On Relationships Between Sent Ones and Senders

A guest article by Ron Bush

Prompted by Caleb Alford’s article, “Sending Does Not Mean Letting Go,” published on January 28, 2019.

I’ve pretty much been a baggage handler for the last 39 years. I’m not referring to airport workers. I’m referring to 1 Samuel 30.

The Spoils of Sent Ones

David’s followers and their families had moved to Ziklag among the Philistines, while on the run from King Saul. That is until “the Amalakites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown and burned it; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone...” If this situation wasn’t bad enough, David’s normally loyal men were about to stone him.

Then we suddenly see the correct response to crisis–“But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” Later, David’s band fell upon the Amalakites over-celebrating, recovering every person and possession, as well as much additional enemy spoil, the warrior’s precious wage back then. The Lord had graciously turned a horrible situation around.

Some of David’s men, however, were not so graciously inclined. They refused to share the spoil with those who, for reasons like weariness, age, or sickness, had been forced to pull off from the pursuit and stay with the baggage. What’s more, they wanted to kick those baggage handlers and their families out of the company. But David intervened, “as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage.”

Wow! What a concept! A word from the Lord meant to be both humbling and encouraging to frontline warriors and their baggage handlers. It became a permanent statute in Israel after David’s near-at-hand ascension to the throne.

Placed into a missions context, the “baggage handler” refers to those who stay home in prayer and support, while sent ones journey into foreign lands with the gospel. These “lay workers”, as most of us are, form a critical side to the ministry equation. We serve the Lord and others through our work while remaining on mission at home. God has purposefully placed us.

The Apostle Paul himself was a tentmaker. Laymen form the greater part of the church and provide multi-faceted service within. Since becoming a Christian at 19 in college, I’ve been fortunate to serve in many ways, including even a short period in full-time ministry. In her early Christian days my wife served in newly started churches, even one in Asia. Over the years we’ve supported a number of people in a variety of pursuits and places. Once, we met a young couple visiting church who described their work with South American Andes Indians. Almost 30 years later, we still support them, now in India. We’ve seen the Lord do amazing things through ordinary people sent into the world. What a blessing, then, to realize we share in the precious spoils of their labors. For them, what a blessing to know that someone back home cares about them and their work.

Sharing the Spoils

But did you know that sent ones also share spoils and don’t just acquire them? Jesus explained to his disciples, “I have sent you to reap where you have not labored. Others have labored and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:38). That’s another amazing notion as we ponder the years of Holy Spirit labor being entered into in harsh places. Once while overseas we observed missionaries criticizing each other over varying methods. The Lord’s statement undoes prideful competition. All of our sacrifices are treasured in his eyes, but, to help keep our hearts humble, the Lord also added, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘we are unworthy slaves, we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10).

I have two sons who served as soldiers and another as a missionary in “front line” capacities in foreign lands. From a parental perspective, there’s not much difference between the assignments. A chunk of your heart is hanging in the balance somewhere halfway around the world. Selfishly, you simply pray differently than normal. The similarities between a soldier, righteously employed, and a missionary are profound. Both have left the comforts of home far behind for unfamiliar, unintelligible, and often unwelcoming grounds. They have counted the cost of their lives as not so dear for the sake of others. I’ve often said that a missionary is a soldier without a gun. I think the Holy Spirit backs that up. Scripture says, “The Lord is a warrior.” He draws near to those who deeply sacrifice for his causes.

Front liners also warrant the strong encouragement of those back home. They need to know their sacrifices matter and someone cares. Spoils don’t come easily. They have entered into a great and difficult labor. Caring begins by reading the newsletter, then saying a prayer. Deep intercession is not my strong suit, but thank God He moves some of us at his appointed times. We share in his sufferings in ways to be revealed in his glory.

How else can we show those in harm’s way that we appreciate their sacrifices? We can send a care package full of goodies. We can send money, which is a condensed care package. We can write a letter or email, or even call them. “Like cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a distant land” (Proverbs 25:25). We can even visit them. Although difficult, and maybe impossible, this can bring the greatest blessing for both parties. These items may be somewhat obvious, but the trick is in our actually taking action. To help that, we must share a sense of burden and responsibility, and, like David’s baggage handlers, realize that our King values our service.

Baggage handlers, as well, need strong encouragement from front liners. They may experience an internal dying when a close friend is sent. Perhaps they feel their better days are in the past, or they’re stuck home with routine tasks while others do the important work. An occasional, well-written front line newsletter with summary details also acts “like cold water.” Voice your victories and struggles. Ask in order to receive, while at the same time realizing that your concerns may not always top someone’s priority list. Reaching out specifically at times might get you a more personal response and allow for better two-way encouragement. Missions support organizations are critical to providing continuity, communications, and logistics. At the same time, we’ve seen this all break down, creating isolation and difficulties. Fortunately, we serve the Lord, who makes up for our shortcomings in imperfect time and space relationships.

It’s currently popular to greet a soldier with the phrase, “Thank you for your service!” What about a similar attitude toward sent ones who’ve come home? Be aware they may return different from when they left. War impacts you. Missionaries, like soldiers, experience emotional battles after returning to what is perceived as trivial compared to their illuminating and even traumatic service experiences. We must assure them that their sacrifices remain important eternally. Their labors are now the ones being entered into. They may eventually want to return to an old place of service or journey to a new one. Our attitude can have a big impact on their decisions.

Front line workers and baggage handlers alike need each other’s strong encouragement. We’re on the same team and we share the same spoils. But the deeper gospel truth is that the Son of David fought alone and won a remarkable battle for us all on a hilltop near Jerusalem, conquering sin and death. Having stolen back to God the hearts of men, the warrior’s spoils all belong to him. What’s amazing is that, like his predecessor, David, Jesus fully embodied God’s own heart, and he freely shares his spoils with us and graciously keeps us in his company forever.