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Field Perspective on Advocacy Team Care

Human beings all have needs, and those who live cross-culturally are no exception. We can meet each other’s needs in many ways. I have spiritual needs, physical needs, and even deep-seated emotional needs, but I don’t often express my needs. These needs aren’t expressed to others because I don’t want to come across like a whiny child who constantly seeks to have his needs met. Suppressing needs is often the go-to response of missionaries. Missionaries desire to be self-sufficient and care for their own needs, but this isn’t always the healthiest approach. Here are some ways advocates have cared for us by helping meet our needs during our thirteen years on the field, which has had a tremendous impact on our lives:


Questions Have Led to Good Care

As a friend of mine has often said, “Better questions lead to better answers.” This has been the pattern of those who have cared for our family. They have been to visit us, experienced the lostness of a post-Christian, post-communist country, and seen what we struggle with daily. Much of the time, we have struggled with the need for affirmation. We have not seen great success or many encouraging signs that tell us, “You are pouring yourself out, and it’s worth it.” This questioning has led us to question our abilities, calling, and even purpose of living in Prague. 


Those who have cared for us have asked good questions and made us feel valued. We have felt valued for our counsel because we are well-trained and experienced, even though we haven’t succeeded in planting a sizeable, healthy church. We are valued enough to speak into their missional or church strategy. We are valued sufficiently to approach things they struggle with because they know we care, even though we live thousands of miles away. Knowing our context and asking good questions has helped our advocates care for our needs. 


One overlooked aspect of missionary care is offering the emotional care of being seen, heard, and valued. Some missionaries live among people who are indifferent at best and, at worst, don’t want foreigners living among them. Having loving advocates who help meet emotional needs can lead to missionaries serving longer and more effectively.

One overlooked aspect of missionary care is offering the emotional care of being seen, heard, and valued.

Rhythms of Hearing and Helping

Providing care is like a balancing act: too little shows it isn’t important, and too much can suffocate. We have experienced both sides of this spectrum. We have had advocates who say they want to hear about the work and connect with us but never respond. On the other hand, we have had people who overcare by writing to us weekly to ask for new prayer requests. With the pace of church planting we are involved in, having to write requests every week became a burden because things here move more slowly than we ever imagined. 


Each missionary and their context varies in the frequency of communication and help that is needed. Some are in physically dangerous places and may need to communicate their situation and needs more frequently. Others, like me, live in a relatively safe place, and less frequent communication can be more helpful. When we communicate, we strive to be honest. Dialogues that disguise the truth can leave both parties feeling good, but they don’t expose the deficiencies that need to be addressed. Both missionaries and advocates must feel safe to honestly share their needs, which is key to helping meet the needs of missionaries.

Having advocates who know their fitness goals, encourage them with healthy fitness habits, and assist them in reaching those goals could lead to missionaries serving longer and with greater vigor.

Care Includes the Physical and the Mental

As a married man with children, staying physically fit isn’t always easy. We have three kids at home that are in grade school and who have after-school activities, and setting aside enough time—and money—for staying in shape can be challenging. What would it look like if we cared about how missionaries were doing not just mentally but also physically? There is something significant about how our physical bodies interact with our mental states. When we fail to be physically active, it takes a toll on us mentally. What could it look like to ask questions and provide the means to help missionaries stay both physically and mentally fit? You may say, “I thought they were adults and could care for themselves.” Yes, but missionaries often let everything less paramount to the mission fall by the wayside—like their physical and mental health. Having advocates who know their fitness goals, encourage them with healthy fitness habits, and assist them in reaching those goals could lead to missionaries serving longer and with greater vigor.


Advocates have been a great blessing to me and to my family. Missions leaders, as you train your advocates, encourage them to follow through at the correct rate, to ask good questions, and to provide accountability that is unique to the needs of the missionaries. Each missionary is different. As you train advocates to respond to these unique needs, you are equipping them to provide deeply personal care that makes a true difference in the lives of your missionaries.

 

Brian has served as a church planter with the International Mission Board in Prague, Czechia, for the past thirteen years in various leadership roles with his wife, Allie, and three children: Heidi, Alistair, and Margaret. He graduates in May 2024 with a ThM and will continue with a Ph.D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also received an MDiv in Cross-Cultural Church Planting (2012), an MAIS from the College at Southeastern (2012), and a BS in Accounting from Concord University in Athens, WV (2006).

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