Posted on: 15th June 2020
CMS missionary Julie Field, serving with Martin in Asociación Bíblica Universitaria Argentina (ABUA) in Argentina, has had a difficult year in ministry. Here she reflects on the humbling joys and challenges of being a ‘parent’ to those she serves.
We have been serving Argentine uni students for the past 12 years. In 2007 I arrived in Argentina as an energetic 35 year old woman, and my dealings with our twenty-something student friends felt like an exchange between older and younger siblings.
However, I remember clearly a moment in time, quite a few years ago now, when my perspective of our relationships with university students changed. I realised with a bit of shock that these dear students saw me not as a big sister, but more as a mother figure. I suppose it shouldn’t have been such a revelation to me, because even though I may only be a few years older than some, my life stage as mother to four kids contributed to this perception. I also noticed that many of our ABUA group felt distanced from their own parents, either because they are physically far from their family home, or because the emotional closeness was just never present with their own mum and dad. So many years ago, I embraced a ‘mothering’ role to a wider group beyond my own four children. That’s the beauty of being in God’s eternal family!
Joyful parenting with rough patches
For the most part I find parenting a great joy.
But it also has its rough patches.
There’s nothing quite like the well-aimed observation of a child to bring you to your knees. Like in the supermarket queue, with a look of disdain as I hash the local language publicly, my dear offspring utters, “mum, speak to me in English, not in Spanish”. Or more importantly, in the face of my own sin, ”mum, that’s a bit critical, don’t you think?” Or, “stop moaning about that student event tomorrow, it’s your job!”
Receiving correction from our own kids has a particular sting to it, because the ones we are hoping to influence and teach are sometimes used by God to teach us. Many a time I have been served a piece of humble pie from my own offspring.
Lessons from parenting for student work
This past year in Argentina has been our toughest. Latin America in general feels like a ticking bomb. Many neighbouring countries are in severe crisis. Argentina is sharing those pains, and there is a high level of anxiety on the street. I observe mistrust amongst neighbours, road rage as I drop the kids at school at 7.30am, short tempers and tightly held opinions. The general climate of tension and mistrust in others has spilt over into ABUA. Over recent years the communication between different parts of our national student movement have become increasingly strained. But this year, the pot has boiled over.
Personally, I hate confronting conflict. So I have found this experience in ABUA to be very stressful. Added to this, I feel like my reactions to this conflict will speak loudly to my ‘spiritual kids’, our dear ABUA students and graduates.
As a parent in the face of a scary situation, what are we to do? Hang in there and calm the waters? Pretend that there isn’t a problem? Confront the issues?
So as a parent-figure it has been a humbling experience to be rebuked by one of our students to take a stand on a contentious issue in the ABUA community. My human nature, my desire to be liked by others, screams “No! Keep the peace!”. But God used a younger, prayerful sister in Christ (one of the recent graduates of ABUA Córdoba) to urge us to be courageous, and to repent of our desire to be people-pleasers. So we have stepped up to the plate and expressed our position.
“[I]t has been a humbling experience to be rebuked by one of our students to take a stand on a contentious issue in the ABUA community”
And just as I feared, some of our student body have reacted strongly to our stand. Our local group is divided over the issue. Those who think differently feel abandoned by us. One girl even accused me of failing her personally, as she considered me a ‘mother-figure’. This has highlighted the nature of my relationship with these students, making the impact and sadness greater for me personally.
Being a good parent doesn’t mean my kids will always agree with how I do things, and sometimes I will mess things up. I will need to eat humble pie when they show up my inconsistencies and my sin. But I will also need to keep loving and serving them when they act with immaturity. Just as I seek to grow my kids in godliness, am I equally prepared to accept their correction so that I also might grow to be more like Jesus?
Quick to listen, slow to speak
I have been reflecting on the words of James 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. These words are important for me to hear. I recently spent six long hours carefully listening to the opinions of a female student on our leadership team. She implored me to keep listening to the student body. I find serving alongside these students requires a balance between acting with humility, seeking to be a peacemaker and listening attentively, as well as speaking truth to the situation of our student movement.
In this complicated moment in Argentine history ABUA needs godly leadership. Please pray that such leaders, in God’s grace, will indeed be raised up at this time. May they demonstrate a humble spirit, a desire to listen to students, and a boldness to make decisions for the good of the student movement.
Julie specifically asks: “I implore you to uphold ABUA in your prayers, for the students, staff workers, professionals and friends of this precious student movement.”