When I considered the command to “bear one another’s burdens,” I thought it to be exclusive to the people right around me—my family, immediate friends, coworkers, anyone I saw on a day-to-day basis. Several years ago, however, my wife and I learned what it meant to bear the burdens of someone who was far away.
By God’s grace, our local church has had the privilege of sending out numerous missionaries to locations around the globe. When they go, we recognize that even though they may be away from us physically, they are still a part of us. We remain responsible for their spiritual, mental, and physical care, even from afar.
“We discovered that sometimes loving your neighbor means shipping a box of Oreo cookies halfway across the world.”
As a means of care, then, our church forms an advocacy team for each individual or family that is sent overseas. When the time came for one of our closest friends to leave us and serve in South Asia, we were, like so many others, sad to say goodbye but excited for what God would do through her ministry in a foreign context.
We knew it would be easy for people to forget about her once she was out of our immediate presence. Though unintentional, we all tend to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap and can grow myopic. My wife and I knew this was our temptation too. Thankfully, our church was in the midst of launching an advocacy program for anyone sent out from our local congregation into the mission field.
The goal was to ensure that those who were of us but not among us would not be forgotten. Each missionary would have a team who would seek to care for and keep them in front of the rest of the church body. This wasn’t a new idea; we’d adopted the advocacy model from several other great churches who are passionate about caring for their missionaries. We wanted to be just as passionate and make sure that passion translated into action.
A Biblical Basis
As our friend prepared to leave, my wife and I knew this was our opportunity to lead out in the advocacy program. We offered to lead a team of people who would be dedicated to her care and well-being while she served on the field.
It wasn’t a difficult choice. Distance doesn’t change our need for community. One of our own was going to a hard place to do hard work, a work the Bible says is especially significant. She would go and we would stay, but the call to love her was no less significant and no less applicable.
Paul’s words were clear to us.
- “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10 CSB).
- “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2 CSB).
- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 CSB).
Paul’s words reflect the command of the Savior. Jesus teaches us that the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (John 13:34–35). To love our neighbor was to love our sister as she served a foreign people. To love our neighbor was to love the people she served.
Here we found an opportunity to love a foreign people by helping our sister as she ministered to them with the good news of a loving God. Our friend needed strength and support to get up each day to serve them well, to boldly proclaim the gospel, and to minister the hope found in Jesus. She needed care and courage to keep her moving forward despite how hard it could become.
How We Cared for Our Missionary
We sought to care for her in simple but consistent ways. First, we made sure we were not alone. We gathered people around us to form a team to actively care for and support our friend while she served. We called and texted her as we could and as her scheduled allowed.
Our conversations weren’t always heavy with mission-speak; we’d laugh and tell stories about awkward or funny experiences any of us had. But we were there for the hard stuff too. We were friends—we were family—so we spoke together as families do.
“We chose to be advocates because families don’t forget one another.”
We sent packages filled with things to remind her of home and with anything she asked for. We discovered that sometimes loving your neighbor means shipping a box of Oreo cookies halfway across the world. We recalled specific dates or seasons that were particularly meaningful or difficult for her to be away. When she missed milestones of her own family back home (weddings, births, etc.), we empathized with her and encouraged her, letting her know we understood and cared.
We took an interest in and prayed for the friendships and relationships she built where she was, particularly those with whom she was actively sharing her faith. And we went to her. My wife and I saved until we were able to take the trip to be with her in the flesh—to embody her church home to her in a very real way.
Simply put, we sought to make sure she was not forgotten.
It wasn’t always easy. Schedules got away from us. Technology didn’t always cooperate. But being charged with her care helped us learn to actively think about someone we didn’t see every day. How is she doing today? What is she doing today that we need to pray for her about? How can we encourage her?
We chose to be advocates because families don’t forget one another. We are deeply convicted about the beauty of the Lord’s church and his command to live toward one another in love and care. For us, caring for those who have been sent out to take the gospel to the nations is an easy choice to make. We pray for all our missionaries and advocates, that these relationships would strengthen the work around the world and the work right here at home.
Trevor King serves as a pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is the registrar at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is working on a doctorate in education. Find him on Twitter @thetrevr.