Pastoral and practical support

PainterIt may seem to be stating the obvious, but mission workers need support.  Yet many churches do not realise this, and treat them as if they’re just doing a job in a different town.  But the challenges of living cross-culturally, adapting to a new language and new customs, and working in a foreign country will all take their toll on the mission workers’ wellbeing.  Good church support is critical to their ongoing wholeness and the success of their mission.  Here are some of Syzygy’s best tips on how to do a good job of being a sending church.  We also recommend you read Neal Pirolo’s excellent little books Serving as Senders and The Re-Entry Team.

While they’re away

News.  Small things like keeping in touch can be very important to people who are disorientated in a foreign culture.  Write to them, send them cards for birthdays and presents for Christmas.  Use social media to keep in regular contact.  Email them copies of the church bulletin.  Phone them occasionally – it can be very cheap using skype.  Do a live skype call on a Sunday morning to keep them in touch with church.

Prayer.  Make sure their prayer news is circulated to members, but be careful not to pin it to a notice board if they’re working in a Creative Access Nation or a secure context!  Remember them in intercessions on Sundays.  Hold a special prayer meeting once a month.  Set up a prayer hotline for emergencies.

Property.  Mission workers will need somewhere to leave the belongings they are not taking with them.  Can you find a loft or garage for them?  They may also be leaving a house which they’re renting out to cover the mortgage.  Somebody in the church could volunteer to manage it, keep an eye on the tenants, and do repairs when needed.  It may even need repainting in between tenants.

Visits.  Visits from family and friends are a massive encouragement to mission workers, and often help those who visit buy into their vision and get enthused about world mission.  Encourage (and help if possible) church members to go out and visit them.  Send a short-term team to do some practical work alongside their ministry.  It works best if the church minister can go, which sets an example for others to follow and is a real gesture of commitment to the mission workers and their community.

Special events.  From time to time, it’s good to hold special events to profile the mission workers.  Have a fundraising supper themed along the lines of the country they’re working in.  Make a point of remembering them at times of festivity so that even though absent they are still integrated in the life of the church.

While they’re back

Mission workers return periodically to their sending countries, sometimes for as much as a year at a time.  This is not holiday!  Their sending agency will have a full programme of events planned for them and they will be expected to speak at churches and conferences.  It’s also an important time for rebuilding relationships with church, family and friends, raising support and getting medical issues taken care of.  During this time they’ll need the church’s support in a number of ways.

Practical arrangements.  They will need to have somewhere to live, and a car to get them to their various assignments.  Many churches arrange these things, or help fund them.  Welcoming them at the airport, or making sure their house has got bread, milk and tea are little things that really help returning mission workers feel valued.

Finance.  Don’t think you can stop your giving because they’re no longer abroad!  They still have a full-time job to do, and it won’t give them the opportunity to earn money at the same time.  In fact, their expenditure may go up while they’re back, since there are so many arrangements to take care of.

Endorsement.  Mission workers will look to their church, particularly its leader, for validation.  They will expect to be welcomed back on the first Sunday they’re home.  It can be soul-destroying to make that long-awaited journey to church only for the vicar to greet them with ‘I didn’t know you were back!’  Promote their ministry by giving them speaking opportunities, allow them to do presentations to small groups or have a special events, and help them meet the members of the church who’ve joined since they went abroad by actively introducing them to new people.

Debriefing and re-entry support.  Most mission workers will need a thorough debrief from their experiences, and the things they’ve seen and suffered may have had a profound psychological impact on them.  Be willing to talk to them about this, and help them find professionals who can help them.  They may also need help adapting to life in this country.  Since they went away, technology and culture have moved on, which can be very disorientating for them.  For example, they may not know how to use an Oyster card or chip-and-pin!  They may also find that the town they lived in has changed, or the church has changed too.  Since they have also changed, they may not fit back in where they came out from!  For more about reverse culture shock, see www.syzygy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Reverse-culture-shock.pdf.

Holidays.  Either as a nuclear group or with extended family, holidays are important times of rest, repairing relationships and having time out to take stock of changes.  Many people will use them to reflect on their overseas ministry and what changes God is leading them into.  Yet some of them will not take holiday, perhaps because they haven’t the money, the feel they can’t justify the time off, or they think they need to be seen to be working hard.  Your role will be crucial in helping them take the time out that they need, and providing the funds for it if they are scarce.