“I’ll make quiche,” someone on my advocacy team announces in our group message. Someone else volunteers to bring soup. “I’ll bring salad,” another says.
But when my advocacy team gets together for Sunday lunch before they call me over here in my new home thousands of miles away, I know they’re eating fajitas. They don’t want me to feel like I’m missing out on the Tex-Mex, but I know I’m the only one at this party eating frozen quiche. It’s not like I can’t smell their fajitas all the way out here.
“From thousands of miles away, my advocacy team helped me connect with my friends and neighbors and talk to them about the wonderful things God has done.”
When I left the States, I didn’t want to disconnect from the church that empowered me with the gospel. I prayed about who could help me stay connected to the church and the culture I was leaving behind, as well as support me when life would inevitably get rough. I naturally turned to the people who had already walked through fire with me (cancer and my sister’s fatal car accident) and who had kept me tethered to the church through my previous absence (three years in another state, seventeen hours away). Two couples were from my original small group when I joined the church. A single girl was a former roommate, another lady was a dear friend from a prayer group. Together they form my advocacy team while I’m overseas. I call them my A-Team.
Advocacy Team Members
Like a team of superheroes, the members of my A-Team each serve specific support roles according to their individual superpowers: Team Leader, Prayer Point Person, Communication Manager, Physical Needs Manager, and Reentry Coordinator.
- Team Leader
The guy with the MBA makes sure we all get the notes from the book study we’re doing together, or we all get the calendar invitation to the next team party where I’ll join them online. And his wife makes sure we’re all hooked up with the latest bitmojis for our group messages between parties. She’s also a frequent party hostess, pray-er, communicator, and mail-er. She’s an A-Team Swiss Army knife.
- Prayer Point Person
My friend from the prayer group has played an enormous role in my friendships with non-Christians where I live now, and in my opportunities to speak the gospel to friends and strangers multiple times a week as I make and mobilize disciples. On her way to church on Sunday mornings, she and her kids read my weekly updates and pray for my friends and my city. She even wrote and sent the update for me one week when my computer was on the fritz.
- Communications Manager
My former roommate with the master’s degree in communication management not only sends me random messages on her train rides to work but she gives up her lunch break to chat with me. She models missional living for me as she lovingly speaks the gospel to her coworkers and her friends from the train. She makes sure I receive Christmas and birthday gifts. She even paid her way to come see me on her first overseas trip.
- Physical Needs Manager
When I thought I might need to raise some extra funds, the finance whiz made sure I had the right tools and accounts. He’s also an Ironman who likes to run 50k races up mountains, so he makes sure I’ve got the right running shoes and apps to stay healthy. Or when I’m not healthy, he keeps prodding until someone in our group message finally attaches the bitmoji that most appropriately (or inappropriately) illustrates my condition.
- Reentry Coordinator
After living overseas for a few years, I went back to visit my church and my advocacy team. My reentry coordinator found a guestroom for me in the home of some friends who live in the same neighborhood as the two couples on my team. Together, the three families made sure I had everything I needed while I was in town. We also had an advocacy team party and celebrated what God has done in us and through us in the years of walking together, scattering seeds of his Word wherever we go in our city or around the world.
Advocacy Team Unites
While I’m overseas, the team organizes lunches for our bimonthly Sunday afternoon advocacy team parties that usually take place in someone’s home, where the kids can play out back. During our time together, we do a book study, we share the Lord’s Supper, or we talk about Bible stories—what we learn from them and how we can apply them and tell them to others. My reentry coordinator—my personal model of hospitality—once told us how she taught her son and his friends the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. I recognized the source of her gracious hospitality.
“Biblical community is a rare privilege in most places I’ve lived, so these six people have been my encouragement, my truth-bearers, and my kick in the seat of the pants.”
Advocacy Team Unmasked
Sometimes my A-Team can’t get it together. They once called me for my birthday, and when I joined the video call, they jumped out from behind the couch, threw balloons and shouted, “Happy birthday!” But for some reason, they thought I wasn’t connected, so they hung up, reset, and called me back. They jumped out from behind that couch three times before I finally convinced them I was on the call.
They haven’t called me for my birthday since.
Sometimes my A-Team lets me down. Things just don’t go the way we plan. But because we’ve already walked through fire together, I don’t doubt their love for me. We have a safe relationship.
And in that safety, the fajita-eating superheroes can take their capes off. In the summers, they get overwhelmed with their kids’ swim meets. During the school year, they’re overwhelmed with papers to grade and lessons to plan. At times, they have to find new jobs. And sometimes, even in our exciting city, surrounded by our amazing church family, they feel disconnected and lonely. They aren’t bulletproof. They need my prayers as much as I need theirs.
Advocacy Team for the Win
Usually, though, my A-Team comes through with flying colors—like the Great Stuffing Send-Off of 2015. They sent me fourteen boxes of Stove Top Stuffing mix so I could host one American Thanksgiving dinner for my apartment building and another for my local church. From thousands of miles away, they helped me connect with my friends and neighbors and talk to them about the wonderful things God has done.
Wherever I am, my advocacy team makes sure I feel at home, whether I’m eating Thanksgiving dinner (or fajitas) at the table with them or not. They make sure I stay connected to their biblical community. Biblical community is a rare privilege in most places I’ve lived, so these six people have been my encouragement, my truth-bearers, and my kick in the seat of the pants. They send me out the door with boldness. They’ve got my back.
Emelee Austen is an editor for the International Mission Board. She lives in Europe.