When we decided to plant Mercy Hill, the door closed for moving home. I am from North Florida and sometimes am still amazed that I ever left. In high school, I wasn’t that interested in college until I had the chance to play football. Then even though I moved away, I was quick to tell people that I would certainly move back. This is a common story when most of your family is in a certain place, and you grew up there without ever moving. But life happens and God had other plans. After getting married, Anna and I went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, then started working at the Summit Church in RDU, and were finally called to plant Mercy Hill here in the Triad. The decision to plant wasn’t just a decision to leave RDU, it was a decision not to arrive back home.
While that can still be a tough pill for me to swallow, it was very hard for the first few years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no idea what God could do in the future, but Anna and I feel totally called to be right where we are! 10 years into pastoring Mercy Hill I feel even more excitement and calling around the work here than I did at first. God is moving in incredible ways, and I feel blessed and humbled to be along for the ride. But I can still miss home like anyone else, and it can be poignant around the holidays. I would love to be in a place to participate in all the family traditions. I would love to see more ball games and academic team matches that my nephews participate in. I would love to help out more around my parents’ horse farm. In fact, that feeling was so strong that for the first few years in Greensboro I would often have tears in my eyes when we would leave after spending time at home.
As I was reflecting on all this a few weeks ago, the thought hit me, “How strong are these emotions for our missionaries?” If it is hard for me to live a few hours away from my family, how hard is it to live a few travel days away from family? I know our sent ones count it a joy to be able to sacrifice for the sake of kingdom advancement. I know I do as well. In fact, not living at home is probably the greatest thing I have been able to put on the table for the sake of the call. But counting loss as joy isn’t the same as not feeling the loss. All sacrifice involves loss. Sacrifice is giving up something you love in order to gain something you love even more. But gaining what you love even more doesn’t mean losing what you loved to begin with happens without emotion. For many of our sent ones, (39 currently living on the field overseas), love for the mission doesn’t mean that being gone for the holidays is easy. That is why I am writing this blog. Let’s support our sent-out ones well this week. What if each family asked themselves: what can we do between now and the new year that would encourage our sent ones who may feel a little homesick over the next couple of weeks? In talking with some of our missionaries, here are ways we can enter into this season with them:
1. Pray for them and let them know it. Very few things top the phrase “we are praying for you” in terms of encouragement. Letting our sent ones know that we are asking God to use them, keep them, and encourage them during this time of year is impactful.
2. Caring for their families. While we cannot physically give our sent ones a hug during the holidays, we can hug their families! Caring well for the ones who are left behind is a great encouragement to those on the field. Maybe you can bake them some goodies, offer to come and pray with them in person, or simply add them to your text list for saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
3. Send an encouraging text. Sometimes getting phone calls scheduled this time of year is hard, but we can all flood the zone with texts. Sending our sent ones scripture, pictures from Tanger, and a personal heartfelt message is a great way to lift spirits.
4. Send cards and care packages. As close as we are to Christmas and New Year’s, this one is probably going to need to go into the hopper for next year. Getting a taste from home and a thoughtful gift really communicates to our missionaries, “We love you and see you.”
Mercy Hill, we want to be a congregation that sends well. Sending well isn’t just seeing people go, it’s caring for them while they are gone. Our sent ones sacrifice so much, and they do it with joy. Let’s wrestle with how we can be a bright spot for some of them during this season. If you have any questions or need any contact for our sent ones, please email Bryan Miller.
-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)