EAST ASIA – They don’t sport flowing capes. You won’t find futuristic cars in their driveways. They don’t even possess super-human powers. But missionary moms overseas are worthy of “superhero” status.
Everyday responsibilities – raising children, running a household, cleaning and cooking – are a full-time job made all the more challenging by the stress of learning a new culture and language, supporting husbands in time-consuming ministries and reaching out to local believers in their own ministries.
And there’s homeschooling, managing health scares, assisting children with learning disabilities.
These women power through these challenges daily and still manage to smile. But IMB missionary Olivia Brighton* says finding balance is not always easy.
Not Smooth Sailing
While still a teen, Olivia felt God giving her a passion to serve others overseas. After she met and married her husband Seth*, that passion became clear for both of them – international missions.
After several years of seminary and the birth of their first child, the Brightons moved in 2004 to serve as missionaries in East Asia.
IMB photo by Kate Weatherly
Olivia Brighton (name changed) rifles through a box of sweet potatoes, a difficult find at the local produce market. Marcus, 10, is allergic to egg whites, dairy and peanuts, so Olivia must find creative ways to keep her whole family healthy.
But Olivia and Seth’s missionary career has been full of hurdles. They discovered their son has severe food allergies, made even more challenging by the limited choice of foods available in their city. Olivia spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and still does, “trying to figure out how to keep [our son] healthy and well-fed.”
At the same time, Seth’s work required significant travel in the surrounding mountains, mapping where the people group they hoped to reach lived.
“He loved it, loved it, and I was miserable, and that was really hard, specifically the first year, because I felt really lonely,” Olivia says. “[Seth] knew that I was struggling and he tried to help, but it’s really hard to do that when you’re having such a great time.”
Olivia admits that first year she often thought about leaving East Asia, but knowing she would be disobeying God kept her there.
The Main Thing
The Brightons made it through that rough first year, settled into their ministry and expanded their family: Marcus*, now 10; Daisy*, 8; and Jared*, 2.
Olivia tried to find balance with her own ministries but her main focus never wavered: “Most of my time is spent with our kids.” She began homeschooling as the children came of age.
She soon realized Marcus was struggling with school. In second grade he could read the entire book, The Wizard of Oz, and answer questions about the story, but “he literally could not write a sentence,” Olivia says. “He would fall in the floor crying, wailing.”
The Brightons discovered that Marcus suffers from a language processing disorder. Olivia decided to change her homeschooling format to a more classical form of education, which involves narration, dictation and copy work. The positive transformation in Marcus was significant.
With so much time spent at home, Olivia has been diligent about finding other ways to serve. She often invites foreign ministry partners, colleagues and national believers to her home.
“That has been good for me to be able to use the gift of hospitality in that way, and I’m thankful for that because it would be really easy to be like, ‘[Our home] is our private space and this is our sanctuary,’” Olivia admits. “And it’s hard, but I’m really thankful that I do see that as a spiritual gift and that I’ve been able to use it that way.”
She also works at building relationships with national believers and their wives. She and Seth have done premarital counseling with some couples and Olivia disciples local Christian women. “It’s a real friendship and not just, ‘OK, you’re my target [people] group, so I’m going to be your friend’ kind of thing.”
Another hurdle for the Brightons was when Jared, their youngest child, was hospitalized at 9 months with a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. But the virus wasn’t their only worry; they were concerned because Jared wasn’t moving as he should – he couldn’t even roll over.
After a number of tests, Jared and his family were soon on their way back to the U.S. to a well-known children’s hospital. But the waiting list to get an appointment was between eight months and one year. Once again, God answered – one of their ministry supporters called a hospital connection and got Jared an appointment with three doctors, one of whom was the head of his department.
“We could not believe it,” Olivia says. “That was completely the Lord.”
Even after more testing but without a solution, the Brightons returned to East Asia. Olivia decided to take a physical therapy course and practiced on Jared, which seemed to help improve his movement. At 10 months, he could sit up. At 15 months, he was finally able to stand; at 16 months, he started walking.
By the time Jared was 21 months old, his motor skills were completely normal. During a doctor visit, Olivia was told that he’s now advanced for his age, “and I fully believe the Lord did a miracle and healed him. There is no other explanation.”
Holding the Ropes
Olivia’s life as a missionary hasn’t been exactly what she expected. She and other missionary friends quickly realized their roles looked very different depending on whether they were single, married without kids or married with babies on their hips and toddlers around their ankles.
“You still have to keep a house … and you have to keep your family fed and you need to keep routine as much as possible because children thrive with routine,” Olivia says.
Though at times it’s difficult not being on the “front lines” of ministry work, Olivia knows that her work at home and with the children is essential.
“It’s not always easy to see it this way, but the Lord has reminded me that [Seth] couldn’t do what he does if I weren’t holding the ropes for him, just like we have to have people in the States holding the ropes for us,” Olivia explains. “… Because [I hold the ropes at home], the gospel is getting out in other places.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Missionary Board.)