me as a person,” he said. “It allowed me to have accountability with other men who were struggling with [the same things].”
When he wasn’t surrounded by like-minded individuals, Daniel often felt guilty and pressured to compare himself to other dads.
He encouraged parents: “Finding like-minded families can get you through so many of the struggles of living as a young family overseas. … Living with young kids is tough. And living overseas and traveling across the world with young kids is tough.” He concluded: “… When you surround yourself with other parents who love their ministry but are willing to set it aside to serve the family first and allow that to speak for itself, that’s huge.”
5. Give yourself grace to do less.
Learning to live overseas and go through transition in a healthy manner takes lots of physical, mental and emotional time as well as energy. Daniel noted that dads need to hear that they’re going to do a lot less than they’ve been able to do in the past. “And that’s very hard for men who know what they are capable of doing, have signed up for a job and have a mindset that they can do this job very similarly to how they can do it in the U.S. They have to learn that they cannot do that job in the same way and in the same strength and same capability while supporting their family.”
But that’s okay! Daniel is grateful that his team and Wycliffe USA understood his family’s needs. Both gave Daniel, Rachel and their children the support they needed to adjust their work/life balance during different seasons.
Daniel encourages fathers to give themselves grace to do less for a little while: “God’s the one who called you overseas, not because of your abilities or strengths or because you were capable and ready, but because he chose you and wants to use you. He knows how he’ll use you best.”