Tethered or Adrift
31 Oct 2016
I’ve heard the role of a sending church described like this: it’s like a ship sending out a small boat into the ocean. The ship ties a strong rope to the small boat. The boat goes off into the dangerous sea, but the rope keeps it connected to the ship. At any time, the ship can pull the boat back in. If you prefer a space analogy, the sending church is like the space craft, and the missionary is the astronaut sent out to repair the satellite. The line between the spaceship and the astronaut is what keeps him alive. No matter which kind of ship, the strength of the connection all comes down to the state of the rope ie the intentional relationship between the church and the missionary. If, over time, the rope decays then this connection is in danger of being completely severed, and the missionary left to drift alone.
We asked some of our missionaries who have been serving for more than 10 years: what are the challenges to maintaining good connections with your home church in Australia?
Western Europe: Cosmopolitan
The main challenge is keeping up good and regular communication. Also, as time goes by both the missionary and the home church change. For example, in our experience, every time we’ve gone back on Home Assignment not only are there new people in the church, but some of the once familiar faces no longer attend the church. This includes changes in pastors and others in church leadership. After ten+ years these changes can become significant, to the point that the missionary knows less than half the church, and less than half the church knows them.
South East Asia: Tropical
The challenge for us it is our limited ability to use social media freely. We don’t and can’t share everything on social media for our safety but even more so for the people we work with. However, this is a day and age of social media and when we are not feeding information continually it’s hard to keep connected with everyone on their level.
Middle East: Oasis
The church leadership and membership can change a lot over the years, and it’s challenging to keep connected when you’re communicating with people you don’t really know. Also, there can be a diminishing of communication from the home church over time… out of sight, out of mind!
Central Asia: Desert
I think one of the hard things is when churches have a change in leadership while you are on the field – be it in the Mission committee, or the pastor. Thankfully many church members remain the same over the years and can keep up the ‘memory’ of me with those who are new, so that I still feel welcomed when I return. Another challenge is the lack of time I dedicate to staying in touch. This is not because I don’t want to, but that I find it hard to live in two worlds. I find when I spend a lot of time writing to churches, supporters or friends that divide becomes harder, so I focus on the life right in front of me.
East Asia: Urban
It gets harder to communicate what is happening, your dreams and challenges. Everything feels too complicated. Many connections also grow distant, and it gets harder to spend long chunks of time at home to warm them up again. Time at home is especially tricky when you come from two different home countries. Also, commitments on the field including our business and the kids school terms make times away from the field challenging.
East Asia: Megacity
There are many challenges to maintain good connections with your home church. The longer we are away the more church members go and new members come and relationships need to be built all over again. We go home every two years over our ‘away country’ summer for three months. This is important for us as a family, but also to maintain good connection with our sending Church. We always email them first and make sure we book all our other appointments around serving and being served by them. We go around to different Bible Study groups at our sending church so even if we are not there on a Sunday, we can meet up with people and have more meaningful discussions. We actively invite people to visit us on the field. This is hard. Everyone is busy but we know that people are praying for us.
What can you do this week to strengthen the rope between your church and the missionaries you support?
- Write an email to the missionary with an update of what’s happening in your church?
- Arrange for one of the small groups from the church to put together and post a care package?
- Pray for the missionaries in your Sunday service, and send them an encouraging note listing the things you prayed for?