I grew up in an isolated village in Guatemala. Back then, our mail was brought to us twice a week by a man walking across the Cuchumutanes Mountain range to get to us. Urgent communication came to our door as a telegram, sent by Morse code to the local post office. Personal notes and letters, rare though they were, were treasures of gold, savored and saved. To get medical help of any kind, we had to leave the village and drive a day to the “city,” presuming the one-lane mountain dirt roads were passable and not covered by a landslide. As the only “gringos” in town, a visit from the outside world was an exciting event! You get the idea. Our family was isolated from outside contact or help.
Shortly after my ordination in 2000, I was asked to become the Member Care Director of Global Teams, an Anglican sending missionary agency. I loved getting to shape my job to be able to offer to others what our missionary family needed but did not receive. As I offered care to missionaries around the world in some very challenging situations, the Lord, by his grace, was continuing to heal my own heart.
Today, many missionaries have access to electronic communications, accessible air travel, etc., but they can still feel isolated and wondering who “back home” they can talk honestly to about what they are experiencing. Form letters tell a snap-shot part of the story, but by necessity often include only non-personal highlights.
So, how can our churches offer support to our missionaries? Here’s a few seed thoughts to stimulate your ideas led by the Holy Spirit.
- Work as a team with the mission sending agency. Call the mission agency and establish a partnership with your missionary.
- Read “between the lines” of prayer letters. Ask the Lord to give you “holy imagination” as to what their lives are really like on a day to day basis. What support do they have on the field?
- Visit them in their place of ministry. Realizing that the presence of a visitor changes things—there is nothing like an on-site visit for encouragement and
- Choose one person to be their personal liaison with the church. Give plenty of opportunities for them to share their stories when they are in your area.
- Schedule regular “FaceTime” appointments (or Skype or the video call platform of your choice).
- Ask questions that show you care and want real answers beyond a “sound bite” response. “If you don’t ask, who will?”
- Sacrificial giving—“their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” is how Paul described his donors in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:2). Does that description fit you and your church?
- Advocate—many effective missionaries are not good fund raisers—can you make the “ask” on their behalf?
- Support fewer missionaries in order to support one more significantly.
- Send Birthday and Christmas gifts or cards.
- Audio links of special greetings and sermons “back home.”
- Find ways of praying regularly and meaningfully. Include some of these areas as you pray:
- Cultural adjustment, language learning.
- The missionaries’ marriage in a complex environment.
- Decisions regarding education of their children, sometimes including premature separation.
- The spiritual and physical disciplines of the missionaries.
- Provision for safe, life-giving relationships.
- That financial provision would not be a distraction to their ministry.
- For their extended families “back home.”
- That God would be honored and glorified by what they say and do.
- Pray specifically for them in the Prayers of the People.
The above lists are just suggestions to get your own imaginations flowing. So much more could be said! Don’t forget to ask your missionary how they would appreciate your doing for them. Whatever you choose to do, do something to care for, share with, and pray for your missionaries!