As a movement of churches on mission together, we believe that every follower of Jesus plays a unique role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Some of us may feel compelled to serve as missionaries, while others feel called to serve through sending and supporting. Both roles are vital to the work of the mission.
Our hope is that, whether we feel called to go or to send, we would be united in our aim to reach a lost and dying world for Christ.
Denver and Trish Ewing* are North Carolina Baptists who felt called to go overseas more than 20 years ago. For the past two decades, they have served with the International Mission Board among unreached people groups in Central Asia.
Before moving overseas, the Ewings were saved in, discipled and sent out by N.C. Baptist churches. As they would tell you, their longevity on the field is a testament to the continued prayers and support of N.C. Baptist brothers and sisters.
We recently had the opportunity to correspond with the Ewings to learn more about life and ministry on the field, the role believers play in supporting missionary work, and practical ways N.C. Baptists can partner together with overseas workers in our divinely appointed task. Here’s what they shared.
Tell us a little about how you felt called to the mission field.
At our small, local country church, one of the members went on short-term trips to Central America. He invited me (Denver) to go with him, and after joining him on that first trip the Lord began to stir in my heart. I came back and began to share stories with Trish. In 1992 I went again, and it was there that the Lord began to work on my heart and hers separately. We started to realize that the Lord wanted us in full-time ministry.
We decided that if God was calling us into ministry full-time, then we would need to go to seminary. As I was attending, the 2+2 program opened up and gave us an opportunity to go to Africa. There, the Lord confirmed in our hearts that this is what He wanted us to do. When we came back, I graduated and we transferred to Central Asia.
What are some things that people may not necessarily realize about life overseas? What are some things you didn’t realize before you moved overseas?
I’ll say two things: First, language learning and culture acquisition is hard, and it takes a lot of time and effort. We sometimes minimize that, thinking that we can go for a year or two and then we’ll have it down. That’s not the case.
Second, we need to remember that in most missionary contexts, we are asking people to follow Jesus when their parents and grandparents and everyone else in that culture has said, “this is wrong.” The cost of following Jesus is much higher in these contexts. We’re essentially saying that we have the truth, and this person’s family and culture has been incorrect. It really is a miracle of God when someone hears the gospel and receives it.
It’s easy to forget that this kind of ministry does not happen overnight. It requires persistent gospel proclamation, repeated prayer and faithfulness. It means that we trust God and say, “Lord, unless you show up, we’re all without hope.”
What role has your church played in nurturing your ministry overseas?
Initially, the churches were very supportive. Within two or three years of being on the field, however, the pastor of our home church changed, and we lost a lot of contact with the church as a whole. Our sending church from seminary also had a pastor change, and after the new pastor arrived we lost contact with them as well. Pastor changes make it more difficult to stay connected.
However, the reality for us has been that several families within these churches have stayed connected for more than 20 years. We are thankful that we still have these family connections (the whole Body of Christ) who have supported us from the beginning. Some of them have hosted us in their homes; others came and visited us in our country to encourage us and do ministry with us. One family even let us borrow a vehicle when we were stateside.
But we have been most encouraged when we come home, and these supporters ask us questions beyond the surface level. They really want to hear how God has been working overseas. They specifically follow up on prayer requests we shared with them. The families that are praying and are getting involved have deeply encouraged us in our work.
How can N.C. Baptist churches effectively support their missionaries?
- It’s encouraging to know people are praying. We have testimonies of times we prayed with churches in the States for an opportunity to engage an unreached people group, and within weeks we would get the chance to share the gospel with someone from that people group. We’ve seen people saved and baptized through that. Use resources such as the IMB prayer app or your Praying for the Nations prayer guide, and please continue to join us in praying for our work.
- Respond to our newsletters and prayer requests. We aren’t always needing long exchanges, but it is encouraging to get a quick response saying, “we are praying.”
- Pray and look for specific ways to support our kids. Many missionary kids must work through major cultural adjustments, especially if they are moving back to the U.S. Look for practical ways to help, whether that’s hosting them for a meal, picking them up and bringing them to church, or sending them care packages. The longevity of missionaries has a lot to do with the health of their children, especially if their children are in the States.
- Look for the people groups we work with and see if you can find any within driving distance from your church. Look for internationals who may need a place to stay over the holidays. Ask us for help and resources about how to engage this people group.
- Every IMB missionary has been given a portfolio of SBC churches to partner and connect with. If your church hasn’t heard from a missionary, then reach out to the IMB at [email protected] to get connected. We’re all learning how to better work alongside one another to reach the nations, and staying connected to the missionary who has reached out to you is key.
- When we’re back in the States, ask us deeper questions beyond “how was the flight?” and “how is the food?” We have talked to tons of missionaries who have come back to the States, and they all say the same thing: very few ask about what God has been doing on a personal level. Let’s follow Romans 1 and “mutually encourage one another,” being willing to share honestly about what God has been doing in our lives and in the work.
In 2023 N.C. Baptists across the state will be praying for the Ewings, along with hundreds of other missionaries and church planters, using our Praying for the Nations prayer guide. Sign up today to receive weekly emails and prayer resources, so that whether we are going or sending, we can be on mission together.
To financially support N.C. Baptist missionaries in North America and around the globe, visit ncbaptist.org/give.