A parents' perspective

Piers and Carolyn Bickersteth

We are the parents of Harriet Algeo, who has been serving in The Gambia with her husband Nick and children Phoebe and Arthur since June 2018. 

Harriet has had an interest in serving Jesus overseas for 15 years. She was on a Crosslinks short-term team in The Gambia during her gap year and has since visited missionaries in India and Bangkok. When she met Nick she shared her passion for mission so this has been in both their minds for a while.

We’ve always been supportive of a possible move overseas - helped by us living in Australia for seven years before Harriet was born. It was then that we started following Jesus. The church we were converted in was committed to mission and supported a number of partners around the world. We were taught the importance of mission from our earliest days as Christians. I’ve been in Christian ministry in England for 30 years since then and we’ve experienced something of the cost of ministry as a family.

Nick, Harriet, Phoebe and Arthur at the airport

The build-up to Harriet and Nick’s departure was exciting and full of anticipation. Carolyn made frequent visits from where we live in Berkshire to Leyton to help with our grandchildren, whilst Harriet concentrated on preparations for the move. When the day of their departure came we went to see them off at the airport along with Nick’s parents. It was an emotional day, wondering when we would next hear from them. But we’d not accounted for WhatsApp! Within eight hours of their flight leaving, messages started coming back and have not stopped since! 

Initially, we really noticed their absence; we were no longer making trips to Leyton to see the grandchildren or building closer relationships with them. But WhatsApp is wonderful! We talk regularly with all of them - hearing their news, encouragements and struggles and as a result feel much closer than we expected.

We have been greatly helped by being in a supportive church that has partnered with them. Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused us to think more about our partnership and we’ve found joy as those who ‘share in God’s grace’ with them. As a church family we pray for Nick and Harriet regularly and find other people either directly in touch with them or asking us how they are.

Our understanding of their life and ministry was greatly increased by a 10-day visit to The Gambia earlier this year. We sat in SOW lectures, met students and Pastor Steven, who is leading the work. We went to Nick and Harriet’s church, met their friends and saw the mud hut home the family will move into later this year being built. It was very exciting to see all that we had heard and prayed about, to see them settling in and to share in their lives. We were surprised at how much we were spiritually encouraged by the trip! It stimulated us to think about our mission as we engaged with their mission to share Christ in The Gambia. The trip was a great blessing to us!

We do miss them and often say ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to see them?’ and to enjoy the grandchildren growing up. It’s easy to worry about their health, safety or the future but we’re learning to entrust them to God’s good and sovereign care. We’re conscious that how we cope with their absence depends to some degree on our hearts. We need to keep reminding ourselves to find our identity in Christ and not our children or grandchildren. As we’ve done this, so we have found much joy in all that they are doing.

How can you support parents of mission partners?

  • Pray for them. They will experience their children's absence keenly and need the prayerful support of sending churches.
  • Consider forming an informal support group, particularly for more elderly parents of mission partners. Being away from ageing parents presents one of the most common dilemmas for mission partners, especially when considering their long-term future.
  • Talk positively but realistically about the experiences of parents with children living overseas. Let them share the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows. Be especially sensitive to this around Christmas, Easter and after visits to their children.