No man is an island.” You may think of the poem, song or film when you hear this phrase, but have you ever stopped to consider it? Do you think it is true? In my family, we do. Life and ministry on these Japanese islands can feel isolated with turbulent waters dangerously crashing in on all sides, threatening to leave us secluded and cut off from the life giving support of those at home. As missionaries, my family used to be an island. But we aren’t anymore.
Missionaries can easily become like islands because, like Japanese culture, we strive to look OK on the outside even when we’re crumbling on the inside. Or sometimes mission culture can leave us stranded between here and there, somewhat disconnected from both. Whatever the reasons, we missionaries often find ourselves alone and vulnerable. My husband and I experienced “island life” years ago when we were sick with little ones underfoot and no one to lend a hand. We experienced it when we couldn’t share teammate struggles with our missionary colleagues. When a family member died and when marriage issues left us wishing we could call a pastor for counsel. We needed a safe place to be heard and to hear input. We needed a PAC Team.
A Prayer, Accountability and Care Team is a small group of pray-ers, listeners and encouragers from our sending country who meet with us via Skype each month (our mission now calls them “Home Ministry Teams”). We send e-mails often with personal and family prayer requests. We ask for input when we are making decisions and share health issues and temptations. We are honest about disagreements with leadership and hurt feelings within Japanese friendships. It is a safe place to be real, and to be really supported.
At the beginning of one home assignment, we sent out a letter of explanation to three couples asking them to think about being part of this support network. These friends all lived in our hometown but didn’t all go to our home church. We asked if they would meet to talk more about what a PAC Team is. We then met monthly throughout our home assignment to get to know one another better. At the end of our home assignment, we asked if they would commit to being on our PAC Team just for the next term. Seven years later, they, and we, are still on board.
Little by little, as we’ve shared with our PAC Team the nitty-gritty of overseas ministry life, their worldview has broadened and their understanding of missions has grown. They read a chapter of the book Serving as Senders1 each month to learn about how to practically support missionaries. They have helped us while we are in Japan in numerous ways; such as getting our home-side mail and sending us care packages and birthday cards. They have also represented us at church prayer meetings and shared prayer requests at our adult Sunday school class. On home assignment, they helped us get furniture and borrow a car. They bought us groceries and picked us up at the airport. While we are on home assignment, they listen as those who have grown to understand the struggles missionary families face, moving back and forth across the ocean.
Even though we would claim all the blessings, this Prayer, Accountability and Care Team would contend that they have been blessed too. They learned about missions in a very unique, intimate way and have been blessed by the fellowship and prayer time with each other. When our home church pastor heard about our PAC Team, he said that each of the missionaries from our home church should have one. He realized what we have come to own: “No missionary is an island.”
1. Pirolo, Nick. (2012) Serving as Senders—Today. Emmaus Road International.