Cindy Judge has spent many years caring for the needs of missionaries. Only recently, after becoming a Thrive Board member, has she seen missionary member care from a new perspective—as a retreat volunteer.
Cindy participated in the Tanzania retreat last October. She admits she went with high expectations—and they were exceeded in every area.
“Of course, there was the pampering, and most everyone loves a pedicure and to be prayed for. But I was surprised how many women signed up for medical consultations and counseling, even two days in a row. I didn’t expect that level of eagerness,” she says.
More than that, however, Cindy was taken aback by all the laughter. “Quite honestly,” she confesses, “I didn’t expect it to be so fun.” Endorphins were spiking and people were dying laughing and Cindy began to realize the value of making fun a priority at retreats. “It’s a healthier way to minister than I ever would’ve thought. Humor is very cultural. If you’re in a remote area, or if you’re not on a team that connects with your humor, you’re missing out on an important way of coping with life.”
Cindy has been involved missionary care for years. While her children were young, Cindy served at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., for 12 years. She helped start the church missions program and developed and trained, on average, 25 short-term teams each year. Once she and her husband, Jim, were empty nesters, Cindy became the Global Outreach Director at Wheaton Bible Church, in Wheaton, Ill. “It was an enormous job,” Cindy says, “and an unusual position for a woman.”
By the time Cindy retired three years ago, Wheaton Bible Church supported 90 missionaries representing 40 different sending agencies. “The need for caring for missionaries became more and more real to me as I realized what missions agencies did and didn’t do,” Cindy says. “Some agencies do a great job of caring for their missionaries and others don’t really do much. As I counseled with families who served cross-culturally, it was evident to me who received good member care and who didn’t.”
More than that, Cindy says, she began to see how women tended to have more issues living on the field than the men. With all the variables in family life—children and their education and hospitality demands—women have great needs. They will universally need a taste of home more often, and it is amazing if they can get that without actually going home. “They need the comfort and support and community of a group like Thrive.”
During her tenure as missions director, Cindy informed women about Thrive retreat opportunities. After meeting Lorrie, Thrive’s executive director, Cindy realized she could do more. “I started challenging our church to give, and we started promoting the retreats and paying for scholarships to send our church’s missionaries.“ As the church transitioned to new leadership, the new leader easily caught the vision for Thrive, as well.
In the last three years Cindy has kept busy with her grandchildren joining her family each year. But her heart yearned for more. She says, “A year after I retired, I was talking to the Lord one Sunday afternoon about how to spend my next few years. I had lots of great opportunities, but I really needed a word from the Lord about where to put my energies.” Not knowing, Lorrie called the next morning and asked Cindy to be on Thrive’s board.
When asked what she loves about Thrive, Cindy says, “I admire Thrive’s commitment to keeping missionaries on the field. The statistics about how many missionaries leave the field are sobering. So many missionaries could be on their last breath and you’d never know it.”
Cindy saw Thrive’s mission to encourage and empower women play out at the retreat last fall. “In our small group,” she says, “there was a gal who had just been through a very traumatic event with her four kids. She shared the event through tears with the six other women. They were able to listen with so much love and attention and care. I watched as trust and support formed quickly in that environment. I can’t think of any other setting where women her own age and place in life would listen and give of themselves so quickly. I know she made some great friends there. It was sweet to watch as her countenance changed.”
We’ll never know if the retreats themselves have the power to change the course of a missionary woman’s life. Cindy suspects the effect is powerful as God works through the many ministries of Thrive. “We’re doing God’s work, and we trust that he knows the needs in a person’s life. Support, to a woman missionary, comes from many different directions through Thrive. Is it the teaching or the worship or the counseling that make a difference? Is it the laughter? We may never know exactly…it is cumulative. But it’s inevitable that at some point, with all Thrive offers, there will be a life-changing impact.”