When Megan Hustad was 3 years old, her parents decided to pull up stakes in Minnesota and head out to the mission field on behalf of Trans World Radio—first on the island of Bonaire, and later in Amsterdam. In More Than Conquerors, Hustad relates her experiences as the child of evangelical missionaries and the way those experiences affected her spiritual life.
Hustad thoughtfully and, I think, honestly lays out the drawbacks of life as a missionary kid in the 80s, particularly the confusion that set in when missionaries didn’t get along or when the mission agency itself seemed to be mistreating her father. Home service, as well as the return to Minnesota during high school, only added to her confusion. Moving from the more permissive Dutch society back to her Midwest hometown highlighted the cultural influences that make their way into our religious beliefs. Her parents placed their faith in God throughout their continuing attempts to do his work, but to their disenchanted daughter, it made no sense.
While Hustad says some negative things about Trans World Radio, an agency familiar to some in the CRC, her experience might resonate with children of missionaries anywhere. Missions organizations, like any other organization, are vulnerable to sin. Pride (both personal and cultural) can rear its ugly head among missionaries just as it can anywhere else.
After high school, Hustad left the church and her hometown and went to New York City to start a new life free from the restrictive influences of her youth. At parties, she would find ways to avoid talking about her childhood, but she picked up on what her new world thought of her old one. “My ability to quickly change the subject eventually outstripped my embarrassment, but not before I had internalized every critique of what faith in God now signified in America: intolerance, sanctimony, tut-tutting over Hollywood and the welfare office, a yawning void where curiosity and compassion could be.”
But Hustad couldn’t quite go along with that critique. She knew her parents, and she knew their hearts. She still struggles with her own perception of God and God’s work in the world and with how she should respond to it. As we talk about the loss of young people in the church, Hustad’s perspective could broaden our understanding. Her story lays bare the need to distinguish between cultural values and religious belief. You might not agree with her doctrine, her choices, or even the language she sometimes uses to make her point, but her desire for mercy and grace in a broken world reveals a fellow pilgrim on a road that is hard and painful for all of us. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)