This blog is for the senders. For the families, the friends, the church members, the pastors who walk alongside the missionaries as they prepare for the field and raise support. Those who drive the van to the airport loaded with trunks filled with what can seem like the most random of things (Cake mixes! Several years’ worth of deodorant!) Those who receive emails in the early days, hearts filled with so much empathy for their tired, language-school-brain-fried, cultural-transition-overwhelmed friend. Those who pray, write, send packages, Skype- most importantly those who want to care for their loved ones serving overseas and want to care for them well. These are some ways big and small you can love your missionary well through the different seasons of their service.
1. Know that they’ve changed
Who you said goodbye to at the airport or during their commissioning service doesn’t exist anymore. They have learned a new culture, language, formed new relationships. Their past ways of viewing the world don’t all work anymore and their worldview has shifted. Their priorities and context are different now. Just keep this in mind as you stay connected and love and support them while they experience being changed by their new lives and work.
2. Let them be real
For many missionaries it feels like they can’t fully express their challenges and worries to the “back home” crowd, even those who are in positions to support them. They don’t want to worry friends and family, they don’t want to look like they are failing or struggling for their church community, they don’t want to worry about losing financial support. There is nothing “abnormal” about the struggles missionaries go through and they need a place to be real, struggling people just like the rest of us. It’s okay if you can’t relate to all their struggles, you can still be a support and give them a safe space to be real about their challenges without worry about losing financial support or “looking like a failure.”
3. Normalize the need for regular counseling.
Missionaries are undergoing a lot of transition adjustment, stress, loneliness, and theological questions. They need to process their grief, big and small ways they feel like a failure, the questions are struggling with about their faith, where God is in suffering, etc…and all the ways they wish they could do more. Counseling should not be just for when things have gotten too severe as a last ditch effort. Counseling, member care check-ins, spiritual directors are great things to have regularly for missionaries to thrive. If you are supporting the missionaries as a church, help enable counseling or soul care to be a reality for your missionaries. If you are a friend or family member, normalize the need for counseling and soul care.
4. Stay in touch
In the early days on the field the emails from a longer update to a “Was praying for you today” can be so encouraging. As the months and years go on, though, your missionary now has a new home and community and life and for them to keep up regular communication can be quite tough. So please do extend grace if they don’t respond to every email. However, staying in touch shows your intentionality, care and it can help keep them connected to their other life.
5. Care packages
Care packages can be such a treat! Little tastes of home, thoughtful notes, something they don’t have access to can all be a great gift. Do take a little time to research the practicals, i.e. what you can/can’t ship to their country though (Once a dear friend shipped us a great deal of baking supplies but it surpassed our country’s customs allotment and ultimately ended up being thrown out). Other things to consider- valuable-ness (may be taken by customs or post office workers) and of course, no used tea bags (ha).
6. Support them well on furlough
Know that visits back/furlough aren’t usually a “vacation.” These trips are usually a whirlwind of speaking engagements, connecting face to face with supporters and meeting with friends and family. Often the trip home can be more tiring than the day to day life on the field! Remember when they first arrive to be thoughtful about what you might want if you’d flown around the world (possibly with small ones in tow!) Also, practical helps go a long way such as a car to borrow, a place to stay or babysitting so parents can go on a date. Simply asking “How can I support you during this furlough?” is a great question to ask.
Financial support is obviously a great and very practical way to care. In addition to monthly support, special one-time gifts like “go on a date” can a huge blessing, especially as missionaries on support can often feel guilty to “splurge” on a date night or a rare bag import potato chips spotted at the market. However, these things really do help sustain those on the field and show that you care about them and not just the outreach or the unreached people.
8. Prayer support:
We know prayer is powerful, but sometimes “prayer support” can seem like a throwaway. It is definitely not, of course. What can be particularly meaningful are some quick emails “prayed for your health today” or for myself, sometimes prayer partners have sent their written out prayers now and then which is an encouragement. As a missionary, the thought of “being forgotten” can be a common one, so for someone to say they are praying and then show how reminds those serving they are not forgotten. Also, for churches-organizing different prayer groups assigned to each missionary serving on the field can be a good idea for continuous prayer support.
For short-term teams visiting the field:
Much has already been said on how short-term teams can either be a blessing or a challenge for the on-field missionaries, so I won’t say too on much on this topic. It is important to remember you want to support and bless the missionaries in their on-going work. A way to make sure that your trip is a blessing to the missionary and the community are to plan the trip based on what the missionaries actually need. Here are a few other pointers regarding trips:
1. Be intentional to connect with the missionaries: A lot of teams (especially those doing work in communities) want to focus on the kids and connecting with local people. This is great, but remember that spending intentional time to connect with the missionaries is very important, too. Connecting with the missionaries can have a long-term impact on their ministry. When you spend time to pour into the missionaries it can help strengthen them and enable them to thrive to do the long-term work on the field. You don’t need to be a pastor or counselor to support the missionaries and love them well-simply spending time to ask how they’re doing, pray for them, give safe space to share can be a big blessing. Then the ripple effect of an encouraged, supported missionary ends up impacting the whole community.
2. Always be mindful what you’re leaving behind! The missionary is the one that stays so be mindful not to leave a mess- literally or relationally. It’s best to not make promises to community members to come again or to send something. If there is a chance you are unable to keep your promise it could lead to a broken relationship can impact the ministry on the field. Also, be very mindful what you post on social media, especially after visiting a sensitive country context.
Finally, something that is true for those visiting as a team and those supporting from home:
Remember, at the end of these day missionaries are just regular people who are doing a courageous thing and answering God’s call- but they are still regular people. The desire to honor them is wonderful, but if they get put on a high pedestal it can put undue pressure to be perfect or create a space where they feel they can’t share about how they may be struggling in their faith, or what is hard about the field. Let them be a real, broken, growing through the ups and downs Jesus-follower just like yourself.