Serving God as a Missionary Mother and Grandmother: Beth 

Ahead of Mother’s Day (Sunday 12 May), we will be sharing stories of Christian mothers and what this day means for them. Whether Mother’s Day brings feelings of joy, grief or a mix of both, we hope that this series can be a celebration of all the mother figures that God has blessed us with.   

In this interview, Beth shares the unique joys and challenges of raising three daughters as a missionary mother in Papua New Guinea. Drawing from decades of experience as a mother and grandmother, she shares a wealth of wisdom on how we can love, teach and discipline children with gospel hope. Finally, Beth shares how grandmothers can continue serving the gospel in their families and local churches, and the value that young mums can draw from experienced older mothers who have “struggled and survived”. We hope you are encouraged by her story!

Photo: Beth Calderwood
  1. Please introduce yourself! 

Hello. My name is Beth Calderwood and I have been married to Glenn for 42 years. We have three daughters, two son-in-laws, and eight grandchildren ranging in age from 10 years down to 2 years. I enjoy several hobbies including gardening, crochet, embroidery, sewing, reading, and have recently taken up tennis after decades away from the game. Glenn and I are involved in All Saints ANeW church in New Lambton, Newcastle. 

  1. Your family served as missionaries in Papua New Guinea for over 20 years. What are some unique joys and challenges that missionary mothers face? 

We travelled to Papua New Guinea (P.N.G) in March 1989 and lived there until December 2013 when we were forced to leave because of threats to Glenn’s life. For five more years, we travelled to P.N.G. for short stints to continue teaching and discipling believers.  

Motherhood itself has many challenges, and moving to a country with a very different culture certainly increases the challenges! We faced a steep learning curve on many fronts. Being hours away from health facilities and other English speakers left us feeling quite isolated. 

Our eldest daughter was in Year 1, so we were both thrust into the unknown of doing distance education in the first week of our arrival. I felt at times that I was neglecting our 3-year-old and 6-month-old baby as I juggled all that had to be done. Household tasks were slower without the conveniences we were used to. It was a bit like stepping back into a lifestyle of a previous generation; bread had to be baked each day, water hand-pumped into a header tank for showers, water heated in a copper which was bucketed into the twin-tub washing machine, and kerosene lamps for light at night. The local people came to the house most days for various medical help, which I was able to give having trained as a nurse after leaving school. 

I struggled considerably. For the first two or three years it felt a bit like being in a black hole with so much to do and learn. Slowly, as I adjusted, the outlook became brighter. Looking back over our years of ministry in P.N.G., Glenn and I are so thankful for God’s grace and enablement to do what he gave us to do – things that we could never have imagined we would be able to go through or be able to do. We did go through many dangers, toils and snares, and God did lead us and keep us. 

One of the main joys as a mother was to be able to spend so much time with our daughters doing home schooling, spending time reading together, cooking, and teaching them various hand crafts. They were always part of what we were doing, we were together as a family in P.N.G. We are so thankful that God brought each one to Himself, and they are seeking to live for Him in their lives. 

Later in our time there I was able to teach literacy to the women and children in the church, and help them to memorise Bible verses, which I really enjoyed. It was a great way to get to know them more and help them as mothers. 

  1. How has knowing God the Father influenced the way you parented your own children? 

I remember some time ago coming to the realisation that we are so much like our children in our relationship with God. They often want their own way and think their parents aren’t being loving when they don’t give them what they want, not understanding that correction and boundaries are for their good to keep them from the danger and harm of their own sinful hearts. We forget that God is our faithful, wise, loving, compassionate Father, who cares deeply for us, protecting us from our sinfulness, always doing what is for our good. 

Our kids are like a window into our own hearts and foolish ways of thinking. We really need to keep remembering God’s loving grace given to us each day so that we might be grateful to Him for dealing in kindness with us, and that we might plead with Him to enable us to learn to deal likewise with our children. It’s very easy to relate out of selfishness to our children when they need correction, wanting them to stop making our lives more difficult. 

Our children need what we need. Having been brought to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we desperately need His ongoing work of grace to change us to be more like Him, to no longer live for self but for Him who died on our behalf.  

When we fail, we have a great God whose compassions never fail, they are new every morning, He understands we are frail. After an exhausting day of feeling like all you have done is deal with squabbles and such, you can teach your children the same thing – God continues to be compassionate to us, He continues to understand our frailties and deals graciously with us each day. God is with us and forgives us and helps us again and again. We can keep giving our children this gospel hope. 

  1. How has God used you in your role as a grandmother? How can grandparents continue serving their family for God’s glory? 

Praying for your children and grandchildren is so important. God is the only one who can open blind eyes and change hearts, and draw our children and grandchildren to Himself, and He’s the only one who can continue to open eyes and keep changing hearts and changing lives. 

Practical help can be appreciated, especially when the children are little, when young mums can often feel overwhelmed with the physical demands on them and are learning all that it means to be a mother. Helping with piled up washing or dishes, making a meal, babysitting, an encouraging word and even just being there with a big hug when discouragement sets in and tears are flowing, along with being available and willing to help with advice on all kinds of things. Learning for parents and grandparents is life-long, as children progress from one stage to another. 

It’s good to keep in mind that there are often young mums in our churches who want to be “adopted” by a grandparent, wanting to draw on your experience in parenting, and appreciate having company and help, especially if they live some distance away from their own parents. 

  1. What is one piece of advice that you would give to new mothers this Mother’s Day? 

Having talked with young mums over a number of years, I actually have two pieces of advice that I hope will be helpful. 

The first is that your children are not a hindrance to your ministry. Your children are your ministry. Of course, the same is true for those who aren’t involved in formal ministry. It’s important to take your parenting seriously. You are in the enviable position of discipling your children in knowing the God who created them, of having the opportunity of speaking with them when you’re sitting at home, when you’re walking along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. It doesn’t mean that you are not involved in other ministry, but if you have children then they are the primary ministry that God has given you. They are a blessing from him. 

My second piece of advice is to seek out those who are older and have wisdom to pass on about parenting. Those who have had years of failing and learning and have been humbly growing in dependence on God as they parented their own children can be your best helpers. Rather than seeking advice from your peers, who are also in the middle of the struggle, listen to those who have gone through the struggle and have survived, gaining wisdom along the way. 

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