The annals of mission work are filled with horror stories of supporting churches which rarely communicate with their missionaries, never visit the work, have no idea what is happening on the field (either good or bad), and all too often cut off monetary support with little or no notice. Not all churches, however, have such an indifferent attitude toward the missionaries they support; there are also a number of good supporting churches.
It has been my good blessing over the years to be supported in mission work by three fine congregations: the Rolla (Missouri) Church of Christ, while I was working in Princeton, Illinois; the Anson (Texas) Church of Christ, while I served on the Navajo Reservation in Montezuma Creek, Utah; and the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, as I now work as a missionary-in- residence at Abilene Christian University. Each of these congregations has strong points in its mission program that I believe are worthy of imitation.
So often churches sit back and wait for a missionary to come along asking for help before they become involved in mission work; however, the Rolla and Anson churches came looking for me to help them with works they had already been supporting. In Rolla's case, the Christians there had started the church in Princeton through a campaign which they had held there the year before. They had found a preacher to work with the fledgling congregation for a year, but when he left, they were not willing to abandon the work and so found my wife and me to come work with them. Similarly, Anson had been involved with the mostly Navajo congregation in Montezuma Creek, Utah, for over five years through two preachers and also found my family when they came looking for a replacement. In each of these cases, this gave the congregation a sense of ownership in our work, since they sought us out rather than vice versa.
These churches showed more interest in our work than in just sending us a monthly check. The Rolla church came on a personal work campaign to Princeton to help us grow during the summer. The Anson church held at least one VBS, and often two, every summer in Montezuma Creek. They also came for a personal work campaign. In addition to campaigns, we had special visits from elders and other interested members from Rolla, Anson, and now Southside. While we were in Utah, people from Anson on vacation in the West would go out of their way to stop by to see how we were doing. And once we met for a day's retreat with the Anson elders in Albuquerque to plan strategy for the next few years. I also know that some of the Anson elders traveled to Thailand where they were supporting the Kelly Davidson family; admittedly, they visited us more often, but then we were only 750 miles away.
We were fully supported in the Navajo work by the Anson church. That was such a blessing. Some of the missionaries on the Navajo reservation would need to take off as much as two months every year to travel back to Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to visit the numerous congregations that supported them and raise new support when a congregation discontinued its small monthly amount. By way of contrast, the Anson church gave us annual raises without our ever having to ask.
The Anson church looked out for us in other ways, as well. They saw the need for having a vehicle suited to the rugged terrain on the Navajo Reservation and provided us with the use of one. When on one VBS trip some of them noted that our clothes dryer was about to wear out, the Christians in Anson took up a collection to buy us a new one and brought it out to us. When our third child was born, the Navajos did not have a baby shower for us (it wasn't their custom), but the church in Anson did. When my father passed away, one of the families there gave us $100 to help pay for gasoline expense to the funeral.
The Rolla church was our sponsoring congregation, not fully supporting us, but even here we did not have to worry about finances. They raised the support they lacked from smaller congregations around them. We sent our newsletter to them and they sent it on to the supporting churches. If a congregation dropped its support, they sent out one or two of their deacons to surrounding churches to raise more support. And in the meantime, they made up any lost support so that we never had a reduced check. This gave a freedom from financial concerns that allowed us to focus on our work.
The support we received from these churches was not only financial, but emotional as well. It was such a joy while on the Navajo Reservation to receive letters from a sister in Anson who took it as one of her ministries to write us. It gave us a spiritual boost to read that we and the Davidsons were prayed for every week. The Southside church, supporting many more than two missionaries, made it a point to pray for at least one of the missionary families every week and rotate through the list of missionaries supported. And every month I receive a letter of encouragement from the Rainbow of Love class at Southside, as do all the missionaries they support.
Perhaps the greatest emotional support that I received on the Navajo Reservation was the phone calls from Tommy South, the preacher at Anson, almost every week for the first year or two I was there. Often we planned some future event, such as the upcoming VBS, but just as often I used the occasion to "cry on his shoulder," figuratively speaking, as I experienced culture shock and various stresses and disappointments in the work. The phone calls trailed off in frequency the longer we were there, but they were very helpful at the beginning in a strange place. Admittedly, that was an expense on the part of the church, but from my viewpoint, it was worth it. Something similar can be achieved today at a much reduced cost through the use of e-mail on the internet.
We went straight to the Navajo Reservation without spending time with our supporting church because the family who was planning to leave wanted to leave as soon as possible. Even so, we had a week's overlap with them on the field, and we did the same for the family that followed us. Since we didn't really know the Christians at Anson, we tried to visit the Anson church three times a year: at ACU Lectureship time, in the summer during the ACU Bible Teacher's Workshop, and at the Christmas season when we went through Anson on our way to visit my parents. The Anson church did have the Davidson family work with the congregation for a couple of years before sending them to Thailand. (It is noteworthy that this church had emergency money set aside to bring them back immediately if such a need should arise.) We also spent a week in Anson at a time in the work when we were feeling discouraged about the way the work was going. The elders told us to come visit the church for a week to recharge our batteries, so to speak.
I have seen the work at Southside from two sides, both being supported by that church and serving on its mission committee for five years. One of the things which the mission committee and elders did which is worthy of imitation is to have a Wednesday class on mission work. In all, we read approximately 100 pages on various aspects of missions and met in a discussion class to discuss what we had read in the past week and how it applied to mission work. All too often, the missionary has been to school and studied missions principles while the supporting church knows nothing of how mission work is different from local work. This can lead to conflicts between the missionary and the supporting church which a little reading can help resolve.
While I was at Southside, the missions committee reviewed its current work and formulated principles for supporting future works. We invited a missionary-in-residence at ACU to meet with us and help us to understand about mission work in a field in which we were interested. Southside often follows a policy in domestic missions of encouraging the church in the mission field gradually to take on the support of the evangelist working there. The most successful recent example of this is in Horseheads, New York. Not only did that congregation completely take over Mark Dailey's support from Southside, but they began to look for works to support themselves.
Each year in February, around ACU Lectureship time, the Southside church has a missionary banquet to which it invites all its current and former domestic, and sometimes its foreign, missionaries for the congregation to meet. On Saturday the missions committee, the elders, and other Christians interested in missions meet with the missionaries to hear reports of what is going on in their mission fields. This also gives time to meet privately with any missionaries who have special concerns. On Sunday the missionaries teach the Bible classes, there is a guest speaker on missions, and there is a noon banquet honoring the missionaries to which the whole congregation is invited. Then the missionaries are encouraged to take a break at the ACU Lectureship in order to be renewed before returning to the mission field. I have been on both sides of this Missions Emphasis Sunday, both as a missions committee member and a missionary, and it is a practice which I can heartily recommend to others.
I have been greatly blessed by these churches in their support of my family in domestic missions, Native American missions, and now as a missionary-in-residence. I have treasured my relationship with them and, while supported by them, have worked on that relationship both by personal contact and steady monthly reports. I believe that other churches can profit from the examples that these churches have set.
--Bruce Terry, Missionary-in-Residence, Abilene Christian University, Box 29426, ACU Station, Abilene, Texas 79699
This article orginally was published as:
Terry, Bruce. 1995. Have missionary, will support. Gospel
Advocate 137 (Dec.): 28-29.
Terry, Bruce. 1995. Have missionary, will support. Gospel Advocate 137 (Dec.): 28-29.