The Missionary Family: Witness, Concerns, Care

by Dwight P. Baker and Robert J. Priest, eds.

William Carey Library. 2014. 

Reviewed by Susan Greener, associate professor, Intercultural Studies, Wheaton Graduate School.

The issue of families in missions has attracted debate for over two centuries. Is it better to be single on the mission field so as not to be distracted by family obligations? Or is having a family on the field an asset as a living witness for Christianity? And then there are parents who ask, “How do we do mission without sacrificing our children’s well-being?” Upon reading the title of this book—The Missionary Family—one might expect this book to be an exploration of these types of questions. The collection of essays under review addresses some concerns of missionary family life that are relevant to mission organizations. 

The book is made up of three distinct parts. The first part is entitled “Families in Mission” and offers an interesting compilation of three historical case studies of missionary families, a personal and rosier reflection on missionary family life, important research on families’ perceptions of risk on the field, and a report on an alternative care model for elderly parents of Korean missionaries who are not able to fulfill the cultural expectations for filial piety. The chapters convey the ongoing challenges of integrating family into complex cultural and historical contexts.

Part Two responds to more recent revelations of child sexual abuse scandals within mission organizations, focusing on legal issues for organizational and child protection, investigation techniques, the historical context of child sexual abuse accusations, and controversy surrounding abuse accusations based upon recovered memories. The discussion offers only a partial perspective on a complex topic and, most importantly for the title of the book, does not offer much insight regarding the impact on and experience of missionary families.  

This section would be strengthened by perspectives from trauma researchers, therapists for the abused and their families, impacted families, and adult survivors of child sexual abuse in a missionary context. In addition, a more nuanced discussion of the concepts and research positions on recovered, repressed, and suppressed memory would also been helpful. By focusing on the most controversial and questioned scenarios (i.e., recovered memories), the reader may not realize that the majority of the abused never forget. Including the voices of the abused and their families is crucial for a balanced presentation on a contentious subject concerning distinctively vulnerable children.     

Part Three centers on Sherwood Lingenfelter’s essay on mission to and with persons who are same-sex attracted.  He relates coming to grips with his adult daughter’s identification as a lesbian and her ongoing desire to follow Christ and then outlines what he believes to be the essential questions for mission and church dialogue. Essays by thirteen respondents and a rejoinder by Lingenfelter comprise the remainder of this section, which offers a brief and helpful overview of evangelical positions informing a vital contemporary dialogue for the Church.  

In sum, The Missionary Family offers illustrations of witness, raises concerns (particularly regarding sexuality), and touches upon care issues important for mission organizations seeking the well-being of families under their supervision.


EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 459-460. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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