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Caring for Sent Ones in the First Year

When I served as an advocate for sent ones in my home church, there was a story I recalled often (and still do) that captured who I hoped we would be as a sending church. A family had been sent from our church to serve in Europe, a husband and wife and their two young children. They endured the hardships of strict Covid lockdowns for months on end, with no chances of anyone visiting anytime soon. As the U.S. began to open up and churches resumed meeting in person, this family faithfully sought creative ways to build community amid gathering restrictions.


The first Easter Sunday post-lockdown rolled around, and our sent ones decided to tune in for the livestream of our service. As they watched, surely with many mixed emotions, my friend recalled his daughter asking, “Dad, do you think our church still remembers us?” Just as she asked this innocent and honest question, our pastor acknowledged our sent ones serving around the world—at the time, three families on three different continents—and assured them we were thinking of them, missing them, and praying for them. My friend was able to turn to his daughter and say, “Yes, they do!”

A committed, intentional sending church can make all the difference in a sent one’s first year.

Hearing my friends recall that moment, I hoped and prayed that our church would always hold the ropes in such a way that our sent ones felt remembered and cared for, even through the dark days of cross-cultural ministry and the pangs of homesickness that were sure to come. Now, I feel this in a new and even deeper way, as I find myself living overseas as a sent one. When I moved to London, England, in March 2022, I was excited to join church planting work in the United Kingdom. I also felt apprehensive, at times, about leaving the place and people I had known for fifteen years. Looking back on the last year, and looking ahead to the start of year two in London, I have an even deeper conviction that a committed, intentional sending church can make all the difference in a sent one’s first year.


Churches might wonder how tight the strategy, how clearly defined the systems, and even how big the budget needs to be. These are all important categories to address in developing a strategy of care. However, at the end of the day, sent ones are not projects to manage, but people to love. We care well—and are cared for—by entering into a relationship with one another. Here are a few examples of care that can minister well to sent ones in their first year:

Sent ones are not projects to manage, but people to love.

Pray Regularly and Intentionally

I can’t think of anything more important than really committing to praying for sent ones, and then letting them know when you pray. It is a joy and an encouragement to pray for others and then provide reassurance to them that someone else is actively interceding for them. When I receive a text or an email that I am being prayed for, I am immediately encouraged, no matter where in my day those messages find me. Sometimes, in God’s good timing, they find me in a time of discouragement or need. To get even more specific, one of the elders at my sending church has chosen to follow a London-focused social media account, and when a striking photo of the city is shared, he is reminded to pray for me, and he lets me know that he has done so. Consider how much is done through this small act: we are both reminded that God cares for London and that we want his light to shine in the dark places here, and we are mutually encouraged and strengthened in the partnership and friendship that exists between our two churches.


Include Sent Ones in “Major Moments” of the Church Year

As with my missionary friends at Easter, I have found it goes a long way to feel remembered and included in seasonal and other milestones throughout the year. I recall one particularly discouraging day in December when I was feeling lonely, anxious, and troubled over various things. I came home from a walk to find a large envelope full of Christmas cards written to me by members of small groups at my sending church. To see familiar handwriting and names, as well as messages of encouragement from people I didn’t even know personally, meant a great deal. It was also a reminder that I belong to something bigger than myself, something that even spans oceans and borders. I know that the experience of sending those cards helped church members to grasp this reality of the global church, too.


Carry Their Burdens

One of the greatest challenges for me during my first year overseas was securing long-term housing. The search lasted eight months, and it took a great toll on me. During this test of endurance, I was strengthened by the knowledge that people were carrying this burden with me. So many entered into my struggle by asking God for provision, wondering at the difficulties and discouragements, and feeling the frustration alongside me. And when the Lord did provide housing, in his time and in ways abundant, my joy was multiplied because it was shared by so many. It was not too much trouble for others to share this long journey with me; they were not too busy or too concerned with their own struggles and needs. Carrying the burdens of sent ones can feel messy, emotional, and sometimes even helpless when there is nothing to do but wait on the Lord, but this is the Christian life.

A commitment to caring well for sent ones is non-negotiable because we all desire to see the global Church flourish, the gospel go forward, and the Great Commission fulfilled.

There are so many ways that churches can care well for sent ones during the first year, when so much feels uncertain, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. Some churches might choose to visit their sent ones, if appropriate and strategic, or find other ways to be present from a distance. Every church can commit to open, regular communication. This is how partnership is established and nurtured, and how people are served across the miles. When I look into the New Testament and see the many letters written among the Church, I see gratitude for the gospel ties that bind one another in Christ. The ropes we hold for sent ones are surely made of the same substance. A commitment to caring well for sent ones is non-negotiable because we all desire to see the global Church flourish, the gospel go forward, and the Great Commission fulfilled.

 

Ashlyn lives in London, UK, where she serves with her local church, Redeemer Queen's Park, overseeing local discipleship groups as well as missions partnerships between the U.S. and the U.K. She also works for the Alliance for Transatlantic Theological Training (AT3) as the Director of Operations. Ashlyn is originally from Tallahassee, Florida, where she served on staff at City Church Tallahassee for over ten years. She is a graduate of Florida State University and completed seminary courses at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, where she hopes to return as a student one day.

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