By Blake Tommey
Summer 2018 was not starting off well for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Alicia and Jeff Lee. The Lees, who serve among marginalized ethnic groups in Skopje, Macedonia, planned to return to the United States for partnership development. The timeline for that was suddenly moved up as Alicia’s grandmother entered hospice care. To make matters worse, Alicia sustained a wrist injury and would have to undergo surgery while home in Texas. Meanwhile, Jeff and their son, Ethan, remained in Macedonia so that Ethan could finish school and Jeff could host a mission team from San Antonio’s Woodland Baptist Church—one of the Lees’ Encourager Churches.
Alicia arrived in Texas just in time for her grandmother’s passing on May 12 and surgery on May 31. Severely limited by her healing wrist, Alicia quaked at the task of settling her grandmother’s affairs, which included removing heavy furniture from her house. That’s when she received a call from the Woodland team, who had just returned home. Team members proceeded to treat Alicia to lunch, to a pedicure, to a homemade family dinner and more. Better yet, the team showed up at her grandmother’s house just as Alicia’s family was unloading the heaviest items.
“That was more than we could have ever expected from an Encourager Church,” Alicia said. “But each of these acts of love and encouragement were significant blessings to me personally and to our family.”
That is exactly what an Encourager Church relationship looks like, said Linda Jones, who serves as missions coordinator for CBF of North Carolina. In addition to her role with CBF of North Carolina, Jones joined the CBF Global Missions team in 2016 to broaden diversity within the Fellowship and deepen organizational relationships, including between local churches and CBF field personnel. “CBF’s Encourager Church model has always helped provide financial and prayer support for field personnel,” she explained. But more than anything, “it’s a joyful relationship.”
In February 2019, CBF hired Ellen Sechrest as the manager of global missions engagement, where she oversees the work of Encourager Churches and works alongside Jones to grow the number of relationships and lead churches through the process.
“Encourager Churches deepen the relationship between the local church and CBF field personnel,” Sechrest said. “There is such a richness in these relationships. Field personnel become like your beloved aunt and uncle—someone who is family, someone you keep up with, someone whose kids you know, someone you share life with. Not to mention the fact that an Encourager Church’s financial support for a field personnel’s ministry budget is as important as the CBF Offering for Global Missions is for their presence on the field. Personnel feel deeply connected to these churches and know they can count on them.”
Congregations that want to connect more deeply with CBF field personnel need only visit http://www.cbf.net/encourager-church or simply reach out to Sechrest to help find field personnel with whom they feel most compatible and connected. To what style of mission work is your church drawn? Where can your church envision visiting each year for short-term support? Can you deepen an existing connection with a couple or individual? What level of financial commitment can you make to this field personnel unit? From there, Jones explained, congregations and field personnel are free to explore and define specific needs, desires and ideas for how their relationship can be mutually life-giving.
“That’s the flip side of the Encourager Church relationship,” Jones said. Churches receive mutual support and resources from their field personnel, including regular correspondence via Skype and newsletter, a mission context in which to serve and an expert to consult for their own local engagement. “In fact, field personnel have tremendous knowledge to offer the church about how to reach people in their own community,” Jones added, “including how the church can discover its community anew and connect with its leaders; how they can look for what’s working in the neighborhood; what the needs of that neighborhood are; with whom they might partner.
“Field personnel have all this knowledge and they want to share it with the local church,” Jones said. “The church will learn from them and they will learn from the church. They will bring depth to the church’s mission efforts. They will help the church reach its neighborhood. They will enrich the personal lives of the members. And field personnel will say the same about the church—that the prayer support, the personal relationship with them, the care and concern make all the difference on the field.”
Once a congregation and field personnel unit have articulated specific goals for their relationship, they proceed by creating and signing a covenant of support. That covenant guides the relationship as they strengthen, care for and learn from each other over a three-year renewable term. Woodland Baptist Church’s relationship with the Lees is only one expression of what the Encourager Church relationship can look like, Jones noted. So both parties should feel free to be creative and communicate their needs openly. Ultimately, whatever combats isolation and instills a sense of connectedness between field personnel and congregations is what Encourager Churches are all about.
Become an Encourager Church and share the love of Christ around the world in partnership with CBF field personnel. For more information visit www.cbf.net/encourager-church or contact Ellen Sechrest at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770.220.1611.