Debbie Chai knows how it feels to be a missionary because she has lived the life, and she understands that people serving on the mission field have the same needs and concerns as everyone else. So she does everything possible to convey that reality to her congregation, which she pastors with her husband, Alex.
In the end, she hopes they will put themselves in the place of a missionary and feel the same things a missionary feels. Simply put, if you were on the mission field, how would you pray?
“Our goal is that people in our church will learn how to care for missionaries because they are involved with their lives,” she says.
Debbie met Alex when the two were serving in Manila, and her experience in the Philippines inspired what has become the bedrock of her ministry. Today the couple pastors Word of Life (Billings West Foursquare Church) in Billings, Mont., their third church plant since 1991. Debbie inspires their congregation to go to the nations and offer practical care and support for others who lay down their lives for global ministry. As the world continues to change, she says, the work of the Great Commission remains the same.
“I disciple our people to understand missions and appreciate missionaries,” Debbie explains, emphasizing that global workers are people with the same needs and concerns as the people in her church. “Our prayer teams meet with missionaries and really listen as they share what is on their hearts,” she adds, noting that people too often are satisfied with inspiring testimonies but stop short of offering emotional and spiritual support for the missionary as a person.
When missionaries visit Billings, Debbie and Alex encourage their staff to host the families, with meals paid for by the church. Sometimes, she and Alex take missionaries on mini-vacations to nearby sites, such as Yellowstone National Park, and on sightseeing boat trips on a local river. It’s all about helping real people find real relaxation when they are able to get a break from ministry.
Debbie leads short-term missions teams from her church, preparing for almost one year as team members journal through the book of Acts and read books on missions. Meeting missionaries personally or being educated about their ministry needs helps prepare team members to serve as ministers rather than act as tourists when they visit the mission field.
“I disciple our people to understand missions and appreciate missionaries. Our prayer teams meet with missionaries and really listen as they share what is on their hearts.” —Debbie Chai
The couple also takes influential members of the church and community on missions trips to introduce them to indigenous workers who are on the front lines of ministry. The hope is that friendships and partnerships develop that will influence others to get involved in God’s work in other nations.
“Fun” fundraising is an important part of discipling people to missions, Debbie says. She hosts “Baskets of Love” on Palm Sunday, when donated items in gift baskets are sold to benefit missions. A “Giving Tree” at Christmas provides church members with details about people on the field and the needs of their families. Then, church members fill backpacks with school supplies and personal toiletries for children overseas who are returning to school.
Debbie finds a place for every age group, even those who might never go to the mission field. Older women in the church make baby blankets for orphanages that minister to infants. Children can donate socks and toothbrushes. She says everyone can pray even if they can’t give or go.
Above all, discipling people to missions involves becoming friends with missionaries, Debbie adds. “We want our people to stay in touch with missionaries and invest themselves in the lives of the people we care for as they do the work of global ministry.”