26 June, 2012

How Churches can Support Their Missionaries

Early in May I asked you to edit me (here).I had such a big response from that endeavour, that I thought that I'd show you what I created after your edits and suggestions. Enjoy, and use the suggestions if you can.

How Churches can Support Their Missionaries
By Wendy Marshall
There are many ways you can support missionaries. Different people feel comfortable with different ways of doing it. Here's a grab bag of ideas you might like to consider.

Let them know they are remembered
Missionaries love to know that they’re remembered. And because they aren’t with you, it is hard for them to know unless they’re told or shown. Emails, letters, postcards, Facebook messages etc., are always welcome. Phone calls or Skype calls are sometimes difficult to fit into busy lives, but they can be especially encouraging. Paul models this in his first letter to the Thessalonians, telling the church, not only that he was praying for them, but what he was praying. Hearing someone pray for you or about their prayers for you is a wonderful blessing — pass it on to your missionaries.

If your missionary is working in a limited access country, it would be wise to check with them or their mission’s home office about what guidelines they have for safe communication. You don’t want to cause them difficulties and different countries have different limitations.

Keep them informed
It is helpful to keep missionaries informed of changes in the church, especially if you are their home or one of their main supporting churches. This includes leadership changes, a change in the church’s name, or mission contact change, as well as more basic contact detail changes. When sending out prayer letters each month, it can be a drag to find that many emails are returned. Including the missionaries in the church directory and ensuring that they get a copy is one way to help keep them informed.

Many missionaries like to know what is happening in their home church; so let them know about significant events like church camps, baptisms, births, deaths and marriages. These things can help a missionary feel included and also make it less of a shock to transition back into the church when they’re home.

Include them
Including your missionary when they are out of the country takes creativity but can range from being included in email conversations, to being asked for input in a Bible study via email. You could also ask your missionaries for photos to show at church during a missionary spot or prayer time.

Visit them
Have you considered whether your missionaries would enjoy a pastoral visit? Think about sending one or more members of your church or leadership team to visit a missionary your church supports, particularly if they are members of your church.

But do consult first with the missionaries. Different people have different coping thresholds when it comes to houseguests. It can be easy to become overwhelmed with visitors, and some missionaries seem to get more than others. Be aware that they have busy ministries to attend to, as well as potential limitations in providing you with accommodation. Ask them when a good time would be for you to visit, and be sensitive about the length of your visit. Be considerate about their finances too. You don’t want to cause the missionary distress by cleaning out their pantry without helping out with the expense. You also might consider taking a suitcase full of goodies from home; it could be a huge blessing for them.

Care for them with gifts
Different people feel loved in different ways (as in The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman). Love can come in care packages too, especially ones that have been thoughtfully put together. A surprise is good, but a care package is even better if it contains items that your missionary especially wants, so it is good to ask them what they’d like.

Show loving concern for their family
Caring for missionaries’ families at home can be a way that churches can show their love and support. We have a colleague whose father became a Christian after their home church showed care for him, drawing him to church, and eventually he commited his life to the Lord.

When they are in your country
Missionaries appreciate practical care when they’re transitioning in and out of the country. A full pantry speaks volumes when you’ve just landed back in your home country and cannot face grocery shopping yet. Finding accommodation and transport, setting up telecommunications, and finding local services are ways that you can help your missionary when they’re coming back from overseas.

Coming back to a church you’ve been absent from for a long time can be scary. It is nice if missionaries are welcomed back as if they are locals who’ve been away for a while.

Missionaries love it when they’re given a reasonable amount of time to talk about what they’ve been doing in front of the whole church. It is fine to give a firm limit on how long they can talk, but consider how difficult it is to summarise years of ministry in only a couple of minutes.

Most missionaries love to have one-on-one conversations with you. This can be difficult to achieve on a Sunday morning, so think of creative ways that you can get to know your missionaries better when they are home.

Missionaries especially enjoy it when you ask thoughtful questions and stick around for the answer, even if it is a bit lengthy. They love it when they find out people actually read and remember their prayer letters. There’s a joke in missionary circles about the people who enquire about the wrong country; for example China, when we’re actually serving in Japan. Missionaries joke about it, but it really isn’t funny. Missionaries love it when you remember to enquire about the smaller details they’ve mentioned in their recent prayer letters, for example, “How’s Mr. Suzuki going?” if Mr. Suzuki is someone they’ve been meeting for Bible Study.

It's up to you
How you manage all this as a church is up to you. You can have a missionary committee; you can have one person dedicated to missionary care. You can have a mission-minded pastor who promotes mission as a matter of course. You can have, as we do, a small group dedicated especially to help, advocate, and pray for each missionary family. You can have regular missionary “Spots”, a mission’s night, weekend, or month. You can have mission displays around the church. You can distribute literature or summaries of prayer letters, and hold regular missions prayer meetings.

There are many ways to go about it and different people are comfortable with supporting missionaries in different ways. However, we've found that it really needs to come from the top. Unless the leadership of a church is mission-minded, it is difficult for a church to be mission-minded. We ourselves have lots of individual supporters, but not so many mission-minded churches.

But you needn’t be discouraged if your church isn’t mission-focussed. There's nothing to stop you from taking a step and doing just one thing from this list. You may never know until heaven the difference it might make to someone having a tough time.

It is easy for missionaries to feel that we're out of sight, out of mind. But missionaries are still a part of the body of Christ — we're the hands that are overseas. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:25 "There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (NIV)


Shan in Japan said...

Wendy, this is great! Thanks for sharing!

Anne Latimer said...

Thanks, Wendy. We are looking forward to catching up with you when you get home. Love,