SAMS connected with Missionary Heidi Whitaker, serving with her husband and four daughters. Heidi shares what it is like to be a mom and serve as a family in the mission field.
Where do you serve as a missionary and what is your ministry?
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a very urban setting! Ministry-wise, I wear a number of hats, and find a lot of joy in each of them. Most importantly, I’m a wife and a mom to 4 daughters ages 4-17, and we are expecting our others in 5th child in June. Professionally, I am a pediatrician, and I work part time at a medical clinic teaching and discipling Khmer physicians-in-training. My husband serves as the priest of an English language international congregation, and I participate in the church in a variety of ways.
Did you serve as a single person before serving as a family? If so, how does serving as a family differ from serving as a single person?
I did. My experiences serving in these different capacities have been extremely different. As a single, it was much easier for me to study and learn language, and I was able to immerse in the culture more fully. Serving as a family means that a lot of time is spent on running a home and our family – and the fact is that we are an American family that speaks English.
However, having a home and a family means that now I have opportunity to invite others into our home – and we have found that to be an effective, meaningful form of ministry. In moving to Cambodia with a family, my nearest and dearest circle of people came with me, whereas in moving to India and Honduras as a single, I left all of them behind and had to develop a new set of relationships.
Missionary kids are certainly required to make sacrifices – and sometimes it can be hard as parents to watch them make their journey of sacrifice.
How do you see your children and family as a whole accompanying you in your ministry?
For our family, much of this is shaped by my husband’s role as an international congregation priest. Our older daughters have served in various capacities at the church, including leading the greeter team and the altar team, music ministry, and endless behind the scenes set up/take down/office work type tasks. Our younger daughters have also found simple ways to serve the church, and it is amazing to see the ownership they take and the sense of belonging they feel in the church. From time to time there are also opportunities for them to participate in outreaches or special events at the medical center where I work, and they have enjoyed that as well.
Where do you find your support as you juggle the tasks of mom, missionary, wife, friend, etc?
Much of it comes from other fellow workers who are in similar roles! I also find a lot of support from my prayer partner and from my family back home.
What can other mothers take away from your experience?
I have lived through many stages of motherhood that have looked many different ways – all the way from working crazy full-time-plus hours as resident to being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. We have a continual challenge to remain open to what the Lord might have as a next step, because some of the turns in the path are hoped for or expected, and others are quite surprising. As in every area of life, we are called to live iwht open hands before the Lord, ready to release or receive whatever he places before us.
What can the readers do to support your family’s missionary work right now?
When we returned for home assignment, it was really helpful to have hand me downs of warm clothes gathered and waiting for us. English books are really hard to find, so we have really appreciated having collections of used books sent over with teams or visitors. As we move toward having children in college, I would love to have a couple of families who would be willing to send an occasional care package – it is very difficult for us to send mail from Cambodia.