A vital part of WorldVenture’s Paraclete services, Rope Holders are retired missionaries who support missionaries in their first term overseas. The Rope Holders name is attributed to William Carey, pioneer missionary to India. After hearing an account of the spiritual needs in India, he told his senders:
“I will venture to go down to India, but remember that you must hold the ropes.”
What Does a Rope Holder Do?
Changes — for some they are energizing, exciting, challenging; for others they are scary, troubling, and anxiety-inducing. For a first-term missionary they are inevitable, unescapable, and all part of God’s plan to shape and mold us into the image of Christ. But in a first term the combined impact of all the changes can be an unnerving and a lonely experience. That’s where Rope Holders come in.
As a Rope Holder, you should plan on developing a friendship with the appointee(s) before they leave for the field, by either visiting them in person (preferred) or having several phone calls.
Once the missionary leaves for the field, the development of the relationship will depend, to a certain extent, on them. Sometimes the “need” for the relationship does not actually develop for a while. You will still try to keep in touch — via email or snail mail, Skype, or Facebook — at least twice a month. If you do not have internet access at home, try to find a computer at a local library and sign up for a free email account such as Gmail.
As a rule of thumb, you need to take the initiative and not wait on responses from your missionary. If you are lovingly persistent in praying for them and contacting them, without insisting on a reply, they will eventually reach out to you. Remember that when they first arrive on the field they are pretty busy!
- Affirm them for what you can see they are doing well! Even just surviving is wonderful — as you will surely remember.
- Make use of free video call services through Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime. Or just a plain phone call will do!
- Find them on Facebook. Most missionaries these days share pictures and prayer requests via Facebook on a regular basis, internet connection permitting. Younger missionaries also have many virtual friends on Facebook, so don’t be surprised if they don’t get back to you quickly.
- When they complain or express frustration, just listen. You may give them counsel about how to have a good attitude, or how to respond in a godly way. You can pray for them in regard to the situation. But please do not give advice about field situations or get involved in any way. Your job is to walk this road with them, not for them. If you have serious concerns about what you are hearing, please contact Tony Perrello.
The end-goal here is to build a safe friendship in which the first-term missionary can share how they are doing, have an experienced shoulder to lean on when needed, and know that they have a prayer warrior standing behind them in all they do!
I was already a missionary!
You know all about culture shock from having lived it — some of you more than once! However, much of what you have learned about how to adapt cross-culturally, and how to thrive in transition, has become automatic and unconscious. You know a lot about it, yes, but you are not always fully aware of all that you know!
It is a good idea then to refresh our minds of the culture-shock symptoms, the phases missionaries usually go through, and the deep personal issues that can surface under stress.
Look at the books and webpages in the Resources tab. These will provide you with great information, but most importantly they will help you learn to listen well. As you listen well to your new missionary, you will then be able to clearly identify some or all of the following:
- a need to manage multiple and cumulative stress
- a need to grieve losses
- self doubt and questioning of “the call”
- confusion about identity and worth
Therefore, we want you to be well equipped to hear these issues, to dig into what the missionary is learning, and help point them towards ways to grow and thrive. Above all, you will have the privilege of helping them discover how the Lord wants to meet them in the middle of whatever hurts the most. And if/when appropriate, you may steer them to other resources as well.
We are quite convinced you are already good at this role; we just want to make sure you have a well-grounded view of the process most first-termers go through. You need to be able to identify when to be actually concerned for your missionary, how to help them in that situation, and when to view the stress they are going through as “normal.”
The most important thing you will do for your first-termer will be to facilitate ongoing spiritual formation — to gently, lovingly, without preaching or superiority, turn them back to the Lord. For that, you already have the best training in the world: His own lessons to you from your own experiences!
From a Rope Holder:
Pat Crabtree has been holding the rope for first term missionaries since 2013!
“I am eight months into my first term and I can say with certainty that it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One of the best ways to survive (and maybe even thrive!) is to be surrounded by a variety of people who support you — friends, prayer warriors, mentors, accountability partner, etc. A variety of relationships can provide for your variety of needs. I’ve found that our Rope Holders give wisdom from experience as missionaries and much needed prayer. It is so good to have someone who gets it!”
“Rope Holders are helpful in providing a first-termer with a connection with someone who understands life on the mission field. Sometimes a missionary might not want to share a concern with loved ones at home for fear of concerning them. Likewise, they might not want to share concerns with their in-country teammates if the concerns involve someone on the field. It’s incredibly helpful to have an unbiased listener and prayer warrior.”
“A Rope Holder is someone with experience that you can speak with candidly and receive counsel from. First-termers need a ‘safe’ person/couple to discuss things with. Rope Holders with their vast experience on the field and with WorldVenture are great resources.”
- Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier
- The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti
- Soultalk by Larry Crabb
On the web
- Rope Holders Facebook page
- Video: Facing Retirement as a Missionary. Pat Crabtree explains her expectations for retirement, and how Rope Holders fits into this part of her journey.
- Maintaining Christian Resilience in a ‘Combat Zone’
- Email Tony Perrello by clicking here.