The Missionary-in-Residence program provides missionary families, like Dan and Holli Lancaster, a place to rest but also connect with students while they are on stateside assignment.
Julie Bradfield, director of student mobilization, oversees the MIR program through the Office of University Ministries. The program’s purpose is to provide housing for missionary families so they can rest and rejuvenate while in the United States, but also serve as a reference for anyone in the Union community interested in missions.
Union’s website states that by “hosting missionary families each academic year, our faculty, staff and students hear eyewitness accounts of God’s movement around the globe as well as discover short and long term opportunities of service.”
“[The missionaries] are here and available for students to help them think through missions opportunities, to connect them with specific missions opportunities, or to help them think through those decisions or calling,” Bradfield said. “Depending on how long each family is at Union, there are several key things that we plug them into. [The families] will do GO week, they participate in the ministry and missions exposition, they will do any events we have going on, whether in a behind-the-scenes way or in a very up front way.”
One of the two missionary families living at Union this semester is Don and Holli Lancaster, who have been serving in Northern Thailand as International Mission Board missionaries for eleven years.
The Lancasters will be at Union for one year on their stateside assignment. Two of the couple’s four children are current Union students: Zach is a junior digital media studies major, and Karis is a freshman English major. Jeff Lancaster graduated from Union last May with a digital media studies degree. Zane is in high school and lives with his parents.
“We’re here as consultants, coaches, moms and dads,” Dan Lancaster said. “Our family likes taking care of folks and adopting people into our family.”
Though the MIR program has a formal structure, it also is designed to be flexible depending on the needs and strengths of the missionary families. Families typically stay any time between 2-6 months or up to a year, like the Lancasters.
“Once [the families] get here, we also try to give them a lot of flexibility,” Bradfield said. “So we don’t say, ‘Here’s the 5 ways you’re going to build relationships with students,’ instead we say, ‘What are the things that you enjoy in relationship-building with students?”
The Lancasters minister to Union students in a variety of ways – they open their home every Saturday night for students to come eat, they work with students of missionaries and they represent Union at various meetings and conferences throughout Tennessee. Dan Lancaster will also be teaching Survey of Missions, a Christian studies elective, in the spring.
“We really love Union,” Lancaster said. “I told Dr. [Todd] Brady that we are 110% behind what you’re doing. So if there’s anytime we can speak some place, if there’s anything we can do, we really want to do that. We are Union through and through.”