Releasing children to follow God's path for their lives can be a difficult task for parents. Especially when that path takes children far away - maybe even to a part of the world that is closed to the gospel.
Jackie and Tim Ens, Glenda and Grant Fehr, and Laurie and Jon LeFave have all experienced that challenge. Each couple has a daughter who has graduated from or is currently a student in Briercrest's Applied Linguistics: TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program. Through this program their students have completed internships or taken job opportunities in faraway countries or parts of the world closed to Christianity.
The process of releasing their children started even before they entered the TESOL program. For the Fehrs, it was when Tyla decided to come to Briercrest.
"One of the harder transitions was just to have her go to a different province to school," Glenda admitted.
"My little girl wasn't at home anymore for Dad to take care of," Grant added. "The odds of her coming back to Manitoba - they were going to be reduced."
Jackie Ens remembers a realization she had when 12-year-old Alisha saw the Watoto Children's Choir at church.
"Alisha immediately fell in love with African people," she said. "The desire for Africa was borne in her from then on. I knew early on that she was headed overseas."
"It kind of went in baby steps," Laurie Lefave said, describing their process releasing Kristin. "We decided finally we didn't have much choice but to be obedient."
The TESOL program's pre-internships and internships were another hurdle to cross in the releasing process.
The Ens remember putting Alisha on a plane to Kenya for her first internship.
"She was going to a Third World country," Jackie said. "Of course I was scared but I knew this had been her dream. I knew this was where God wanted her."
The Fehrs recall the text from their daughter Tyla that hinted she might be doing her internship in an area of northeast Asia that is closed to the gospel.
"No way, no way. They would not send her there," Grant remembers saying. "Do you know how big of a hole that is?"
The LeFaves, whose daughter Kristin is currently teaching full time in that same country in northeast Asia, had a similar gut reaction when she told them her destination.
"No, you're not going to (northeast Asia)," Jon initially said as he felt fear for his daughter's safety.
But concerns are a natural part of being a parent.
As they considered secondary education for Alisha, Tim and Jackie were hesitant at first about sending their children to Briercrest.
"We thought, 'It's not going to further them in their career,'" Jackie said. "And money being very dear and education being very costly, we didn't know if it was such a good idea."
"My first concern as a father, of course, was, 'How could (Kristin) make money at this?'" Jon said remembering a conversation with David Catterick, Briercrest's assistant professor of applied linguistics and program leader. "How could she develop a career?"
Catterick and his wife Sandra welcome these conversations with parents.
"On the career front, there are more jobs available in TESOL than perhaps any other profession in the world," he exclaimed. "This study can pay for itself. In my own journey, Sandra and I both did our master's degrees. Two months of employment later, we paid off all our student loans."
But with his certainty also comes a word of caution.
"There are lots of jobs available, but in terms of a nice, comfortable career, TESOL is not it," he said. "So if you want to live within a five mile radius of your parents in a suburb . . . it's probably not going to work. You follow the jobs and the jobs are all over the world. If you want something that's an incredible combination of career and ministry, it's hard to imagine anything more effective in the world right now."
When it comes to parental concerns over internship and post-graduation locations, Catterick also encourages his students to have their parents speak to him.
"I give them a guarantee," Catterick said explaining what he says to parents. "If a day before your child is supposed to get on a plane to go to northeast Asia, if I don't think this is a great idea, then I will say, 'Do not get on the plane. Do not go.'"
These meetings with the Cattericks have greatly relieved parental fears and misgivings.
"For me, I think what finally got me to the point of more excitement and total acceptance was meeting David Catterick and his wife Sandra," Glenda said. "Seeing their excitement and their passion for the place - I was totally moved. I thought, 'How could God allow something so wonderful to be happening here and I'm worried about it, right?'"
"When you sit down with people like that, they just explain it so well," Jon said.
This excitement, however, is not naïve. It hits parents at the core of their faith.
"In my own heart, I know that these children are not just mine, they're God's," Tim said. "We have the privilege of raising them. What pleases my heart more than anything is to see them serving Him 100% with their whole lives and doing huge things for Him."
"To say 'Oh, we woke up one morning and felt great about it would not be true,'" Lori explained. "What's been true in our experience is as we've released her; it's only been that we've experienced freedom and release in that."
The experience has also opened up deep dialogue with God.
"God's really asking us, 'Well, do you trust me or not?'" Lori continued. "I think a lot of us are scared actually to say to Him, 'Well, yeah I do . . . but I don't,' because God can handle that. There's a lot of freedom in admitting you're afraid something will happen. So then you walk through the next question - 'What if she's captured, or what if she's to be a martyr?' I have to go fully through that thought process because that really is where the fear is. And you look at the Lord and He goes, 'And? What if that was to happen? Are you OK with that?'"
"So it's taught us to say, 'What are we really here for?'"
That question has opened up a whole new world for two of the families.
Jackie Ens explains how the process unfolded for her and her husband Tim, who she married six years ago. The couple has a blended family of four children. Two are currently at Briercrest. Both Tim and Jackie are nurses.
"We put (Alisha) on a plane several times," she said. "All of a sudden we said, 'Okay, there's something wrong with this picture. Why is she always getting to get on the plane and we're at home here?'"
The couple actually looks forward to their nest emptying in the next few years.
"That means we can sell this house and move, and be ready for missions where God wants us to be."
The LeFaves have a similar story.
"Lori just went back to school last year to become a nurse," Jon said. "The intention is not for her to work in a local hospital."
The couple is working toward using Jon's business skills and Lori's nursing on a long-term mission trip to somewhere in Asia.
"When we were in Asia, our hearts were torn," Jon said. "We're both praying that God will open the door for us sometime in the near future . . ."
Releasing their children has caused each couple to find greater areas of faith and vision opening up in their own lives as well.
"I think if anything, we have a greater confidence that God is working in (Tyla's) life," Grant said. It's not Mom and Dad to look after her needs. God's already looking after that for her."
"Just relying on God and trusting in God has definitely helped me grow in my faith too," Glenda added.
"You don't grow if you don't go through tough things and we've been through tough things," Tim said.
"You put your children in God's arms and surrender them," Jackie encouraged. "Sometimes it's over and over and over because every time they walk out that door and drive back it's hard."
"You learn so much from your children," Jon said, explaining how releasing his daughter Kristin as well as his sons John and Jacob has impacted him. "Their conviction and their passion - why can't I have that same kind of attitude? It puts things in perspective. It's a humbling and significant correction in life that we all should go through."