“I will venture to go down, but you must hold the rope.” –William Carey
William Carey, considered to be the “father of modern missions,” said this centuries ago. When he was about to embark for India, Carey made a plea to the Body of Christ back in his native England. He gathered his faithful supporters and called upon them to serve as his security and support in the mission. Like a climber on a dangerous journey, Carey understood the necessity of having a metaphorical “rope” attached to him and someone else on the other end to see him through the fulfilment of his mission.
The same is true of every missionary in the world today—each missionary need dozens of “senders” to offer the behind-the-scenes help and support to continue in their work as it stretches over the years.
As a young, 24-year old first leaving for the foreign mission field, I vividly remember how my church, friends and family were excited to “send” me. I was given financial gifts of support from unexpected sources. I received numerous cards full of inspiring Bible verses. I was prayed for specifically by many individuals and groups. Launching onto the field, I felt confident of my call because I knew my “rope” was held securely by many supportive family and friends.
Three years into my missionary service, however, things were drastically different. Many friends and family no longer took time to email as often they did in my first months on the field. Discouraging circumstances were taking place in my sending church. I began to lose financial support due to economic crisis in my home country. Meanwhile, on the field, I was struggling through an intense season of depression, discouraged by my own challenges in ministry. The encouragement and support that seemed to be so abundant at the start of my mission suddenly seemed non-existent. Was anyone holding the rope back in my home country? Did anyone even care about this mission anymore? While some of these thoughts were no doubt discouragements from the enemy, there was also some truth to those statements. It became apparent that some of the “senders” I had back at home were not truly in it “for the long haul.”
Every new venture is exciting at the start. Just think of how newlyweds feel after their marriage ceremony, or university graduates at the start of their career—the “newness” is energizing and inspiring. The difficulty comes, however, as the years (and challenges) collect. These things “just aren’t the same as they once were”, we think. The same is true in missions. Unfortunately, many a missionary has experienced it from both sides—as a “goer” and as a “sender.”
As a “goer,” I got discouraged while I was on the field, especially when I seemed to have such little support and encouragement from home to “keep going.” Very few people encouraged me to persevere through the difficulty. Some even suggested that perhaps my season on the mission field was done.
Years later, now serving as a “sender,” believe it or not, I still need to keep learning this vital lesson to persevere in commitment to the missions cause. When I returned from the mission field and began a new career in my home country, I started supporting several other missionaries. For two years, I was very much invested in supporting, encouraging and praying for these missionaries. I diligently read their newsletters and was very intentional to email them regularly so that they would feel supported by me (perhaps in light of the fact that I felt like I didn’t have that same kind of support in the last two years of my own foreign missions service).
Gradually, however, I did let my role as a “sender” fall by the wayside. Suddenly, I was receiving newsletters from new missionaries, and seeing presentations for up-and-coming missions projects I could get involved in. My time and money were already invested in a small group of missionaries, yet, their work didn’t seem as new and “exciting” as others. Eventually, as circumstances changed in my life, so did my commitment to the missionaries I was helping to send. I’m not proud of the fact that in many ways, I “let go of the rope” some of the time.
The Lord has challenged me about this over the years. I hope that not only will I continue to learn from my mistakes and allow God to redeem them, but that we will all learn to take hold of the ropes God gives us. It is a vital ministry. We may not be geographically on the field, but we help to secure those who are on the field.
Are you a “sender” who has pulled back from supporting, writing to or praying for a long-term missionary simply because the excitement has worn off? Are you a “goer” who is tempted to cut your service short, or only commit to a mission short-term because other opportunities seem more “exciting”? Whether we are a “goer” or “sender” in this season, we must choose to persevere and commit to seeing the work through the long haul. This is certainly not easy—for both the “goer” and the “sender,” this will inevitably involve “dry seasons” where you simply persevere not because it feels like an adventure, but because you know it is what God has asked of you.
“Let us not become weary in doing good,” we are encouraged in Galatians 6:9 (NIV), “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” That word is for YOU, “goer. That word is for YOU, “sender.” The “goer” and the “sender” both need each other—and need to know that the other person is committed for the long-term. The harvest comes when we are willing to hold the rope until the end.
I encourage you, don’t leave the other person hanging! They need you. God has called you to serve one another in order to see the unreached reached with the Gospel.
*Photo courtesy of Commnet Media