I went to the United Christian Church of Dubai (UCCD) in 2005. I’ll never forget the support and love of my sending church (Capitol Hill Baptist Church)—praying and even helping me box up my books for shipment, hand-writing messages on cardboard boxes like “May the word of the Lord speed ahead and be honored.” I have benefitted from the long-term, loving commitment of a sending church which equipped and prayed and backed us from afar.
At the same time, I am also now a sender, charged to equip new leaders who will entrust the gospel to others (2 Tim 2:2). Through our pastoral internship we have trained and sent people who are now serving churches in Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Somalia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Japan, the UAE, and beyond.
Like all gospel ministry, we have aimed to follow the apostle Paul, whose mission was to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5). When he wrote Romans, Paul’s plan was eventually to stop in Rome en route to Spain: “I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while” (Rom. 15:24).
Spain was hardly a tourist destination at this point. No plans for windsurfing at Costa del Sol on the Riviera. Paul’s purpose was to preach where Christ had not yet been named.
But to get there, he needed Rome—a staging area, a platform to launch him out to the west. Paul needed prayer, finances, people, and logistics. This was what the church at Rome could provide.
Our churches today are called to do likewise.
Here are three practical ways our congregations can be staging areas for gospel advancement into the unreached places of the world.
1. Support financially
That’s what Paul had in mind for Rome: “to be helped on my journey there by you…” (Rom. 15:24). The idea of being helped or sent forth suggested financial support, a commonly used term among the early Christian missionaries to send them on their way well-supplied.
You could say that Romans is the greatest missionary support letter in the history of the world.1 Paul wrote it to introduce the church to his gospel, and then to solicit their support in his missionary enterprise to the west.
All of us are taking a hit financially during the global pandemic. Dubai is especially hard-hit as the price of oil has dropped precipitously, affecting our entire region.
One pastor whose church has been supportive over the years heard about our financial difficulties and emailed me: “We hear that UCCD might be having some financial difficulties given the economy in Dubai. Is that true? We’d like to help if we can, but we just want to make sure the rumor we heard is accurate.” It was accurate, and they helped us generously, and as a result we met our obligations for the year and continued with our work.
Just consider the selflessness that motivated that email: “We’d like to help if we can.”
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, is no time to shave foreign missions support. Of course, for some of us there may be no alternative. However, Jamie Dunlop has argued for prioritizing long-term missions relationships in these days of shrinking budgets: “You don’t want to give up 15 years of trust because of short-term budget tightness.”2
Crises clarify our commitments. Budgets show our ministry priorities. Keep up your financial support of strategic missions work.
2. Send your best
In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit directed the church at Antioch to “set apart” Barnabas and Paul for missions outreach. Can you imagine losing two leaders of that caliber? What kind of hole would that leave in your ministry? Yet this church was willing to send out productive, powerful leaders to push the boundaries of the gospel farther than they had ever been pushed before. The church at Antioch paid the price to make it happen.
I can testify how difficult it is to send solid servants. In 2010, UCCD sent more than 100 kingdom-minded members, including staff and an elder, to start a new work on the north side of town (Redeemer Church of Dubai). There was an exodus of friendship, energy, ministry, and finances. They had embarked on an exciting mission for God; we were left holding the bag, with empty seats, a stripped-down music team, and muted singing. It was costly and painful.
But over time, as we slowly grew back, we realized that a multiplication of ministry had occurred. The new church was bearing witness on the other side of town and reaching a different demographic. And we grew spiritually as a result—with stronger unity and deepened faith as we saw the Lord provide for us through new leadership. Our congregational singing even grew stronger because we had to compensate for diminished musical accompaniment.
Four years later, we had another painful parting with a beloved fellow-elder. Anand Samuel had grown spiritually among us and was trained in our first class of interns. In time, his ministry budded with fruitful discipling alongside pronounced preaching and teaching gifts. We relied on him a lot. Then we were presented with an opportunity to establish a new church in an emirate to the north with no healthy evangelical presence. So we planted another church, led by this brother. Our ministry was stretched, and yet our people were energized by gospel advancement into the next emirate.
In both cases it was a win-win. We had exported many of our most enterprising, faithful members, but somehow we were the ones who were blessed.
Our goal must never be numerical growth, but gospel growth. As Colin Marshall said, “We must be willing to lose people from our own congregation if that is better for the growth of the gospel. . . Some of your best people—in whom you have invested countless hours—will leave you. They will go to the mission field.”3
This is a sacred responsibility of local churches—whether Antioch then or your church now. We must be prepared to send out our best.
3. Hold the rope
When William Carey founded the Baptist Missionary Society and left the English midlands for India in 1793, he was consciously depending on those who sent him.
Carey lacked adequate financial support. He lacked the required immigration permit. He was plunging into an abyss of heathen hostility, with none of the training or support that we have come to rely on in modern missions. He would lose wives and children. By all accounts, the obstacles were immense. Six years later, he hadn’t seen a single Indian convert. What kept him going?
Back in England, a small band of Baptist pastors had committed to support Carey from afar. Before he left, Carey had enlisted their commitment. As one of them (John Ryland) recalled:
Our undertaking to India really appeared to me, on its commencement, to be somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored, [and] we had no one to guide us; and while we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.’ But before he went down . . . he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us, at the mouth of the pit, to this effect—that ‘while we lived, we should never let go of the rope.’4
It’s all too easy to lose interest in supported missionaries who haven’t been around for a while. After all, there’s so much closer to home, especially in times of financial distress, that demands our attention and prioritization.
How shall we hold the rope for our missionaries?
A. Visit supported workers.
Overseas work can be discouraging. Many times my wife and I have been refreshed by visits from supporting-church elders passing through the region. They cared for us. They asked intentional questions about our marriage, our family, and our spiritual well-being. They prayed for us, and reminded us why we are here. Even now, tears of gratitude well up in my eyes. We were fortified by their encouragement, and we knew the saints back home were praying for them and for us.
B. Extend hospitality to missionaries.
Housing missionaries not only helps them—it helps you. Good things happen when missionaries travel back home. Before seminary, I was deeply influenced by one brother on furlough who had served in Uzbekistan for 10 years. He communicated a compelling vision for missions and planted seeds in my life that would spring up years later. As I learned about the challenges and opportunities of his ministry, I was burdened to pray specifically and regularly for a Muslim family who lived across the street from them. Years later, I learned that they had been converted.
After I joined CHBC’s staff in 2003, I first met Mack Stiles as a result of our church’s hospitality. I recall it was during the dead of winter. Clouds had prevailed for weeks. Most of us were looking pale and pasty, but Mack somehow was marvelously tanned and healthy. Only later did I realize—in Dubai the sun shines all the time. Mack had spearheaded student ministry outreach in the UAE, and I was gripped as he spoke of the gospel opportunities there. He cast a moving vision for the strategic priority of gospel work on the Arabian Peninsula. It was then that I began to be interested in the UAE. All because of a home church’s hospitality. Eventually, Mack chaired the pastor search committee that brought me to Dubai.
Fifteen years later, I’m on the receiving end of such generosity. My family and I have benefitted from countless expressions of loving care—housing, cars, meals, friendship. This summer, we are staying several weeks with an elder of Park Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; yet another congregation that has cared and prayed for us.
We hope for opportunities to encourage them, as well.
C. Keep a missions focus.
Andy Johnson has written capably about assessing, equipping, and supporting solid missions work and building a culture of missions-mindedness. Here are four more ways to build up goers and inspire senders.
- Preach expositionally. Devoting your church to a global missions week is great, and cherry-picking passages designed to showcase the missionary mandate is fine, but neither of these will inflame a heart for missions the way a long-term commitment to consecutive expositional preaching can. My own interest in missions began to grow as I noticed a global impulse woven through the whole book of Isaiah (just read chs. 11, 19, 42, 49, 54, 56, 66) and regularly sat under preaching that emphasized the glory of God and the cosmic purposes of the gospel.
- Distribute good resources. Urge your people to broaden their horizons through solid biography and other reading. I remember my pastors commending such classics as: Tom Wells, A Vision for Missions; Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore; Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope; and John Paton, The Autobiography of a Pioneer Missionary.
- Pray for supported workers. Ever since we were members of Clifton Baptist Church during seminary in Louisville, they have sacrificially prayed and supported us. Every year, they contact us for updated prayer requests. At their annual women’s retreat, they devote a portion of time to their supported overseas workers, even sending my wife hand-written notes encouraging us with their prayers.
- Pray for the nations. I came to faith in a church where the weekly pastoral prayer was, among other things, a tour de force of worldwide gospel concern. My priorities and interests were shaped by the things we prayed for. Also emphasized was the weekly corporate prayer meeting, where the entire congregation prayed to “the Lord of the harvest.” It was like Antioch, where the first missionary journey had begun. During corporate prayer and worship, the Lord had designated Barnabas and Paul for the work (Acts 13:2–3). Upon completion of the journey, those two reported back to the church in a similar congregational meeting where “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).
Notice God’s sovereign control in it all. Who did all the work, anyway? The Holy Spirit had set them apart, guided their steps, empowered their preaching, and opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Missions is ultimately by God and for God. It’s by God because he alone empowers it—sending out his people, empowering their message, and opening hearts to respond to it. Missions is for God because God alone receives the glory. No one else. It is our privilege to be along for the ride.
Whether we send or go, we are weak and dependent on the Lord. As William Carey experienced, “When I left England, my hope of India’s conversion was very strong; but amongst so many obstacles, it would die, unless upheld by God.”5
Which is why churches back home must hold the rope. Not just during a season of heightened missions interest, but for the long haul.
3. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, Trellis & the Vine: The Ministry Mindshift that Changes Everything, p. 83.
4. Quoted in John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission, p. 21.
5. Quoted in Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, p. 140.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on 9Marks June 30, 2020. Used with permission.