Surprisingly, despite the title, I think this has been one of the most heart-wrenching books I have read in a long time. When I started reading For the Joy I think I was expecting fun stories about women leading the way, powering through and persevering in mission, seeing fruit in ministry and finding fulfilment. What I actually was challenged to find was stories of heart-break, and tragedy, and despair, where Christians were challenged to find joy in serving God and knowing him, rather than in the situations they were in.
These are stories of perseverance in the face of struggles with tragic loss, mental illness struggles, death, injury, hopelessness, loneliness, racism, exclusion, and unpredictability.
These are stories of women and families who served around the world, in many different situations and cultures, and no two stories are the same. There are certainly some funny stories too (See the chapter called The Llama ate my homework…), but the joy here for these women comes from something deeper than just happiness in good times, but a joy that lasts through good and bad times.
Being a missionary does not automatically qualify one with super-spiritual qualities. Bible study and prayer are not fruits of the Spirit, nor are they measures of one’s spirituality. I think it is the little, ordinary, everyday moments that reveal to us, and to others, what it means to be a Christian…Am I loving, peaceful, patient, kind, faithful, gentle, good and self-controlled? …I will continue to run and continue to stumble, and continue to get back up again and keep trying- all by the grace of the God who loves me. P.79
This is something Jessica shared, as she reflected on her struggles of feeling like a failure as a mother and a Christian. There are 20 other stories from other women who have been on the mission field, each reflecting on the joys and the challenges. And each testimony is an encouragement that these women are ordinary Christians, just like us, who struggle and who we can look to, to see how to persevere. None of us will get through life without struggling at some point, and seeing examples of this can help us to know how to do it well, depending on God, when these hard times do come.
Fair warning, this book has some challenging parts. Many of these women struggled with anxiety or depression. Many of them lost children or other family members suddenly, and had to learn how to deal with the grief from this. Others struggled with chronic health struggles. Some struggled with doubting their own faith and their missionary work. One woman experienced PTSD from a very traumatic child birth. This book goes through in detail all the real blood, sweat, and tears shed by these women in the mission field but in these stories, these women say they would go through it all again because they have seen how God grew them.
If you have ever wondered what it is really like to be in the mission field, or you have just wondered what it looks like to keep persevering in the face of the struggles of life, read this book. Even if you’ve never personally considered serving in cross cultural mission, these stories will give you real, practical examples of what it looks like to keep trusting and serving God when things seem out of control, or hopeless. And this is a great encouragement, to see honesty in the struggles of life. And if you’ve ever been curious about what it is really like to serve overseas in cross-cultural mission, the honesty in these stories will help you see what this is really like, in all its messiness and joy. And particularly if mental illness or grief and loss are things you’ve struggled with, seeing the reflections of these women is particularly helpful to think about how they worked through these.
If I have a criticism of this book, it would be its narrow scope. It would be great to have some of the reflections of the children in these families, or single missionaries, or men who have persevered in similar difficult situations. But these things are outside the scope of this book. It does a fantastic job of collecting stories from missionary mothers, and I hope that soon something similar sharing the stories of other Christians and their perseverance will be available too. Ultimately, all these stories have one thing in common besides their authors circumstances: whatever happened, these women found true joy in knowing God and being able to serve him, despite their circumstances, and they continued to trust him.
Flinders ES- Lauren B
For the Joy: 21 Australian Missionary Mother Stories on Cross-Cultural Parenting and Life
Miriam Chan and Sophia Russell (ed.) (Anglican Aid, 2018)