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Caring for Your Sent Ones in Year One

Jose Luis, his wife, Wendy, and their three small children are preparing to move to Africa next year to work with a mission organization that has a strong and healthy team on the ground. The mission sending organization has a really good member care division. As a mission leader in the church that is sending Jose and his family, you are trying to determine how you and your church can care for them well during their first year on the field.

You can do this, and I promise you it will make a difference.

Even though XYZ GO mission organization has a stout member care program and your sent ones have a good team on the ground, you know you cannot simply outsource their ongoing care to the agency. You want to stay involved with your family and their team. But how?


Unfortunately, not all of your sent ones will have organizations with well-developed member care divisions. Nor will they always have a healthy team. Even when they’re walking into the best possible situation, there are still some specific ways your church can care for your sent ones during their first year. It will take some intentionality on your part. It will take some calendar reminders as the first months pass so you will remember some simple tasks. But you can do this, and I promise you it will make a difference.


First, you really need to develop a checklist or spreadsheet so you can identify the items you need to do, who will do them, and when they should be done. You want them to get started well knowing a good start can help them with cultural adjustment, language, and family adaptation. Below are five essential items that you can start with, but you will want to add more. I like to put reminders on my list like: contact them weekly with a short WhatsApp message, send a handwritten note, set up a Zoom call, pray for them at staff meeting, pray for them in a church service, etc.


Five Essential Action Items

Here are a few steps you can take to prepare for your sent ones to leave.


1. Write a sending covenant - A covenant will help them know what to expect from their sending church, and it will help you communicate what you expect from them while they are on the field. Be sure to include what communication to and from them looks like. Also address any funding commitments here. Tell them how you plan to care for them. etc.


We have an example of a sending covenant for Marketplace Workers on our website here (though you can use it with any sent one from your church).


2. Build an advocacy team - Having a small team of people who are committed to care for them, pray for them, communicate with them, and advocate for them back to the church is essential. We recommend you set this up at least three months before they leave so the team and the sent ones can build a stronger relationship. To learn more about building an advocacy team, click here.


3. Connect with their field leader - Your sent ones will most likely be accountable to someone on the field. Whether it is a team leader with their organization, a pastor at a church they will be working with, or a leader of a national ministry, in most cases someone in their proximity will be providing accountability. It is important that you as a mission leader in the sending church know that person at sreal-timeome level. I have found over the years that most field leaders really like knowing leaders from their teammates’ sending churches. One field worker in the Middle East told me that they want to know their teammate’s team leader so well that when there is an issue or a celebration, they have no problems picking up the phone and calling them because they already have a strong relationship with them.

Most field leaders really like knowing leaders from their teammates’ sending churches.

If the future team leader of one of your sent ones is resistant to getting to know you as a sending church leader, then I would suggest you run from them as fast as you can. I would not desire to send anyone from my church to any team or team leader who does not value the role and involvement of the sending church. This may seem harsh, but the reality is that many people leave the field due to the incompatibility of teaming. Conflict will happen, and a sending church can often help navigate conflict and help speak into the situation before it gets out of hand. This does not mean that the sending church should just step in and rescue or bully the team leader—I am not saying this at all. But the church may be able to speak truth to their sent ones and help them realize when they need to change behavior, repent, or whatever may be warranted.


4. Coach them through their Personal Development Plan and talk about how they can continue to grow in specific areas while on the field. After churches complete a sending assessment on their candidates, we encourage them to help future sent ones identify and grow in three general areas: the head (knowledge), the heart (character), and the hands (abilities). Using that same framework, churches can have sent ones work with their field leaders and discuss what they want their first months or even first full term to be like. Most leaders will want new teammates to focus on learning language, understanding and adapting to culture, building team chemistry, and learning team strategy. Having goals in place will provide good conversation starters during your regular video calls with them.


5. Plan a commissioning service no more than two weeks before they leave. Work with the leaders who plan the services at your church well in advance so proper preparations can be made for music, sermons, special invitations for family, reception, etc.


Connect and Communicate, but Beware of the Tension

When a person or family leaves their homeland to live and serve in another place, there needs to be a certain disconnection from their home culture while they begin connecting to their host culture. We know Paul wrote letters to different churches that then had to be delivered by hand, which no doubt took some time. Back when the modern mission movement was actually modern (now it is several hundred years old and not so modern), there were not a lot of ways for sending churches to easily connect with those they sent.


Even back when we arrived on the field in 2001, it took a little effort and some cost for the sending church to connect with us via phone. I do not think we had video access when we first arrived, but this has changed drastically in the last ten or fifteen years. Now you can have instant access to your sent ones. They can follow your Instagram stories in real-time as you move about your day. It’s much easier for families to stay connected with each other as well. While this is a good thing (that is here to stay unless there is some technological dark age in our future), people just landing in their field of service need to have the space to really connect with their new culture as they lean into the process of building new relationships and learning a new language, struggles that actually build you as they are breaking you. The sending church needs to acknowledge this and plan for it.


The tension lies in figuring out how much communication is too much or too little. Mission leaders need to talk through this with their sent ones before they leave and set expectations for both parties. As you go into this phase of planning, you can actually set up some check-in points that will demonstrate your care and concern for them while at the same time giving them that needed space.

You and your church have a vital part to play in helping your sent ones start off their ministry well.

One way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with three columns: "The Church," "The Sent One," and "The Field Team Leader." Then create ninety rows (one for each day).


Now go through and mark various times during those first ninety days that can serve as “touchpoints” for the church, the missionary, and their team leader. This works well when you can actually have a call with all three parties before your missionaries arrive on the field to talk through communication, training, etc. Involving team leaders will help prepare them for properly on-ramping their new teammates. Include times in the schedule for your missionaries’ advocacy teams to connect with them. Schedule a time to write them a note and mail it to them. Be sure to include connection with their kids. Schedule a few video calls to check in with them and ask them about their cultural adjustment, language learning, and how they are doing personally.


Many churches ask us when their first visit should be. Personally, I like the idea of not visiting the first year. There are too many things they are trying to adjust to during that time, and having to host a team will likely disrupt that adjustment. Of course, there could be an urgent situation that warrants an early visit, but in most cases, I like to see churches plan their first-term visits sometime after their first year. Make sure their field leader knows about your plans to come. If you are planning on doing a ministry-focused trip, then be sure their field leader thinks they are ready and that the trip will actually be strategic for their ministry and team.


Conclusion

You and your church have a vital part to play in helping your sent ones start off their ministry well. Do not outsource this process to the sending organization. In most cases, they will provide care to those you send, but always remember that they are your sent ones and that it is your responsibility to equip them, send them, and care for them well.


Helpful Resources


Upstream members have free access to the “First 30 Daze Checklist.” This resource is a great way to help sent ones start out on their journey overseas. It’s also a great way for you as a church to keep them accountable as they head overseas. Members can access this document on the file share, and it is available for purchase for non-members.


"First 30 Daze Checklist"



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