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Behind the Curtain: How God Built a Missionary Family into a Family of Missionaries

Photo of Luke GrayLuke Gray | Bio

Luke Gray

Luke Gray was born and raised in the Philippines as a missionary kid. After studying writing at the University of Kansas, he settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and four children. A perpetual learner, Luke is constantly trying new things—remodeling a bathroom, growing a garden, or raising livestock. He runs a small automotive detailing business, which lets him listen to audiobooks while getting paid. His favorite part of life is experiencing God at work around him.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

I remember, as a teen, meandering behind my parents as they journeyed from the church pew, up the platform steps, and onto the stage. There were eleven of us: my parents, my eight brothers and sisters, and me. We congregated near the pulpit, neither comfortable nor unaccustomed to the attention, while the pastor, Dr. Dairel O’Bar, introduced us to the congregation. Standing in the spotlight surrounded by the dim sanctuary, I could see little of the world around me, save what fell within the illuminated circle. Beyond the incandescent lighting, innumerable, seemingly disembodied, faces hovered in the darkness.

At the time, my parents were raising support to continue their missionary work in the Philippines and faced constant scrutiny. The size of our family was the primary source of debate. Generally, American families consisted of 2.5 kids, so most American missionary families were expected to be small. When my parents initially left for the Philippines, they had three children, but the number had tripled in the fourteen years since then.

My parents’ decision to have such a large family did not come easily. However, after years of prayer and debate, they felt that God did not want them to limit the size of our family and continued to procreate. The mission boards of our supporting churches were one of the major centers where the number of my siblings was frequently discussed. Numerically, it made sense to support a small family, because large families consume a larger quantity of resources. Thus, logic dictated that the churches should support others. Of course, this argument was mirrored among the lay members of the congregation, and at one point, a man brashly pulled my father aside and asked, “You do know what causes that, right?”

Dad responded, “Yeah. It sure was fun.”

As my family waited on stage under the weight of congregational examination, Dr. O’Bar acquainted the parishioners with my parents’ ministry. As he spoke, he said something peculiar: “What you see here are not just a couple of missionaries; what you see is a group of missionaries. In supporting them, we are not just sending two missionaries. Rather, we are supporting a family of missionaries.”

At the time, I thought Dr. O’Bar’s words were pleasant and quaint, but ridiculous. I was no missionary; my parents were the missionaries. I was a normal kid in abnormal circumstances, and missionary kids were only average children with exemplary acting skills. I fought with my siblings, lied without hesitation, swore when my parents were elsewhere, and imbibed the leftover communion juice—just for good measure. However, despite my perspective, people continued to give.

***

God has been made small: captured in murals, engraved in jewelry, trapped in buildings.

He is made petty and shrunk to a size we can comfortably wrap our finite minds around. Even in my own attitude, I have witnessed irreverence for God. I have lost track of the number of times that, lost in my own frustration, I have flung obscenities heavenward or cried out in disbelief and doubt.

Differently, the Hebrews at times possessed an immense degree of respect for God; they refused to utter His name aloud, in order to preserve its sacredness. There is a proverb that says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The more I study God, the more I realize how little I understand Him, and the more I learn, the more I grasp how much I fail to retain. I find myself making God human, yet the Isaiah 55:8-9 says,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I continuously forget the sheer size of God. Genesis describes Him creating the world in six days simply by speaking, and Jesus said that God knows the wavering number of hairs on our heads. He is both cosmic and intimate. However, I still manage to worry that somehow God will let my life slip through the cracks or that He does not have a plan.

The book of Exodus records a moment when Moses asks to see God’s glory. God responds,

“There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

I believe that Moses was allowed to see only a part of God because he could not physically wrap his mind around God, and attempting such a feat would have obliterated him. Indeed, a few verses before, God warns Moses, “no one may see me and live.” The Bible is full of stories about individuals who glimpsed a portion of God or His ways and were left speechless, awestruck, terrified.

***

Almost nine years after that Sunday morning on the stage, while driving home from a Missions Conference in Colorado, I remembered Dr. O’Bar’s words. The road was tedious, the wasteland of eastern Colorado and western Kansas a monotonous expanse of plains and sky. My mind wandered; my companions dozed. With nothing to entertain me, I reflected on the doctor’s words.

We are not just sending two missionaries; we are supporting a family of missionaries.

Times had changed. My parents lived stateside, but still spent their time ministering to international students. Each of my older siblings are involved in some form of outreach: Anna helps lead a women’s Bible study program, Caleb has spent years voluntarily coaching a boys’ basketball team, Enoch is a youth pastor in Canada, and four of my younger siblings would be ministering in the U.S. or abroad that summer.

Perhaps the greatest change was in me. I was no longer a missionary kid jaded by a life torn between two worlds, a child without an identity or home. Christ had become the foundation of my life; I was learning, slowly, what it means to have a relationship with God; and, after years of prayer, I sensed God drawing me to intern with a local campus ministry.

The changes had occurred subtly and over time, like water shaping limestone, and they went deep. What I once perceived only as a family with missionary parents was indeed becoming a family of missionaries.

As a child, I did not recognize the truth of what Dr. O’Bar expressed. Just as under the glare of the spotlight I could only see the faces of the congregation, so I could not perceive the fullness of God’s working. However, as I reflected and drove, it was as if, for a moment, I saw beyond the tapestry of this life, and behind it, I caught a glimpse of the hand of God. Then, on the road home, I wept.

To see more from Luke, visit his website https://postjadedmk.com.