Knowing all the right verses to say to another person in times of grief is one thing, but finding your own way through the valley of the shadow of death can be another. We may know that the death of his saints is precious in the Lord’s eyes, but how do we keep serving when the tears continue to flow in our own?
The door of grief and loss can slam shut anytime and anywhere. Not only does the death of a loved one affect us, but even that of those near us in ministry can turn things upside down.
Loss of local believers or church leaders affects the whole body.
When a North African believer passed away from cancer, it was the first time for the fledgling Body of Christ in that country to experience the death of one of their own. His testimony of staying true to Christ till the end became the spark that led to the growth of that church and renewed boldness in witness, but we still had to teach them about how Christ changes grief for those who have hope in him. We also had to allow them time to grieve, slowing down the “ministry” for a while to minister to each other.
Not only is it hard to work through death as a community, but when a leader in the church dies, we also may have to quickly train up another believer to take his place in service. Churches can fall apart without the presence of a mature leader, and it’s important to work through for yourself and the body as a whole, how to handle the potential loss of a leader.
What happens when a parent dies while on the field?
Having been on the field for over twenty years, I faced the loss of my mother and mother-in-law. When my mother-in-law died, everything stopped for me, as my husband left to be with his family for the next week. I didn’t have enough language yet to really get out on my own, so stayed close to home and waited for his return. When my mother passed away, we were in a country without an American Embassy, and I had just recently given birth to our second child. It took some maneuvering for me to travel alone with both my children, first to a third country to get an emergency passport for my son, and then on to the States. I missed my mother’s funeral but was able to spend the next month with my father. While my husband was able to keep his ministry going in my absence, mine was on hold, as I now grieved with family and ministered to my father.
For some, the loss of one parent may require a complete halt to service in order to care for the aging widowed parent. This takes prayer and conversation as a couple and with your team to be able to move ahead into a new season of service, while leaving behind your current one.
The loss of a spouse or child.
It goes without saying that the death of a spouse or child while on the field brings the greatest change to life and ministry. It is important to remember that God expects us to mourn our loss. Trying to be strong and carry on in either situation is denying yourself the space you need to grieve, and we all need that space. Trying to press on in service under the fog of grief doesn’t glorify God or help those you’re serving.
This kind of loss is different for everyone, so there are no blanket answers. In order to grieve, you need to close your current ministry door, even if it’s not permanently. This gives you time to minister to family members, especially your children, who are also affected by the loss, and to hear from God about the future.
Rediscovering your role in service after loss is important but must happen in God’s timing.
Though painful to consider, even the seeds of grief can bring a harvest of compassionate ministry in the future. Give yourself room to heal and hear his voice. Doors may close for a season, but an open door awaits to healing and the opportunity to testify to God’s goodness and presence during loss.
Grace and Peace
For more on doors closed by grief and loss, read When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way.