Editor’s Note: This article is the second of a three-part series on the topic of missions and singleness. Read the first post here.
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The prospect of sending out missionaries can be intimidating and a bit scary for any church. But it doesn’t have to be. The goal of this piece is to share a few ways that your church can faithfully send and care for your missionaries.
1. When you meet someone who wants to be a missionary, prayerfully consider their giftedness and readiness to go.
Almost four years ago, my small church plant sent me out as their first full-time missionary. Of course, the story didn’t begin there. Back in 2012, I was a member of another church that wanted to plant a new church nearby, closer to my home. So I joined the core team.
I remember telling one of my elders early on that I desired to serve overseas. That simple conversation began a six-year process of evaluation and discipleship by many faithful church members. Many times along the way, I just wanted to get up and go. But looking back, I’m grateful that the process was slow and thoughtful. The Lord used those years to grow in me a deeper love for his church. I met many others who had served overseas and were able to teach me and care for me.
Simply put, my church supported and confirmed my gifts. In other words, it did what God has called the church to do as they send out missionaries (Acts 13). They sent out someone they knew and trusted.
2. When they get to the field, don’t forget about them.
As I reflect on my time of preparation and my first three years on the field, I’m grateful for so much. First and foremost, I’ve realized the connection and intentional care I was receiving from my sending church was extremely rare. Though I had a sending organization and though I met weekly with folks from on the field from my organization, nothing compared to the connection I maintained with my sending church.
I regularly chatted with one of the elders of my church. We talked through difficulties, and I shared various struggles. This elder had intentionally built trust with me beforehand; the distance couldn’t break that. My church also helped me get to know a group of women who intentionally prayed for me both before and while on the field. Sending churches call these groups different things: care teams, advocate teams, Barnabas teams, etc.
I never felt alone or off my church’s radar. This is how it should be. After all, sending a missionary is something the whole church does together. Of course we know it’s difficult for a missionary to stay in touch with hundreds or even thousands of members. But it’s quite easy, with just a little bit of effort, for a missionary to be well known by a few members. These women bore my burdens with me (Gal 6:2). They’re a lifeline to my sending church back home. Take advantage of technology—WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, etc—that makes staying connected to your missionaries easier than ever before.
3. Be devoted to praying for — and to let them know you’re praying for them.
Prayer is hard work. So it brought me great joy when I discovered that these women and others from my sending church were devoted to prayer on my behalf. I realized: I’m not alone in this work! Through consistent connection and prayer, your missionaries can join Paul in saying they have received “everything in full” (Phil 4:16) as their needs are supplied.
4. Visit your missionary face-to-face.
After a year and a half on the field, two of my elders, their wives, and a member of my care team came to visit me. They had lofty goals: to encourage me and experience a bit of my life.
As a single woman alone in a Muslim country, having my people “show up” was a gift. But more than that, it spoke loudly to others of my church’s care for me. My local friends knew these people were friends from my church back home. I understand that some people may not be comfortable with being so open. Every missionary will have to discern for themselves what’s best. But I cannot express how wonderful their visit was for me and my local friends.
Without a visit, it’s impossible to discover what your missionaries are really up to. It’s impossible to meet their fellow workers and those whom they desire to serve. So go visit them. Eat their food and walk around their town. By doing so, you may even help your missionaries’ ministry. To this day, my local friends stay in touch with my elders. Though they haven’t come to know Jesus, I trust the Lord is at work!
5. Make sure to connect your missionary to a local church if possible (and it almost always is).
During their visit, my elders also got to know the pastors of the church I joined while on the field. These brothers were able to mutually encourage one another and build each other up. When they got home, my elders encouraged my sending church with stories of their experiences with me. All this helped me understand what Paul meant when he told the church at Philippi: “Because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7).
Sadly, I’ve met many missionaries whose ministries are more or less disconnected from any local church. That shouldn’t happen. Just as a loving father cares for his children from afar, sending churches should care for their missionaries on the field. They should ensure they are being fed God’s Word and protected from wolves.
Missionaries need their sending churches, and sending churches should want their missionaries to say, like Paul, “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3–5).