Identity Crisis: An American Kid Raised on the Mission Field
by Deborah A. Basehore
It was a rainy Wednesday morning. I sat in a booth at Panera Bread, sipping a hot mug of hazelnut coffee – one of my favorite pastimes for reading and writing. This visit was different. Instead of studying alone or watching people, as was my regular routine, I actually had company. This morning I conversed with my father. It was two weeks after the birth of my son, Declan. We stole away for some daddy/daughter time while Declan napped in between feedings. Not only was my company different this morning, but our conversation was different, too. We spoke of fruit, the Spirit, the character of Christ, the Father; deep, extensive, weighty theological matters engulfed our attention. I had never before experienced such fullness and healing as I did that day during those precious few hours.
I grew up on the mission field in São Paulo, Brazil. My parents are missionaries with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. I never realized there was anything different about the way I grew up. It was simply the norm for me. I attended school, played sports, piano, sang in choir, participated in AWANA, and never missed Sunday school. The first clue to the uniqueness of my upbringing occurred during our occasional furloughs, and later on, more drastically, when we returned from the mission field. I realized at that point, that my worldview and perspective would never be like others. I had observed pain, suffering, loneliness, and poverty in a way unimaginable to the comfortably numb society we encountered upon our return to the United States.
I did not know how to engage the American culture. This was new to me. So, I did as we are taught on the mission field; I adapted. I became part of the culture. I shut off the part of me that was undeniably Brazilian and the product of a third culture foundation and became an American. Thus began my years of identity crisis. I no longer knew or understood who I was. My siblings suffered similar struggles although we all found different means with which to cope. However, something was missing from my arsenal of survival. I knew how to be in the world, but I could not secernate that endeavor from becoming part of the world. I embraced the world and accepted its attempts to offer me identity.
I would categorize the ensuing years as my “Jonah” era. I ran from God, I ran from His plan for my life, and I ran from my mission field. True to His character, He did not leave me. In retrospect, He was there at every turn, watching every decision, mourning every misstep. He waited. Finally, when options failed me, I saw Him. God was faithful even when I was not. I began to explore my calling and the gifts God had given to me. The most surprising element of all, I discovered an insatiable thirst for theology. Where had this been all my life? The calling had always been there; I had forgotten His voice. The gifts were always present in seed form, but never watered. How could this have happened?
As I sat with my father at Panera that drizzly morning, I realized what I had been craving my whole life: theological discussion with the man I admired most in the world. It was not until my first class on missions in seminary that I truly began to understand where the breakdown occurred. Children do not opt to enter ministry; they either follow their parents into it or are born into it. It is an automatic identity attributed to a child based on a profession chosen by the parent. I am the child of a pastor, not a pastor. I am the child of a missionary, not a missionary. While many family businesses carry expectations, the ministry is one that often ignores the basic principles of apprenticeship. What does this all mean?
I struggled for years in my identity because I assumed I was a missionary, at times a pastor; these were the identities I was handed as part of a ministering family. But I was not trained to fulfill any of these roles and all my efforts fell short and incomplete. A decade later, I find myself frequently sitting, thinking, and writing. I write. My ministry is writing. I write and people are comforted, consoled, and cared for. I am a pastor. I write and my multi-cultural upbringing seeps through onto the page and cultural boundaries are traversed. I am a missionary. I write my deepest and dearest thoughts and feelings about my Lord and God and readers see a new and fresh perspective of Him. I am a theologian.
My child is not a theologian. My child is not a pastor. My child is not a missionary. My child is however my disciple and one of the most vital investments and contributions I will ever make to the world. My child is my apprentice, my mentee, my mission field. The apostle Paul addresses this principle in his description of a capable leader, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5). This passage is commonly interpreted as keeping one’s household in order and pleasing to anyone observing. But, rarely does it occur to the reader that this passage refers to family as one’s primary focus in ministry. One of my friends, an aspiring young apologist, has designed an apologetics course for his young children. As I watch his ministry I am increasingly amazed at the magnitude of his gifting, both in ministering to the inquiring adult mind and carrying that calling into the home as he teaches his children to defend the faith. I have my own aspirations. I desire to be a theologian. As I learn to teach others how to engage with the Creator of the universe, do I also teach my children how to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength?
We never know how God will fulfill His call on our lives, but in the Kingdom no life experience is wasted. The tables are now turned. I am navigating the waters of faith and leading others. The matter to which I am frequently convicted is how I choose to lead my family. My daughter has shown a tremendous affinity for exhortation. It is my task in life to direct her in the pursuit of God’s character, teach her the pleasures of His presence, and equip her with His Word. One day, as she applies the theological principles passed on to her to lift up her generation in the body of Christ, she will be the greatest testimony to the effectiveness of my ministry. My children can never be accessories to my ministry; they are the object of my endeavors. The mission field will always begin in Jerusalem, in your very own home. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
originally written for Christ for the Nations Magazine/Revolution Magazine