Suggestions for the Care of Missionaries
No, missionaries are not orphans, but adopt is another beautiful word that helps describe the strong relationship between missionaries and the churches and friends that pray and give for such cross cultural ministry. The church at Antioch, in a sense, adopted Paul and Barnabas as special messengers of the Gospel to Asia and Europe (Acts 13:1-3).
Our church has sent out numerous missionaries. We believe that our commitment to the people we send goes beyond placing a missionary on an airplane. We need to be vitally involved in their lives and work. Supporting our missionaries is not a task for the church staff or missions team. It is something that everyone in the church should have some involvement with.
We encourage each group (Sunday school class, home bible study, ministry team) to adopt at least one missionary who has been sent from our church. You could select a missionary from the Missions Directory which contains brief summaries of the current missionaries, or contact the Missions Team for suggestions.
In the same way, we need to take the time to understand the missionaries that we adopt, that we are partnering with. First, we need to remember that missionaries are human being just like each of us. They aren't "super" Christian. Missionaries struggle as we do with weak faith, limitations of the body, loneliness, and other longings of the heart. Often their family is far away and communication with friends in infrequent. The missionary life is often difficult. Our missionaries need to vitally experience God's nearness and His grace. This is not something that happens automatically when someone becomes a missionary any more than it happens automatically in your life. We need to expect that our missionaries with have struggles in their lives and to respond with understanding and encouragement.
Missionary work often moves so slowly that there is a strong temptation to be discouraged. Yet, they have been called by God to the place they are. We need to appreciate how the Lord has called our missionary to their ministry, and find ways to help them remember that they were called by the Lord.
When you pray for missionaries, you are making room in your heart for God to work, extending your care beyond your world and experience. Praying will change you, and is of the greatest importance to the missionary's work. More than anything, our missionaries need your prayers. Missions is more than missionaries serving God. Missions is God at work! If God isn't at the heart of the work, then nothing eternal is accomplished. Prayer is the life blood of missions. By praying for our missionaries, their work, and the people they are serving, we recognize that God is at the center of our endeavor. We also need to pray for those people who oppose our missionaries. Henri J.M. Nouwen in the book Compassion describes prayer as a hospitable gesture by which we invite our neighbors into the center of our hearts. He goes on to say:
OMF International has a wonderful flier entitled 7 Ways to Pray for Your Missionaries which suggests praying daily, rotating through key issues:
Seen in the place of prayer, even the unprincipled dictator and the vicious torturer can no longer appear as the object of fear, hatred, and revenge, because when we pray we stand at the center of the great mystery of Divine Compassion. Prayer converts the enemy into a friend and is thus the beginning of a new relationship. There is probably no prayer as powerful as the prayer for our enemies. But it is also the most difficult prayer since it is most contrary to our impulses.
The most frequently mentioned source of encouragement by missionaries are letters (especially those with pictures) and/or e-mail. Letters help the missionary feel supported and connected to the people who they have left behind. A lot can change while they are gone. Letters and photographs help them feel less like strangers when they return. Another benefit of letters is that they are durable, and can be read over and over. I have talked with a number of missionaries who keep a stash of particularly encouraging letters in a box, and pull the letters out (to reread them) whenever they are feeling that things are hopeless, and they should give up and go home.
What to write? Tell them about what is happening in your life. What God has been teaching you recently. Send them a short list of issues that they could pray about. You could write about your work or hobbies, anything that would let them know more about who you are. Remember, letter writing is two way communication. Ask questions about their lives and work. Ask for prayer request. Find out what God is teaching them.
Of course missionaries would also like to hear what is going on in the US: current trends in religion, politics, society, economics, etc. You can tell them what you have observed in each of these areas. If you are a reader, write and then send short book reviews of each of the books that you finish. Offer to send them the book if they are interested in reading it themselves. Send reading material, magazine subscriptions, news clippings, the church bulletin. Missionaries can vote by absentee ballot. You could offer to send them any forms they need. If they are interested, send them brochures or newspaper clippings which explain stances on important issues. Send them clippings about their country or ministry. It shows that you are thinking about them. It also communicates that they are not alone. The media is watching and reporting for the whole world to see. While letters which are packed full of information is greatly appreciated, small birthday and holiday cards with a short personal greeting are beloved as well.
Many missionaries have cassette players, and might even have video players. If they do, consider sending an A/V letter on tape. Hearing the voice of a friend can be very touching. Don't just record a greeting, be creative. Sing a song, or read a poem or a passage of Scripture which has been important to you recently. Record your children's first words, or video tape how things look back home. Phone calls are also a popular encouragement.
One word of caution. Some missionaries are in closed countries, e.g. countries that don't welcome missionaries. Sending the wrong sort of information (something that would imply that the recipient is a missionary or politically active) could be dangerous for the missionary. Find out what communication guidelines are suggested before you send something. The Missions Team can help you learn the appropriate guidelines.
Provide for their finance support. Most missionaries are under-supported. Think about committing to give a regular amount to the a missionary. Help meet special or unexpected needs such as medical care, transportation, equipment, or special projects. Offer to fly them back for a retreat or vacation. Send holiday and care packages containing money or needed items. Find out what favorite foodstuffs, healthcare products, or other supplies are not available in their country and send them periodically.
Adopt their children. Send a card, a letter, a present, or money for the children's birthdays. Supply children's books and Sunday school materials. Consider helping fund the children's education. If their children return to the United States for education, offer them a place to stay during school breaks when dorms are often closed, since it might not be possible for them to join their parents on the field.
When furloughs are planned, help with logistics. Find them a place to stay. Maybe someone can loan them a car, or you can find good airfare rates. There are countless ways you can help out once the missionaries are in town. Offer to meet them at the airport and bring flowers, balloons, or banners to make them feel special and appreciated. When the missionary arrives them will most likely be very tired from all the traveling, have a light meals and a quiet place for them to rest and recover. Stock the home they are staying in with basic food stuffs. Create a "welcome home basket" that contains a brief note welcoming them, some favorite snacks, current maps of the area, suggested places to shop, and today's newspaper. You could leave a toy on each child's bed. If you have a vacation condo or cabin, suggest the missionary take a vacation and use your place. If the missionaries are parents with children who are normally home (e.g. not boarding school), offer to watch their children, and send them for a romantic weekend away.
Find out if your missionary has medical insurance or a retirement fund. If they don't, help them get started. If they already have a retirement account, consider giving a gift for the future.
Adopting a missionary doesn't need to be a solitary activity. In fact, we strongly recommend that missionaries should be adopted by groups. That way you can work with others to support your adopted missionary, sharing information, reminding one another to pray. This can be done in a number of ways. Existing groups like home bible studies can adopt a missionary. Set aside a few minutes each time bible study meets to hear any new updates about the adopted missionary, and pray for them. You could also set aside a special time for your adopted missionary, for example, you could have a party for them. Fix the foods of the locale your adopted missionary is serving. Have each person bring something they have which is connected to the missionary or the people the missionary is serving such as music tapes, video tapes, poems or short stories, clothing, posters, whatever you can think of. At the party share information about what is happening with the adopted missionary, the field the missionary is serving in, and of course, your lives. Set aside some time to pray about the field and the current work. Arrange to call your adopted missionary on the phone during the party (find a good speaker phone), or if that isn't possible, write them a group letter.
Remember that your adopted missionary is a long way off. If you don't talk about them, people in the church will forget them. One of the most significant things you can do for your adopted missionary is to be their advocate. As you learn new information about your adopted missionary's life and work, share it with the people you naturally relate with. Most of use, when we finish a really great book, find a really great album, or see a good movie tell our friends about what we have found. In the same way, as prayers are being answered or important events occur in the missionary's life, tell your friends. If something is important to you, it will often be important to your friends. "Introduce" your adopted missionary to your friends. When your adopted missionary is in town, arrange a potluck so your friends can meet this person you have been praying about. Even before your adopted missionary comes hope show your friends pictures, read interesting parts of their letters, etc.
If you want to be even more involved in supporting your adopted missionary, join their support team if one exists. If you adopted missionary doesn't have a support team, then consider becoming their "Missionary Representative".
Ron Blue, president of CAM suggests: Daily pray for your missionaries. Weekly give toward your faith commitment. Monthly write a letter of news and encouragement. Quarterly send a small package, especially items unavailable overseas. Annually remember birthdays and anniversaries with a card.
Neal Pirolo. Serving as Senders. Emmaus Road International, 1991. This book is the most practical guide about sending and supporting missionaries.