by David King
Over the past 14 years I’ve had the privilege of being involved with several short-term missions and ministry trips, including trips to Vietnam, Haiti, Jamaica (five times), and Camden, New Jersey. These trips have involved a variety of ministries, such as teaching at a Bible college, leading Vacation Bible School, serving at eye clinics, ministering at public schools, caring for orphans, distributing literature, planning for strategic partnership, and serving in construction. But one recent trip involved a different kind of ministry: the ministry of presence.
This past year my church, CrossPoint Fellowship Church in Jasper, Indiana, had the privilege of being the sending church for Jonathan and Michelle McPeters and their children, Krystal, Cora, and Addie. The McPeters family has been called by God to plant a church in Wales; therefore, CrossPoint is now in the process of planting a church in Wales.
It is well known that many missionaries struggle with culture shock during their first term of ministry. For some, this initial culture shock is so intense that they return home early from the field, never to return. Jonathan and Michelle’s mission board, Biblical Ministries Worldwide, recognizes this real struggle and, therefore, sends the pastor of the sending church to visit and encourage the missionary during his or her first year or two.
So what does a missions trip to encourage missionaries look like? After I preached on Sunday, my wife, Leesa, and I boarded a plane headed for Edinburgh, Scotland, with a 20-hour layover in Paris. (Rough, I know!) After Paris, we landed in Edinburgh, connected with the McPeters family, and started our time together with a meal at McDonald’s and a visit to the Edinburgh castle. We then headed to the family’s home for the past year in Kilmarnock, Scotland.
In Kilmarnock we attended two celebrations in the homes of the McPeterses’ church family, I preached at their church, and we visited two more castles and spent time hanging out. After Kilmarnock, Leesa and I helped load much of the family’s belongings in preparation for their move to Wrexham, Wales. In Wrexham we visited the town center, the local university, and surrounding communities. We took time to pray and plan the next steps to plant a church in Wrexham. Then Leesa and I took a train to London, where we would fly out of in two days.
I’ll be transparent. At times the trip felt more like a vacation with really good friends than it did a grueling missions trip. I’m used to being on missions trips where I’m working hard, staying in third-world conditions, and trying to muster the strength for the next day’s ministry. But this trip was refreshing and fun as Leesa and I spent time with our friends and partners in ministry.
About three days before we had to say good-bye to our friends, we had our “aha moment.” While discussing with the McPeterses everyday things like friends, school, and driving, we learned that all the little cultural differences can eventually stack up and become overwhelming.
During our time with the McPeters family, Leesa and I encouraged them with the presence of familiar faces from their home church and home culture. We understood firsthand some of the hardships and struggles of cross-cultural ministry. And we were able to remind each other of the reason they left home: the people of Wales desperately need Jesus! We also rekindled and strengthened our bond with one another on a spiritual, emotional, and familial level. We reminded them by our presence that although they are out of our sight, they are not out of our minds.
Leesa and I still don’t experientially understand the weight and struggle of first-term missionaries, but we now know better how to encourage and pray for the McPeters family and other missionaries our church supports.
In many passages of Scripture, Paul talks about the refreshment of people who visited him and ministered with him. In 2 Timothy, while under Roman imprisonment, he tells Timothy to come to him quickly and bring Mark. Why? I believe it was for more than receiving his coat (2 Tim. 4:13); Paul desired to spend time with a familiar and friendly face. It’s a high calling to be used by God for the ministry of presence, which brings refreshment and encouragement.
David King is pastor of CrossPoint Fellowship Church, Jasper, Ind.