Practical Help

by Tim Herbert
Posted on 1st June 2010

James and Emily had to leave Paraguay and return home because they couldn't rent out their house. Without the rent, they couldn't pay the mortgage.

Pete & Jane were so stressed by having to stay with Pete's mum that they decided never to go on home assignment again. They really needed a place of their own.

Tom suffered so much emotional and spiritual abuse during his first term in India that he might have given up on missions completely, had a stranger not offered him unconditional hospitality for nine months while God put him back together again.

Only one of these stories is actually true - the one with the happy ending. The others were near-disasters which were averted, like so many others, by the timely arrival of help, in the form of counselling, emotional care, or just somebody who went round and painted the house so it looked nice for prospective tenants.

I don't know how you felt when you read those teasers. You were probably reminded of people you know, who left the mission field early for utterly avoidable reasons. Did it make you feel sad? Frustrated? Angry? Angry enough to do something about it?

Many mission partners end up going home because of situations which, with a little bit of the right sort of help, could have been completely avoided

Many missions partners end up going home because of situations which, with a little bit of the right sort of help, could have been completely avoided. Others grit their teeth and hang on, but are hampered in their effectiveness by lack of practical concern.

That's why member care exists. People working cross-culturally are often deprived of their usual support networks at home, and therefore may be less able to resolve issues and can become more vulnerable to frustration and depression. It's all very well suggesting Skype and Facebook, but some people still don't have access to reliable and fast internet connections, or even a reliable power supply. I know one man in Ghana who doesn't use his Facebook account because he can have his dinner in the time it takes a page to load.

Member care may consist of a huge commitment to hospitality, or a lengthy counselling process. But it can also be many smaller things that often get overlooked. Who gives tax advice, and how? Where can returning mission partners borrow a car? Who can produce a promotional dvd for them, or provide advice on problems with their computer? These are all little niggles which can add up to great stress for people on the field.

Some of these services may be provided by their sending mission, or their church or family, but there are also plenty of mission partners whose needs aren't covered by one of these. Sometimes they are independent of organisations or church, for valid reasons, or they have no surviving family. Perhaps their mission is too small to provide this level of detail. Even the large missions can't do everything.

In a time of financial constraint, many missions are trying to reduce their overheads, and the obvious place to start is with the head office team. Which means even the big players are looking at cutting back on services. I recently heard of one mission which has told its members that it will not be posting their prayer letters for them in future. You may ask why the mission was using its limited resources to do this in the first place, but the angry outcry from some of its members makes it clear that finding someone else to do this for them is just another source of stress.

It was seeing people stressed by such avoidable pressures while I was on the mission field that made me want to support them when I returned home (for entirely avoidable reasons!). I realised that if we are genuinely committed to the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world, the burden cannot be borne alone by the few who go. Those who pray, give, send and support can equally share this burden. Many people think that because they can't go, they can't be involved in missions. But they are quite capable of doing a bit of painting, or putting a stamp on an envelope.

That's why networks like OSCAR and Syzygy exist. We're here to bring together a network of individuals who can each play their small part in the bigger picture of taking the gospel to the nations. If we really want to send more people, we need more supporters. Join us, and we'll get the work done sooner. Then we can all go home.

Tim Herbert spent 5 years working as a missionary in southern Africa where he first realised how poorly many mission partners are supported. On returning to UK he continued to be involved in member care, and set up Syzygy (which is Greek for "yoked together") with a brief to do 'anything we can to help mission partners be more effective and durable'. For more details, see