My eyes fluttered as a strange sound drew me out of a peaceful sleep. It took a moment for my mind to engage and for me to identify the sound as the Islamic call to prayer, echoing through the neighborhood as the sun prepared to rise. I lay there for a moment, detached from reality. Then it hit me with great force. I looked around the strange room, at the piles of suitcases along the wall. What had I done?
I had read and taught about men and women who went out as cross-cultural workers. I had visited friends and co-laborers living overseas. I never imagined that one day I would follow in their footsteps, packing up all I owned into a few suitcases and intentionally choosing to make a foreign country home.
I was no longer the sender but the sent.
Over the next three years, I learned to live in a large city near the Arabian Gulf, far from my entire support system, navigating culture and ministry in a place where very few people knew Jesus. During that time, I learned many things about God, life, ministry, and culture. I also learned firsthand how vital the love and support of my community back home was to my sustainability and success living overseas.
From a cross-cultural goer, to those of you back home, here are three practical ways you can care for and encourage those you know who live and work cross-culturally:
1. Make it Possible for Them to be There
In Romans 10, Paul asked a simple question: “How can they go unless they are sent?” There are men, women, and children ready to take the gospel to those who have not yet heard, but they need the means to do so. They need money to be able to live and serve. Faithfully supporting a cross-cultural worker through monthly giving is vital. Goers need people who are willing to partner with them long-term. This allows them to focus on learning culture/language and serving the people they are working with rather than using time and energy worrying and figuring out how they are going to pay for basic needs.
2. Provide Them a Safe Place to be Human
Our church culture has a tendency to idolize cross-cultural workers, to see them as spiritual heroes doing what normal believers could never do. We expect them to be without struggle, hurt, or disappointment. However, living cross-culturally brings many new challenges. Cross-cultural workers are spiritually vulnerable, often isolated from Christian community, and overworking to meet the spiritual needs of others. They are also learning to function in a culture very different from their own, where normal tasks like going to the market or making a meal take two to three times more energy and effort than before. Goers need loving friends who take the time to listen, ask good questions, provide opportunities to share openly about hard things, and offer genuine encouragement and support. Not just the men and women who go, but their children as well. Helping your kids to love and support their kids is a priceless gift.
3. Remind Them They are not Forgotten
Every once in a while, someone from back home would send me a card or small package of things that I couldn’t get where I lived. I even had a few friends come and visit me so they could see my world and understand my daily life. These small and big actions helped me feel seen and loved by my community back home. It reminded me that I was not forgotten – that many were praying for me and cheering me on even though I was thousands of miles away. These moments encouraged my heart and helped curb loneliness. Putting together a care package, writing letters, making cards and pictures, or even going to visit cross-cultural workers are great opportunities for families to serve together as faithful senders.
Think of one or two people you know from your church or community who are living and working cross-culturally and consider how you can be a part of sending them well. Send a text/email to ask how they are doing and if there is anything they need. Have your children draw pictures with written out verses or prayers to mail to them. Remind them they are valued and loved, not for what they do, but for who they are as children of God.