Obstacles we can face when taking family on mission and how we can move through them; a feature on NZCMS Staff members, Mike and Ruth Robb.
Mike and Ruth’s missions journey began in 1980. A friend of theirs working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) sent them a letter inviting them to join him for six months and asked “Give me three reasons why you couldn’t come and help us…?”. The Robbs couldn’t think of one.
In 1983 and with their first child Esther in tow, they went back again to live on hospital grounds in Rumginae, PNG. This would be the beginning of twelve years of missions work there in which they would extend the Gospel through the vehicles of maintenance work, nursing, discipling and bible college lecturing. In this time, they had five more children after Esther: Lydia, Adam, Hannah and the twins, Abel and Jairus.
They left Papua New Guinea for the lat time in 1993 but after ten years of pastoring in New Zealand, they were then off again in 2004. With their now teenage children, Hannah, Abel and Jairus - Esther and Lydia had left home already - they moved to Cambodia to become the directors of Asian Outreach Cambodia for two years.
When considering raising their family on the mission field, their friends' and families' main concern would often be about health care. And for good reason! In the small village that they lived in Pangoa for most of their time in PNG, the nearest hospital was an hour’s plane trip away and you could be waiting for half a day before the nearest plane even arrived. And that was only if there was a plane available and near you. Mike recollected a time when their son, Jairus, suddenly stopped breathing and started going blue. In such a critical time, not even the fastest plane trip to the hospital would have helped if Jairus hadn’t suddenly started breathing again.
“Most of you were about six months old when we would return to PNG again - After returning to New Zealand and giving birth there -" Ruth said, commenting on how young the her kids were. "So it's important that you do your due diligence and have things in place in case situations go wrong
Mike commented that after a couple years, certainly people began to make statements like “Well, you’ve done more than most people have, isn’t it time to settle down, get a mortgage and find a real job?”
However, when people asked whether PNG was too dangerous to raise children Mike and Ruth often responded “Not any more dangerous than New Zealand!”. They said that their children’s health was actually better and safer in PNG than it ever was in New Zealand. Sadly, their son Adam had died in December, 1986 and almost immediately after that, their daughter, Lydia, was hospitalized with meningitis.
Both of these events happened in Christchurch, New Zealand! So, for Mike and Ruth, anywhere could be dangerous at some time. Mike said that they’ve come to believe that the best place for any Christian, even if it’s not the safest place, is always in the will of God.
Another potential barrier that faced the Robbs was around education. In fact, many people presumed that, when they returned to New Zealand from PNG for the last time it was so that Esther, who was 12, could attend high school. Mike and Ruth found the best way through these challenges or concerns was to constantly pray about how they should raise their children, whether they were living on the mission field or not, and never to ‘presume’ to do something just because it had always been done or was supposed to be done a certain way.
"I often used to say 'God why didn't you put in your Bible 'Thous shalt not end your kids to boarding school'?," Ruth exclaimed with a laugh. "Then I could point to it and say 'See that's why I'm not doing it'. But He didn't. And He didn't do that with a lot of things. He didn't tell us how to live, He tells us to have a relationship with Him and listen. And so it's listening to what the Holy Spirit is telling you. And we were praying all the time and continuously re-assessing and evaluating...and also listening to those people around us. Don't be isolated in making decisions."
With this in mind, they continued to home school most of their children (except Esther who attended Year 13 in Dunedin) right through to the last year of High School. Ruth said that whenever it came to missions work and the decisions they needed to make when raising their children, it was the communication lines they kept open between God and those they lived with that broke down what could have become barriers to mission.
One of the most common themes that Mike and Ruth picked up from Christian people that also became a barrier for them in pursuing missions was a belief among many parents that their children need to be happy. However Mike and Ruth have a very different approach.
“Happiness depends on happenings,” Mike commented. “And sometimes things happen that aren’t that good. But we wanted them to be content. And the Apostle Paul said that, he’d learnt in all things to be content. Yeah ,sometimes life is really tough…but we want you to be content that we’re ok in this. That was more important than just happiness or being entertained.”
“Parents going overseas can feel like they’re denying their children things they could have back home,” Ruth said. “So they felt like they had to make it up to their kids.”
“And letting them away with behaviors they shouldn’t!” Mike added.
The Robbs believe that, much rather than denying their children experiences that others feel they should have had, living cross culturally provided them with opportunities and experiences that formed them into the people they are today. Now, all five of their children are grown, married and each serving God through various endeavors, whether that be through church ministry, missions or community development and support. Mike and Ruth commented that they believe one of the reasons for how their kids have grown up was because they got to experience a relationship with God on the mission field.
“We saw God answer prayers to situations where there was no other way out of it,” Mike said. “There was no plan B a lot of the time. And I feel like in New Zealand, there’s always another answer. There’s a hospital down the road, there’s a policeman you can call, there’s a mechanic you can call. So I think they saw things in that that they wouldn’t have experienced at home.”
The Robb’s believe that, when it comes to parents of young children deciding whether they should do mission or not, perhaps they need to re-evaluate what obligations God has given them as Christian parents. Much more than seeing their obligations as parents becoming barriers to doing missions overseas, Mike and Ruth feel they are motivators.
“Probably, the biggest thing is God’s more interested in our character than in our happiness,” Ruth said.
“I love that Steve Maina quote,” Mike said, referring to NZCMS’ previous National Director. “You can be brave or you can be safe, but you can’t be both. And if I can add to that quote, choose the brave option, don’t choose the easiest option. Choose the more difficult option, generally in life. I think that’s a good way to live.”