The thing that used to scare me most about working overseas was the thought of answering to supporters back home.
I had heard the horror stories.
We had friends scraping the bottom of their budget to make ends meet each month.
We knew of overseas servants losing essential funding without a warning or an opportunity to raise more support.
We had heard about expats forced to come home when their sending fellowships weren’t pleased with their success.
Will this be my story? I thought. Will I have to continually defend myself and the work the Father has asked me to do? I don’t have the energy for that!
So at the first sign of misunderstanding between our supporters and us, I balked.
I’m telling you girls. This was not my most shining moment as a Superstar Christian.
I told my husband we didn’t need our sending fellowship or its money. I told him that the Father would provide somehow because it was obvious to me what He had asked us to do. Even if other people didn’t get it.
We got this, team, I said.
We’ll show them, I said.
We don’t need no inexperienced, uncultured committee to tell us how to do ministry.
That’s what I told my husband on Conflict Day 1. In a ghetto accent, mind you.
I’m confessing this to you, in this little corner of the Internet, because I think we’ve all felt threatened by the volatile relationship between our senders and us.
Sometimes it feels impractical that we answer to boards and overseers that have no idea what our daily lives look like.
They don’t understand our cultures like we do.
They don’t understand our ministry like we do.
They don’t understand our limitations like we do.
But it seems they want success stories. It seems they are only interested in a good return on their investment (i.e. our paychecks).
So we are tempted to embellish our reports. This little tightrope walk of clinging to our financial support is tricky business, you know.
Coffee outings with girlfriends become ‘ministry debriefings.’
Wet market runs are reported as ‘building relationships with nationals.’
Family Sabbaths are labeled ‘personal prayer and study time.’
We over-spiritualize and exaggerate the reality of the mundane in this life abroad. And while I totally understand this temptation, I believe it’s only driving a greater wedge between those who send and those who are sent.
Let me tell you the rest of my story.
My husband and I are supported by one single Body of Faith. Just one. And as incredible as that sounds, there was a time when it honestly freaked me out.
It felt like we were putting all of our livelihood into one shaky relationship with a group of people who may or may not be able to go the long haul with us.
In a training session back in the U.S.—before we ever reached the field—our organization facilitated a workshop between our senders and us.
During this workshop we were asked to respond to a case study in which a teammate was caught viewing pornography. In the hypothetical situation, there was a group of elders coming to visit the field team within weeks. What would we do? How would we handle this situation?
It was an easy answer. We would protect our teammate. We would cover for him, give him time and space to heal, and do our best to make sure no one found out about this cardinal sin.
Our trainers asked us a pointed question, which caught me off-guard. In this situation, you had shepherds coming to visit your team. Why in the world would you not consider sharing this news with them?
Before I knew it, I was looking into the eyes of a shepherd from our sending fellowship and telling him exactly why this thought never crossed my mind. I spoke an honest truth.
I had never felt like our senders truly wanted to shepherd our hearts. I’d always assumed they cared more about the work they were sending us to do than our personal spiritual health.
There was a look of immediate understanding and appreciation on the face of my overseer. It was as if, for the first time, someone had articulated the disconnect between this shepherd and his flock. And I was the sheep crying out for care.
From that day on, I have felt nothing but overwhelming support from our senders. I have felt understood, loved, and trusted.
We truly have a unique relationship with our sending body, and I hope I can share more with you in the comments below.
But what I want to be sure to say here is this: Our senders are people, just like us.
They appreciate our humanity, too. And most of the time, they are thankful that they weren’t the ones called to do this work we’re doing abroad.
They love us, admire us, and wish to support us.
They usually just don’t know HOW.
And I think it’s time we told them.
I think it’s time we disassembled our defensive fronts of perfection. I think it’s time we opened up about our struggles. I think it’s time we let our senders know that we, too, are working out our Faith.
It’s time we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. It’s time we gave ourselves permission to mess up. It’s time we quit trying to have all the answers.
Ladies, it’s time we give up taking care of ourselves and we JUST LET SOMEONE SHEPHERD US.
We need to welcome the idea of being sent out. We should value the age and wisdom of our senders. We must appreciate those who have given of themselves so that we can GO.
My prayer today is that those of you who dread compiling newsletters and making reports will be lifted from this burden. My prayer is that those of you who feel isolated and unknown by your senders will be open and honest about your needs from these networks.
Being sent out is not just about our financial needs. It’s not just about the prayer for the people we serve.
It’s about all of us. Our emotional well-being. Our freedom to be transparent. Our desperate need to be understood.
Trust and grace are essential elements in the partnership between those who support and those who are supported.
May some learn to be better senders, as we learn how to be better at being sent.
What hurts have you experienced as you’ve navigated the relationship with your supporters? How have you found healing in this process? What wisdom do you have about how we can be more transparent with our senders?