What is family?
In my immediate family I have a mother and a father, two older sisters—both with husbands and children, and a younger brother who has a wife. When I married Brandon my family extended to a set of in-laws, a sister-in-law as well as her husband and children.
Of course, we can all go past immediate and go into extended family, which for me includes a dozen aunts and uncles and over a hundred cousins, which is the complete opposite of Brandon, who has only one aunt and no cousins.
Because I lived the majority of my life on the mission field, 10,000 miles away from any of my extended family, most of my childhood I didn’t know them. When we came back to the States, Mom and Dad would remind me of the names of her brothers and sisters. When I was 12 I realized that if I saw one of my uncles walking down the street I would have no idea who he was. I don’t have many memories of playing with cousins or spending the night at grandparents’ houses. In Kenya we never had the chance to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, or Easter with family.
But my siblings and I didn’t grow up without family while in Kenya. We had a set of grandparents that lived two hours away in a city on a lake. Grandma and Grandpa Brooks were missionaries that served in Kenya for many years. We often vacationed in their city, and they would come out and spend time with our family at the pool. Grandma Brooks taught both my sister and me how to swim.
David, our Kenyan brother, came to my parents for help at the age of 16, after being kicked out of his home for accepting Christ. He is about 15 years older than me, and my childhood memories are full of him being a loving older brother to my siblings and me.
We also had an Aunt and Uncle that lived right next door to us for many years. Aunt Patty and Uncle Mark were missionaries with the Navigators. Their children were about the same age as us, and for several years we played on a daily basis, just like cousins.
This family continued to grow, even while in the United States. On home assignment when my parents would go on a longer trip to report to churches they would sometimes leave us with Mimi and Papa Parker, who are lifelong members of my parents’ home church in Missouri. There are many special people in my parent’s home church who’ve invested in my life. Ones that even today I call my family.
Recently I read Mark 10:29-31, which says: “Yes, Jesus replied, and I assure you that everyone who has given up house, or brothers, or sisters or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News will receive in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and property-along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be the least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest them”
A hundred times as many…
This phrase jumped out at me as I thought of all the people God has placed in my life over the years who have become family.
When Brandon and I accepted a call to pastoring in the small town of Herreid, South Dakota, we were also moving from being 20 minutes from Brandon’s parents to being 13 hours to our closest family members. But my children can look back on the years spent there and point out significant relationships with adults in the church that acted as grandparents, aunts, and uncles to them.
Even here, in our transition place between pastoring and the mission field, God has extended our family. When we moved our son joined the local junior high school band, and then quickly became interested in playing the tenor saxophone in the brass section of the praise band at church. For the past several months he has improved his skill and has enjoyed sharing his musical talent with the church.
When the school year ended he had to return his instrument to the school. People in our church quickly wondered why he was no longer playing with the praise team. We told them he borrowed an instrument from the school and couldn’t keep it over the summer. Besides, we’re planning on going to Brazil in the fall, so he’d likely have to give up one more thing that he came to love. The costs of being a missionary can pile up quick.
Yesterday, on Daniel’s 14th birthday, we received a call from a member of the church. Several church members had put their heads together and were able to secure a tenor saxophone for Daniel. As we went to pick up the instrument, we were filled with joy and overwhelmed by the love that our new family members had shown to our son. Later that same day one member of the church came by and gave Daniel a birthday card. Inside she wrote: “Happy birthday grandson. I know that you are not my grandson, but I can call you my adopted grandson. You are a special young man who loves the Lord, Love Mimi”
Over the years we have received numerous cards of encouragement and gifts of love from family members that God has brought into our paths. Each time we are touched by the faithful who are giving up of themselves to share God’s love with others.
Our time in Missouri has also reconnected us with our extended family here. Last weekend my grandmother celebrated her 96th birthday and her house was full of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. And I knew all of them by name. They have embraced our family just as if we grew up right here in Missouri. Some of them have even joined our support team to send us to Brazil!
It is amazing how God works. When we as his people are faithful to love, to live generously, and to give of ourselves we become united under the cross of Jesus. We are increasingly blessed by our brothers and sisters in Christ who do God’s work by giving of themselves to others. No matter where we are called to serve we will be with family, because being a part of God’s family is being a part of the greatest family of all.
As we go to Brazil I have no doubt that our family will continue to grow. Of course, as we move from place to place leaving family behind each time, we miss them and they miss us. But it is just a joy to know that in God’s future kingdom we will all be united again. Hundred, thousands, and millions of family members celebrating together from every tribe, tongue, and nation. What a glorious family reunion that will be!!!