Why do support roles in mission matter?

Dave & Fi Rickards worked for several years in OMF’s International Centre in Singapore to support missionaries across East Asia. We caught up with them to find out more about them, their work and why support-work matters just as much as ‘front-line’ church planting.  

How did you get involved in mission and later in support work?

A quick glance at some mission statistics will tell you that there are 2 billion unreached people in the world today. That’s 29% of the world’s population. You may not be interested in or moved by statistics of this kind, but they made a profound impact on me (Dave) back in 1991 at a missions event run by YWAM. I was a student at the time, actively involved in outreach on campus and beginning to sense a call into ministry of some sort. I assumed it would be in the UK. But all that changed when God used a combination of statistics and the book of Romans to redirect me into overseas mission.

The message that night was from Romans 10, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” The challenge was for us to consider the millions of people who had never had the chance to believe in Jesus. The clear call that night was for me to go wherever God needed me to go and preach to those who had never heard.

The clear call that night was for me to go wherever God needed me to go and preach to those who had never heard.

Around the same time, God was calling Fiona in a very different way. Growing up overseas had been God’s way of preparing her for mission. A former missionary was speaking at a student meeting about how the overseas worker needs to be ready to leave home, be far away from family, learn a new language and live on other peoples’ terms. Fiona realised that she had been doing that all her life (her parents were with OMF in Thailand) and she was ready to keep on doing it, to go where God needed her to go.

Fast forward a few years, a wedding, a job or two and Bible college. We joined OMF with no fixed idea about where we should be or what we should do, only that we wanted to reach the unreached. In April 2000 we arrived in Cambodia and, after a year of full-time language and culture learning, joined a church planting team just outside Phnom Penh. We visited people in their homes. We studied the Bible together in small groups. We prayed with one another. We were involved in training the worship group, the Sunday School teachers, the church committee and the football team! We spent time answering questions, encouraging the emerging church leaders and training a small group of preachers. People were hearing the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time and they were being saved. It was a privilege to be part of what God was doing.

After about three years on that church planting team, OMF asked us to serve as the Field Directors for the Cambodia team. This would mean a move away from the ‘front line’, the people we loved and the work we had been doing. But we went back to our calling – to go where we were needed – and felt that God was in this move.

What was moving from the ‘front line’ to support work like?

Moving from church planting to leadership brought a number of changes, particularly in terms of the people we were serving, the scope of our work and the ministry gifts we were using. First, we were no longer working primarily with Cambodians, but were now relating mostly with the OMF team. Second, we were no longer focused on one church in one part of the country, but were now investing in all of OMF Cambodia’s work all over the country as well as contributing to discussions and decision-making across OMF. And third, we were spending less time evangelising, making disciples and preaching, but were now principally exercising gifts of leadership and administration. There were still opportunities to preach and invest in the lives of our Cambodian friends, but the emphasis had shifted to helping others be effective in their ministry.

There is an element of sacrifice in moving from the ‘front line’ ministry , which you feel called to, into another role. It’s a kind of ‘dying to self’ that can be hard to embrace. For me, (Dave) stepping back from being the one ‘preaching to them’ felt like a betrayal of my calling at times. But we know that, ultimately, death produces life. And the Lord helped me to see that our investment in others through support work had the potential to produce much fruit – indeed, much more fruit than I could ever have dreamed of producing myself!

The Lord helped me to see that our investment in others through support work had the potential to produce much fruit – indeed, much more fruit than I could ever have dreamed of producing myself!

This process of ‘dying to self’ was repeated eight years later when we were asked to move from Cambodia to Singapore and join the team at OMF’s International Centre. There was something of the ‘Macedonian call’ about this one, as help was needed on the team managing the strategic and significant changes that OMF had identified in order to make the Fellowship fit for purpose in the 21st Century. In moving to Singapore, we stepped back another step from the ‘front-line’. But once again we saw the potential for helping others in their ministries by working behind the scenes.

Fiona and I were then asked to serve together as the Director for Fellowship Services, a new role within the new International Leadership Team with a special focus on support work across the mission. Our vision was ‘to see members of OMF fully equipped for effective service’. We worked with a team of specialists in Evangelisation, Mobilisation, Personnel, Finance, IT and Training & Development to identify, develop and provide the support services needed to enable ‘front line’ workers to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with East Asians to the glory of God.

What does support work look like?

Good support work is often invisible, which may be why it’s often under appreciated. Like the trellis hidden underneath the fruitful vine, support work is all about helping other people flourish. But support work can take many different forms.

Like the trellis hidden underneath the fruitful vine, support work is all about helping other people flourish.

Donations are received and acknowledged; funds are transferred around the world as required; information and communications are shared though secure IT systems. Sometimes it looks like an efficient well-oiled machine, running smoothly and doing what it was made to do with in a timely and efficient manner.

Sometimes efficiency is not as important as effectiveness and then support work looks more like friends having a chat at the coffee shop. Some people listen and offer advice; others help you learn the language and culture; some look after you when you’re ill or provide a restful place for you to relax.

Of course, machines break down and people aren’t always there for you. As a mission we sometimes don’t do enough, or we can’t do all that we want to do, for our members. It’s also possible to do too much so that the trellis becomes visible, the machine becomes too big and the friends spend all their time drinking coffee and get no work done! Getting the balance right is always a challenge.

Ultimately, support work looks like a good investment. We want to be good stewards of the resources God gives us – including the people on the ‘front line’.  And that’s what support work is all about: investing time, money and people so that our members are fully equipped for effective service.

Pray for support workers

  • It’s easy to think that support workers don’t need prayer in the same way as those on the ‘front line’. But whether we are planting churches on the neglected frontiers or writing emails in the office back home, we are all on the front line in the spiritual battle.
  • Pray that our support workers would be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, able to stand against the devil’s schemes.
  • Pray that they would be continually filled with the Spirit and wisdom as they serve others.
  • Pray for joy and perseverance in the daily routines, and for a fresh sense each day that what they are doing is advancing the kingdom of God among the peoples of East Asia.


Why not find out more about opportunities to serve in support roles?


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