Churches, We Need You! (Why the Church is a Critical Piece of Missionary Care)

By Jessi Bullis

John Piper has famously mobilized Christians for international missions by saying, “Go, send, or disobey.”

In this well-known statement, Piper acknowledges the truth that not everyone was created to be an overseas missionary. God has blessed millions of people with giftings that would be under-utilized if they were to move internationally and try to fit into a role that God didn’t call them to. This is not a downfall. It is an incredibly beautiful part of the tapestry of the great commission (Ephesians 4:11-13). We need goers, and we also need faithful senders – those who make it possible for those being sent to serve with health and longevity.

God designed the Church to be positioned on both sides: the going and the sending. Throughout Paul’s letters we read many accounts of his gratitude for the believers’ communication, faithfulness, and prayer, along with his requests for both tangible and spiritual support (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Thess. 3:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:10-15; 2 Tim 4:9). 

God gave people in the Church different giftings to carry out the great commission. There is so much beauty in this diversity of calling, because it glorifies God: His creativity, His knowledge, His grace, His faithfulness, and more (1 Cor. 12:4-6). 

Both accepting the gifts of others while simultaneously offering our gifts to the Church is a necessary key to the coming of God’s Kingdom, because it is how we glorify God daily, and it is how we present God’s beauty to the rest of the world (John 13:35). 

So today I’d like to speak to those of you who are not going or who perhaps did go and are now back on the sending side. How can you do the sending with as much zeal and excellence as the ones going?

Yes, this often means financial support. We see this all throughout Paul’s letters. He used his trade of tentmaking to provide income for his missionary journeys, but he also heavily depended on the financial support of those in the Churches he was ministering to. 

However, the Church’s role in sending missionaries does not end with financial support. 

Time and again we hear Paul asking for support in other ways — fellowship, communication, and constant prayer. 

Often, a family spends six months to a year raising their financial support, having countless dinners and church events, are “sent off” with fanfare, and then that’s it. They are suddenly cut off from tea times and dinners with friends. From mentoring chats with older believers. From a village of believers pouring into their kids. Sometimes they are even cut off from access to worship in their own language.

And those are just the church-specific things. 

Suddenly they’re learning to cook things from scratch, trying to do life in a new language, navigating new schooling situations for their children, and raising their children with a brand new set of cultural and environmental challenges. 

All without their church and the people who were preparing them to go. 

The family did not change overnight to suddenly not need regular congregational support. If anything, the opposite is true. They’re thrown into one of the hardest transitions of their life, all without their support systems. They haven’t become “holier than thou.” They’re still human. They still have needs. And they still fall into the Lord’s plan for the interdependence of the Church. 

A missionary friend of mine recently told me that once she moved overseas, she rarely heard from her friends back in the United States. In the midst of her biggest life transition, she felt forgotten.

When they would return to the U.S. and they would visit their sending church, throngs of people wanted to speak to them. And many of these same people would tell them how much they loved seeing her Facebook photos of her children in the jungle or their bamboo house. Yet these friends had never even hit the “like” button. She had no idea they’d even cared that she posted photos.

Instead of feeling encouraged by their exclamations, my friend was frustrated, confused, and hurt. For the last few years on the field she’d felt abandoned and alone. Something as easy as pressing the “like” button had not occurred to these friends. Something so small, yet so impactful. 

Most of the time I find that believers want to know how to support their missionary friends, but they simply don’t know how. I’ve spoken with believers around the world who’ve said they didn’t want to write too often and make their missionary friends homesick. They loved them dearly, but they just didn’t know how to transition to long distance support. 

Churches need to know how to support missionaries beyond finances, and they also need to educate their congregations how to do it well. 

As a missionary kid who grew up my entire life away from my parent’s home town and sending church; as someone who now works with hundreds of missionary families; as someone who has dear friends all around the world, I want to leave you with some practical ways you can “send” and continue supporting the missionaries in your life:

  • Schedule regular time to check in with the missionaries you have a connection with. Put a recurring date on your calendar and send a message of encouragement or reach out to plan a phone call. Ask about their children or even say “hi” to their kids. Give them permission to talk about the hard things. Be present and listen even when it doesn’t match up to your expectations of a missionary. 
  • Send a letter or care package. Fair warning: it may get lost in transit or be opened by national authorities to check its contents. But I can guarantee the missionary will know they are loved if you are willing to send them snail mail. (Check with them on what’s best to mail and whether they’ll have to pay import tax so you can cover that cost.)
  • Be trained in debriefing so you can effectively help missionaries and their children to process the good and hard parts of their time on the field. 
  • Instead of waiting for a newsletter, reach out to them to ask them what you can be praying for. And then be diligent in praying. Oftentimes missionaries do not know if anyone is even reading their newsletters, much less interceding on their behalf. 
  • Develop a formal team that checks in with each missionary on a monthly basis and train the team in knowing what to ask, what to look for, and how/when to recommend additional care resources. 
  • Plan a trip to go see them. Not for a short-term mission trip that they need to plan and lead, but rather a trip just to support, encourage, and love them. 
  • Consider putting on an MK camp abroad for the Missionary Kids in the area. We’ve found that these camps are often deeply impactful on MKs, who are rarely on the receiving end of care. (Check out TCK Training’s retreat curriculum created expressly for this purpose.) 
  • Learn about what resources are available to them, and consider gifting those to them. You can find a list at the end of this post. 
  • Encourage your church to receive training on best practices in missionary and MK care. This Churches Supporting Missionary Families Training would be a great start. We also have a page dedicated to equipping churches to send and care for missionaries well.
  • “Like” their pictures on social media. It means more than you know. 

There are many ways that churches can come alongside missionaries; when they do, they contribute to the health of the missionary and their ministry. This is an important role for the church. Let’s learn to do it well. 

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Jessi is an Adult MK who grew up in Singapore, England, Turkey, and Germany. She has a heart for TCKs and the unique struggles they face. She received her undergraduate in psychology and a seminary degree in counseling for the purpose of caring for TCKs well. Jessi loves getting to walk through the repatriation journey with Adult TCKs, as this season can be especially difficult to navigate. Her deepest passion is for TCKs to know and feel the love and goodness of God.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.

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