I sat on a low concrete wall at the edge of the river. Across the river in front of me, a mosque stood guard. Throughout the day, prayer calls reverberate in the city from this and the several other mosques in my small town.
The architecture was beautiful. But that day my heart felt so heavy. That day, I was the only known Evangelical Christian in the entire town, and for many, many miles. I am in this country to share life and light and truth, but I felt so overcome by the fact that I was one small light in the face of a wall of darkness.
Weighed down, I walked back to my apartment and pulled out a folder someone had snuck into my suitcase when I first came to the country. I grabbed one slip of paper and soon my body was heaving with sobs.
You see, in it were a few dozen letters and cards from friends, family, and church members. Encouragement, prayers, and scripture for discouraging days. I felt alone, and in many ways, I was extremely isolated from any fellow believers.
Except I wasn’t alone, and those who had sent me to this country made sure I knew that. They made sure I had all the support and encouragement I needed. It continues to make all the difference in my personal health and my public ministry to this unreached people group.
What Is a Sender?
Back in the US, I was part of a youth outreach ministry. And when it came time to ask the community for help and support, my boss always went back to the story of the people lowering their friend through the roof to get to Jesus (see Luke 5).
As ministry workers, we were in the schools, pursuing kids and introducing them to Jesus. But we couldn’t do it on our own. We needed people to pray, provide financial support, and offer practical help in order to effectively reach those kids. My boss called these people “the friends on the roof”—the ones holding ropes, lowering people to Jesus.
Because ministry work is not a one-man job. It’s not something a pastor does alone. He needs people to help, support, provide accountability, and do the leg work. A pastor cannot be teaching from the pulpit and changing a diaper in the nursery at the same time.Missions work a one-man job. Missionaries are goers, but they need senders. Click To Tweet
Neither is missions work a one-man job. Missionaries are goers, but they need senders. And for every one missionary, a team of senders is needed. Think of Paul in the Bible. He didn’t go alone. He had churches and friends all over supporting and sending him.
Maybe you recognize the importance of missions, but you aren’t called to be a goer right now. Instead consider, are you called to be a sender?
If so, I want to share three ways to support your missionary well.
1. Help Them Get Ready to Leave
“I knew it would be hard once I got to the mission field,” I paced my boyfriend’s apartment. “But I didn’t realize it would be so hard to get there!”
The pre-field journey is exhausting and provides such an opportunity to love your goer well.
Pre-field, there are endless logistics to work out like raising financial support, preparing to move, applying for passports and visas, quitting jobs, etc. If the enemy can bench us before we even get to our destination, the enemy will.
Then there are the emotional and mental tolls of constantly changing plans and painful goodbyes. Your missionary needs an immense amount of support and help in this pre-field time! This can look like many things and what is most helpful will depend on the individual and their situation.
Maybe it looks like scavenging for moving boxes and offering childcare. Maybe it looks like offering to store their belongings or researching plug adaptors. Maybe it looks like giving them a transitional place to live. Or maybe it looks like whisking them away from it all and praying over them, caring for them spiritually and emotionally.
From first reaching out to a mission sending organization to getting to the field, it took me over a year, and for many, it takes much longer. When I first said “I’ll go” I knew why I was going and had clarity from God. But the preparation took so much out of me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually that when I was almost ready to go, I needed encouragement and reminders of why I was doing what I was doing. I needed spiritual and emotional care . . . and chances are, your missionary needs it too, (or will soon).
2. Stay in Contact
“I want you to know that when I say I’m praying for you, I’m not just saying that. I am praying for you every single day.” These words, spoken by one of my senders, still brings me so much comfort. Out of sight, out of mind is too often a reality.
When I was first adjusting to long-distance relationships with my senders, I faced two contradicting challenges. The first was that my new life looked really different from my home country’s culture. I couldn’t be available as often as I wanted to, and even when I was free, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. It was challenging to keep up with my senders the way I wanted to.
On the other hand, as time went on, people stopped contacting me. I think they didn’t want to bother me. But I needed them. I needed fellowship, support, prayer, and even just friends. Yes, my life was new and unpredictable, but I needed to hear from my senders even if I didn’t always have the capacity to engage. And sometimes I do have the capacity and desire to engage!
In training before the field, a fellow missionary encouraged me to build two-way relationships with my supporters and honestly, I think those are some of the most helpful relationships.
I need friends I can tell about getting stuck in an elevator, learning a new language, and learning to make traditional bread while also getting to hear about their 9-5 job, family struggles, and “normal” life. Friends who can pray for me and who I can pray for, even if the prayer requests look vastly different. Because, really, we’re not that different.
3. Continue to Practically Support Them
I used to think that senders were just people who helped goers get to the field. But once I got to the field, a major paradigm shift happened. Sending is not a one-time event, it’s ongoing! Read that sentence again.
What does it look like to practically support your missionary on an ongoing basis? You got them there, you helped raise support, and you’re praying for them. But how can you practically support them from afar?
This is going to look a little different for every individual, so first, ask them.
However, here are a few ideas to get you started:
I had no idea how much administrative work I’d need to do while on the field, nor how challenging it would be to do it from my country. I needed someone to call customer service to cancel a flight (since I had an out-of-country phone number). I needed my mom to dig through my boxes for tax documents I forgot to bring and communicate with an accountant for me. I needed a legitimate mailing address in order to legally have an email list to send prayer requests to.
Before I left the US, I talked with my pastor after church and asked for prayer and for a pastoral reference. I saw people at potlucks who asked how things were going, people I could invite to partner financially with me. But now, for most people, I only have email addresses, if that. Missionaries need people who can advocate for them, request prayer for them, and connect them with additional senders.
For example, all on his own, my boyfriend recognized that people from home had stopped messaging me but were constantly asking him how I was doing. So, he encouraged people to reach out to me directly, knowing I needed the fellowship and connection. Note: Always ask for permission before publicly sharing information.
· Care Packages:
When you’re far from home, tangible items can be so comforting. Sending things internationally is challenging, which makes it all the more special to a missionary. These can be items the missionary needs — I’m so thankful for the air filter my family sent me as I live in an area with harmful, poor air quality. Other things might simply be tastes of home. Maybe it’s that one hot sauce that doesn’t exist in the country of your missionary. Or pictures of family. Or books in their first language.
· Connection Tools:
Tools can be so helpful because they are a way to care for your missionary when you aren’t able to be physically present or when time zones make connections few and far between. Some tools that my senders have given me are letters and cards, recorded worship sessions and sermons from my home church, recorded prayers that l can listen to when I need to hear a familiar voice, and personalized liturgies for my own individual pursuit of God.
Missionary work is hard. Senders make all the difference.You can make an impact for the kingdom of God by helping others get to and stay on the mission field. Click To Tweet
You, Rebelutionary, are powerful and needed. You can make an impact for the kingdom of God by helping others get to and stay on the mission field. Hopefully this gave you some tangible places to start as you seek to send well.
Wow, thanks for this, Isciena!
Thank you so much for this! It’s a very needed topic, especially with the decreased emphasis on missions in the Western Church. I grew up in a missionary family and I’m currently entering missions myself, and I can’t understate the value of senders. I often tell people back in my passport country that I couldn’t be over here without the dozens of people who support me, and that’s true in the most literal sense.
Thank you for this post! I really enjoyed it. It is very true. As an MK I can’t say just how much letters and care packages brighten my day and remind me that we have people who care about us and are praying for us! Praise God for senders!