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When the Gates Close and the Church Is Called to Care

From the series When the China Dream Comes to a Halt


The gates in China closed for one of our global families.[1] After more than seven years of language study, culture study, and fruitful labor, the parents were at a coffee shop when a group of eight uniformed police surrounded their table and brought them in for questioning. After a full day of interrogation, they were charged as “dangerous” and asked to leave a people they had come to love. In sorrow and confusion, their teenage children asked, “Why are they making us leave our home?”

The hurt and disappointment had intensified during those last few weeks in China because their sponsoring organization did not give them clear and helpful communication during the crisis. Their country rejected them and their organization unintentionally abandoned them. They wondered, “Where is the support and love?” Would they find the care they needed when they entered the gates of the church? We hoped so.

No communication to God has been blocked or delayed, not even for a second. During a church event, hundreds of people gathered in prayer huddles to pray for the global family as they waited for their verdict. Even before we knew if and when the family was returning, we got busy securing housing for them, locating a vehicle, and working with their Barnabas Support Team[2] who sprang into action to provide lots of practical help. When the family returned, the care team left a trail of gift cards at each place they went, and when the family settled in for a longer stay, there were groceries waiting. Several others in the church gave significant care to help in the transition.

My wife and I serve our church as a husband/wife team to provide care for our global workers. When the family arrived, we cleared our schedule for several days. Our main role in those days? Listen well in love. We joined two organizational representatives who came to our church to do a member care debrief, followed a few weeks later by a security debrief.

We listened for ways to encourage them and ways to help them through frustrations, to share their anger and disappointment without emotionally scratching others who really do care, even if they could not prevent one of their life’s dreams from shattering. We thank God for the help he gave to our global family to communicate well and for the kind and professional care given from their sending organization.

We would encourage churches to receive these rejected workers with gentleness, patience, and love. Don’t be shocked by what is happening. There are many countries where workers are only able to serve for a season and then need to move on. As they transition they need people to take time to listen, support them, and wisely and lovingly speak truth into the situation—that God is still at work—and eventually help them dream new dreams. For small churches or those with no global pastor, encouragement can come from a variety of church members who are committed to helping others in a difficult transition.

The gates to China may have closed for this global family, but the gates of the church remain open. More importantly, our gateway to God has been permanently established through Jesus Christ. Our Father is not always expedient (in our eyes), and the big picture belongs to him. He will not give His glory to another. Even as Joseph was thrown into a pit by his own brothers and tossed into a jail for a crime he did not commit, the God of Joseph had a plan to save his people from starvation and to glorify his great name among the nations. God’s story in China is not yet fully written. May we in the church continue to give care to those hurting and to never lose hope.

The Church at Work to Give Care

  • Pray!
  • Get ready for practical expressions of support.
  • Remember gift cards, housing, car, groceries.
  • Help them rest.
  • Be a friend.
  • Help financially.
  • Assist with reconciliation in strained relationships.
  • Help with finding a counselor for adults and children.
  • Rejoice in the good things that happened.
  • Don’t push them to attend church and give reports right away.
  • Don’t rush them to meet with supporters.
  • Speak words of grace.
  • Debrief—hear their story. Walk through the timeline.
  • Pray!
  • Encourage structure – some normal routines.
  • Connect with others who have been through this.
  • Allow for lament.
  • Be patient.
  • Think of this as a trauma.
  • Care for kids who may be acting out, confused.
  • Think of additional resources – counseling, retreat, etc.
  • Encourage them to sit at the feet of Jesus.
  • Consider a sabbatical, extended time to heal and plan.
  • Help when they begin to dream new dreams.
  • Facilitate times with other families for games and social time.
  • Pray!

    Notes

    1. ^ In this article the terms "global families," "global workers," and other similar terms are used to refer to those involved in overseas, cross-cultural ministry. 
    2. ^ A Barnabas support team at our church is a group of 5-10 people selected by the global partner who agree to meet monthly for prayer and provide additional personalized care while they are on the field and back on home assignment. This team is an important link between the global partner and the rest of the church body. We require each global partner to put together one of these groups.

Todd R.

Todd R. is the global outreach pastor of a church in the Midwest Todd served in East Africa for eight years, worked with supporting overseas workers after that, and has been in his role as a pastor for seven years. He and his wife provide member care for over 100 families and... View Full Bio


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