Wildwood has the privilege of being the sending church for several missionaries, as well as a supporting church for still others. These are not responsibilities that we take lightly. In obedience to the Great Commission, we want to do everything necessary so that: 1) Missionaries get to the field; 2) Remain on the field; and 3) Minister effectively on the field.
Each objective presents special challenges. Before leaving for the field, a seminary or cross-cultural preparation school may assist with specialized tasks. Once on the field, a good mission agency will help with orientation and supervision. Nonetheless, the local church has a unique and vitally important role to fulfill in the missionary task—much more than simply providing funds. Indeed, the church has much more to offer in every phase of the missionary endeavor.
At Wildwood, the relationship with our missionaries may be summed up by the verb: “Partner.” Once the church leadership decides to send out or provide financial support for a missionary, the entire church body is expected to become an active, supporting partner in the enterprise.
How does partnering work?
In a church the size of Wildwood, it is difficult to know all the missionaries. But every church member can and should know at least one of them. Our small groups can lead the way through Adoption and Advocacy.
It is expected that each group at Wildwood (e.g. Community Group, Adult Fellowship Group, etc.) will “adopt” one or more of the church’s missionaries, so that each of them may have a consistent connection point with people who stand beside them. The acrostic KEEP points the way to a successful adoption:
Know what is going on:
A basic facet of missionary adoption involves regular contact, often by way of the missionary’s newsletters. Just as a businessman would not hire someone but never check on them, the church should have a good idea of what its “extended arm” is doing. This can be a source of great encouragement for us, as well! The one-page biography sheets contained in the albums available in various locations around the church are a great place to get started.
Everyone appreciates an occasional word of encouragement, especially when you feel isolated or wonder if anyone appreciates what you are doing. Email messages and Skype calls have made contact around the world easier than ever. Ideally, a group will have some form of contact at least quarterly. In addition, an occasional “care package” can demonstrate concern in a tangible way, besides supplying specific needs or wants. (Be sure to check with the Wildwood’s Global Outreach (GO) team or the missionary before sending emails, letters, or gifts. In some cases it may compromise the security of the individual.)
The feeling of being disconnected grows over time, even for a person receiving financial support from the church. On those occasions when the missionary is in Norman, the group will want to take the initiative to make them feel welcome. The leaders of a Sunday morning class may arrange for a time to teach or tell what God is doing in their field. Even if the schedule does not allow for extensive sharing, taking just a few minutes to introduce them and ask a few questions will help class members understand and appreciate the missionary’s role in the church’s outreach. For a Community Group, an invitation to meetings and other group events is always appreciated. Be sure to plan ahead, before the missionary’s schedule is set.
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of prayer in the work of a missionary. Almost by definition, he or she is attempting to do what has not been done before, that is, to see Kingdom influence expand into previously dark areas. We must solicit the blessings of the King on behalf of the missionary, his family, his work, and others in the field. Ideally, prayer should be frequent and ongoing, not just when contact is made, but in the in-between times, as well.
Wildwood’s GO team is ready to assist all groups “prepare for adoption,” whether they already have selected a missionary or not.
Many individuals at Wildwood will want to do more. They may be friends or supporters of a missionary, have an interest in a particular mission field, or simply share a desire to see Wildwood fulfill its global mandate. Whatever the reason, every missionary should have a champion back home–in the rappelling analogy of William Carey, someone to “secure the rope.” At Wildwood, these individuals are called “missionary advocates”.
The advocate’s role will vary depending on the needs and circumstances of the missionary. When the missionary is on the field, the advocate may be able to resolve issues that would otherwise weigh on their mind. When they are in town, the advocate can help their ministry move forward more quickly and efficiently.
One of the most basic roles of an advocate is to Inform other people at Wildwood about the missionary and their work. Unfortunately, the expression “Out of sight, out of mind” often applies to missions. An advocate can help the group(s) that have adopted the missionary, as well as others, keep current and remember to pray. At times, an urgent need may arise, for which the advocate can serve as a channel to let others know how to help.
An advocate may also provide:
Many issues have to be resolved on the field. But others, including those related to direction or relational issues, may be better resolved when additional counselors are involved. An advocate who is a spiritual leader or close friend may be a great help at critical times.
Where do you turn when you are in a foreign country and have a question, for example, about US taxes, a legal matter, or a health concern? An advocate may not have the answer, but likely knows someone who does. When the missionary returns to town after years away, simply putting them in touch with your newer friends may also be greatly appreciated.
The monetary needs of missionaries vary considerably, with some depending entirely on the gifts of others, while others count on secular, “tentmaking” income to help pay bills. Some missionaries are reluctant to bring up finances, for fear of being misunderstood. An advocate, however, will seek to know how things stand, not just to be informed and pray, but to invest his or her own resources, and connect the missionary to others who can also help.
Sometimes the greatest gift an advocate can provide is simply a comfortable, accepting place to “hang out.” Missionaries are not machines! Many times it is difficult to really relax while holed up in a hotel room or moving around each day visiting families they barely know. Hint: when a missionary couple has small kids, a family with similar-age children may make great “advocates!”
A missionary advocate may, obviously, be a key resource person for the group who adopts the same missionary. He or she does not, however, need to be a part of the group.
By the same token, while the initial goal is for every church-supported missionary to have an advocate, it is OK for missionaries to have more than one. Some people at Wildwood may, in fact, already be effectively serving as a missionary advocate in the ways described here.
For individuals or families who wish to get started, it is recommended that they contact the church’s Global Outreach team. The GO team can assist in coordinating efforts between the individual, the missionary, other advocates, and whatever groups may be involved.