Because Andreas Joswig was already a member of Wycliffe Germany, Corinna knew that marrying him would also mean making a commitment to Wycliffe. Joining Wycliffe would mean living and serving abroad. At the time, Corinna hadn’t had much exposure to the work of Wycliffe, so she took a year to learn more about the organisation and the need for Bible translation around the world.
“After a year I decided, yes, I could imagine being part of this work,” remembers Corinna.
But all along, Corinna and Andreas knew that there were other people to consider. They talked regularly with their parents about their plans to serve together with Wycliffe. Corinna’s parents were always supportive, but they still had concerns. How would Corinna and Andreas live off financial support from others? How would they raise children in a foreign country?
Wycliffe Germany has found that many parents have questions and concerns when their adult children decide to join Wycliffe. Some parents do not completely understand their children’s calling to serve God abroad. Other parents may not feel equipped to properly care for their children and grandchildren when they are living in a different country and culture, often for years at a time.
Since 1989, Wycliffe Germany has invited the parents of its staff to an annual, all-expense-paid weekend, called Parents’ Weekend (Elterntreff), at its conference centre in Holzhausen, Germany. The weekend provides an opportunity for parents to express concerns, ask questions, and learn more about Wycliffe and the work of its staff at home and abroad.
“Parents have a lot of questions [and] concerns…because many of them don’t have that experience,” explains Ralph Schubert, Wycliffe Germany’s director of personnel. “When they talk to their children, they don’t always get all the responses they are hoping for. [Parents’ Weekend] is a place where they can share their concerns, their questions—discuss it, talk among themselves.”
Each year a topic is chosen based off questionnaires parents had completed the previous year. In past years, topics have included: cultural adjustments, what does it mean to be involved in fulltime ministry, raising financial support, and expectations and disappointments.
Learning from Mistakes
Parents’ Weekend 2016 was attended by 35 individuals and titled, “Arriving in the German Jungle.” In each session parents learned more about home assignment, or the temporary periods of time Wycliffe staff spend in their home countries every three or four years to reconnect with their ministry partners. They discussed their expectations for their children while on home assignment. What are some of the struggles that their grandchildren will face when they return home? What is the difference between home assignment and returning home to stay? How can they successfully help their children and grandchildren transition?
Wycliffe Germany Director, Susanne Krüger, served in the east African country of Tanzania for many years. When she returned to Germany the first time, her mother, Hannelore Krüger, planned a large surprise party for her.
“I thought I knew my daughter,” shares Hannelore. “I invited everyone—all her friends, the whole family, plus the whole church. That wasn’t good.”
Susanne was overwhelmed by such a large gathering. She was not prepared to engage with so many people at once so quickly after she had returned to Germany.
Hannelore admits that the Parents’ Weekend’s discussions about home assignment would have been helpful when her daughter first came home. But she also feels that over time her and her husband learned to how to better support Susanne through the transitions by strengthening communication with her.
“We had to learn through our mistakes,” she explains.
A Family Gathering
Many parents that attend Parents’ Weekend return again and again. Some have been coming each year for over a decade.
“This is a family,” says Hannelore. “We feel at home here. Although the differences are there…there’s so much interest and respect. First you think you’re alone—that only you have this question and all these concerns about this way of life. But it’s not just you. Here, you realize that every one of the parents has the same questions and concerns.”
Ulrich and Anette Schlechtendahl, parents of Wycliffe Germany staff member, Melanie Reimer, often find it hard to connect with those who are not parents of children with these unusual jobs. “In church, or in other groups, we are always very different, exotic people. But here [at Parents’ Weekend], we didn’t have to explain how we felt, because they were feeling the same thing.”
Throughout the weekend, participants are encouraged to ask questions, share their opinions and form relationships with other parents. Several are parents of candidate staff, meaning their children have not begun serving with Wycliffe. Others are parents to staff that have been serving with Wycliffe for a long time. Some parents are skeptical of Wycliffe, while others are fully supportive. There are parents who aren’t Christians, and others who have been followers of Christ for most of their lives.
“Talking among themselves, they get a lot of support. They can share what their experience has been and learn from each other’s experience. Some of the parents have said, ‘We can be who we are when we come to Wycliffe. We don’t have to pretend to be someone else,’” adds Ralph. “So it basically means they can open up, and are accepted with all of their concerns.”
Gaining a New Perspective
For some parents of missionaries, it’s helpful to visit their children and grandchildren in the country in which they are serving. As they experience the life and culture that their children and grandchildren are surrounded by every day, parents gain a deeper understanding of why their children may feel “between two worlds.”
“We had more understanding for her work. And we got to know people there,” Hannelore explains about visiting her daughter, Susanne, in Tanzania. “It very much helped us for our life coming back to Germany—to have more grace and to be more thankful for what we have in Germany. The problems we had before—suddenly they became very small.”
Bernd Stanslowski was a bit shocked when his daughter, Corinna Joswig, first told him that she was going to join Wycliffe and serve abroad. But, when he had the opportunity to visit his daughter and her family in Ethiopia, his anxieties eased.
“It was very special to go there and see all that,” he explains. “It was a normal family life, which surprised me.”
Even if parents are not able to visit their children overseas, Wycliffe Germany strives to keep parents informed and assured.
“We want parents to understand what Wycliffe is, what are we doing, how we function, how we operate, and how we care for their children,” says Ralph. “They know they have someone to talk to here. So, they can call whenever they want if they have a question.”
A Special Investment
Wycliffe Germany recognizes that God cares about family and community. Although the children are the ones serving with Wycliffe, the parents still play a crucial role.
“The parents are advocates for their children in their home churches and with local Christians,” shares Ralph.
Bible translation is never done in isolation. Each person that serves needs the support of others, including their family members in their home countries. Parents can make a special investment in their adult children’s ministries by providing physical, emotional and spiritual support to their children and grandchildren when they are at home or abroad.
“The parents are critical shareholders in the ministry of the children,” concludes Ralph. “If the parents are supportive, it makes such a huge difference to the children and what they are doing.”
Photos by Heather Pubols
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This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.