When Danielle and I served in Thailand for six months as volunteer missionaries, we spent a lot of time around long-term missionaries from many sending agencies and parts of the world. We learned first hand about how very few missionaries on the field get consistent and sustained support from “back home”.
I’m not referring exclusively to financial support, but maybe even more importantly, prayer and emotional support.
I asked one missionary, who then had been on the field for over 20 years, who her home church was. Her reply, “Well, we have been on the field for so long that we have lost contact with our church back home.”
I know if I polled a hundred regular church goers here in the U.S. how often they interact with a foreign missionary, any missionary serving on the field…well, not many would answer positively. The longer a missionary family serves overseas, the higher likelihood they too lose contact with anyone of significance back home.
It’s easier today to stay in contact
Not too long ago, like as recent as 15 years ago, a missionary had to rely on letters in the mail (yes that ancient mode of communication) and an occasional phone call. If they had access to a phone, the cost to call overseas was prohibitive.
So, a missionary could go years without much contact with supporters back home. When a missionary went home for furlough or an extended break, they spent much of their time reconnecting with family, friends, and supporters.
The good thing about the time we live in is that it’s easier than ever for the church at home to stay connected with the missionaries she has sent to the field. We have email, social media, Skype, instant messaging, on and on.
However, from my experience even with all the technology and ease of staying connected, far too often, missionaries feel isolated, even forgotten. How can we reverse that?
I think we, those who send, need to intentionally make every effort to support as best we can those who we have sent.
For the Sake of the Name of Christ
If we aren’t intentional in staying connected with our foreign missionaries, we will naturally become distracted by what is right in front of us.
We need someone who will advocate for our missionaries so that we send our missionaries out well. “For are not we who stay behind also living for the sake of the Name of Christ, rather than for the sake comfort, convenience, money, or private ambition?”
If not, we should be.
Missionary Support Teams
Shortly after Danielle and returned from Thailand two families from our church went to the foreign mission field. I knew from experience that we needed to do more to send them well as a church than just a one-time send off. We needed to form teams that helped our church stay connected. After some research, we found a good model to follow.
If you are part of a church that sends missionaries to other parts of the world (I hope you are!), I urge you to consider doing something like this.
Here is a summary of what Missionary Support Teams can look like.
- What is a support team? It is a group of people with whom the missionary can be open and honest, allowing them to see their needs, and share their successes and defeats.
- Why have a support team? They help to make our missionaries feel understood, and provide them with a committed group who will show them practical love, keep them visible before the rest of the (Your Church) family, and strengthened on the mission field.
- What does a support team do? In a nutshell, a support team works together to care for their missionary, striving to meet their spiritual, physical and emotional needs. To a large extent this will happen only to the degree that the missionary is willing and able to make his needs known to the team.
- How are support teams formed? Members of a support team are prayerfully chosen by the individual missionary.
- Why should your church have missionary support teams? (Your Church) doesn’t just want to “have” missionaries; you want to “send” missionaries in a manner worthy of Christ.
Want to know how to get started?
You can download the full document that I adapted from Bethlehem Baptist Church Nurture Program for Missionary Candidates Handbook, Revised Version 1995.