Far too often, missionaries are put into a box, and in that box are specific ways to encourage. Although those common methods of encouraging missionaries are good, I want to share some out-of-the-box ways that you can encourage missionaries. Before we begin, keep in mind that everything I share here piggy backs off of what I wrote here: The Danger of Extolling Missionaries. I’ll start with the basics with some added details from the perspective of a former missionary.
Often times the cliched yet very real principle of “out of sight, out of mind” applies to our overseas servants, but they are on the frontlines and need our prayers. Simply praying for blessing or safety, however, is not enough. You need to know what the missionary needs and what to pray for. This means reading their emails and newsletters or simply asking them. Sometimes our traditional prayers for missionaries don’t apply to the one we are praying for. For example, a missionary may have his support in full yet we continue to pray for their finances assuming all missionaries are starving. Or we pray for protection from trials when it may be that what this person needs is a trial in their life. Pray but pray in an informed and strategic fashion.
For many missionaries, one of the hardest and most embarrassing parts of being on the field is raising support. It’s a lot different than others in full-time ministry because missionaries have to ask and sometimes plead with their close friends for money. And this isn’t like asking you to help pay for lunch because he’s short a couple bucks. No, no. This is asking friends for money to pay the rent, to get their kids into school, to pay for gas,…to buy food. Yes, missionaries, like you, receive a salary. But imagine going to work everyday to do your job. Then, when you clock out and the rest of the world traditionally gets to play or rest, you have to send emails, write newsletters, meet friends and family, and even drive across the country for dozens of meetings with strangers to convince people not only that you are doing your job well, but that they should sacrifice money out of their own pockets and send it to your company so that your boss can afford to pay you. This is what missionaries have to deal with every day.
Inform Them When Changing Your Support
I’m adding this as its own separate point because you’d be surprised at how many people stop supporting missionaries or reduce the amount of their monthly support without ever telling the missionary! When you support a missionary, it’s not just a matter of giving to some impersonal organization. You are giving to a specific person. And that person has a church or missions organization they are accountable to, and, often, regardless of the missionary’s financial situation, their is a minimum that their sending organization requires them to raise. I have never met a missionary who isn’t constantly keeping tabs on how much comes in. Most are just scraping by, so keeping track of their support on a month to month basis is very important and can really throw them for a loop when they come up short with no warning from supporters. It can be very awkward when someone stops supporting a missionary because when that money doesn’t come in it can be a clerical error, an expired credit card, or a donor no longer believing in what the missionary is doing. All this makes it very uncomfortable for the missionary who, on one hand, wants to make sure those who think they are giving are actually giving (i.e., the money’s actually being processed) while, on the other hand, does not want to offend someone who actually did stop giving. So, whether it’s because you’re expecting a baby and can’t sacrifice the money or you think the missionary is no longer doing any good for the kingdom of God – tell them you are stopping or lowering your support!
Every missionary sends out a newsletter – it comes with the territory. Many of you have signed up for multiple missionary newsletters, but you know how it is. It comes via email and you let it sit in your inbox because you feel guilty not reading it and you just know that you’ll get to it at some point. It sits and sits while days and weeks pass by when finally: DELETE. You meant well when you signed up for it, but if you’re not reading it it does nobody any good. The reality is all missionaries know that only a fraction of the newsletters they send out get read, so merely at looking at the number of emails sent does not encourage them. Think of it as a quality vs. quantity issue; they would prefer to send only 20 copies of their newsletter and know 20 people are reading and praying rather than 2000 copies while wondering if anyone is reading and praying. So what’s my advice? For starters: read it! Sometimes it helps to print it and read it over breakfast or in the can (yes, I said it). But, as with finances, if you don’t read the newsletter tell the missionary to take you off his list. The missionary might be offended or hurt, but in the long run it helps them when they are trying to consolidate their contact lists or saves them the greater hurt later on when meeting with people who get their newsletter then ask them how ministry is in Russia when they are actually serving in Brazil. And if you do read it, let the missionary know with a quick email reply. Even just a “Read it. Praying.” can mean the world to someone.
Keep in Touch (Letters and Care Packages)
Social media sites like Facebook are a huge blessing to missionaries as it helps them keep in touch with friends and family and see pictures of life events such as weddings and births which distance prevents them from joining in person. The danger, however, is that modern technology makes people forget how far and alone missionaries really are. It also makes friends lazy in their communication. There’s not much that encourages a missionary more than a letter or a care package. In this day and age, even a short message on a Facebook Wall, an email, or a Tweet can be a very encouraging reminder that someone is thinking and praying for them. Don’t insult the
missionary by thinking you don’t have to keep in touch because you support them financially. But be forewarned: do your research before sending anything. Don’t make assumptions about what they want or can or cannot get. Also keep in mind that the US is unique in that packages come straight to our doors with no fees for the recipient. Is that small bag of Oreos worth them taking a day off work to go to the post office, stand in line, and pay a fee to get that package? Can they get Oreos in the store downstairs? I think you get my point. Remember their kids’ birthdays (and send packages well in advance to allow time for delivery). Organize a Skype video chat at the end of Sunday worship with the whole congregation. Send them luxury items that they wouldn’t buy for themselves even if they could afford them. These are just some ideas. I’ll close this point with a paraphrase from a former teammate trying to explain to his young daughter what was wrong with a package they just received: “Some people like to send missionaries used clothes and think it’s a good thing.” It’s not. Missionaries are not your garbage dump.
I could probably write a whole book on this subject, but here are just a few tips. Short-term teams can do more harm than good. Make sure you do your research and make sure the missionary wants a team. Often missionaries feel obligated to say “yes” to a team merely because the sending church is a big supporter and the missionary has no other choice. However, that team can end up being more of a burden than anything else. Make the team about the missionary and the work overseas, not about making your church feel good or giving your high schoolers some sort of life-changing “experience.” Also, research the culture. Coming off the plane on fire for Christ and wearing “Know Jesus, Know Peace” t-shirts may be great in some countries but in others you may have just successfully destroyed years of testimony building before you’ve even gotten out of the airport. Churches often tend to think that since it’s missions work whatever they do is by default good and godly and leave the country with a missions high not knowing that the church will spend the next 6 months cleaning up their mess. Oh, and send your best. Missions trips are for service to the Lord, not boot camp for spiritual misfits.
No missionary is well-rested after furlough. Being back in the States is a whirlwind of meetings, raising support, and speaking at churches. It’s not a traditional vacation by any stretch of the imagination. So, to help missionaries who are on furlough, here are some tips. Volunteer to host a get-together so they can see many people and share about their ministry in one fell swoop rather than over 20 meals in 20 cities. Offer them a place to stay and make it comfortable. Offer to babysit and give them a gift card for a date night. Offer them a car to use. Missionaries have to ask so much of their friends just to survive, so it’s all the more difficult to ask for a room or a vehicle. And so often as they prepare to leave the States, when people hear they rented a car and stayed at a hotel they respond with “if I had only known I would have offered.” Let me take care of this here and now: missionaries on furlough need places to stay and cars to drive and it’s hard to ask. There. Now you know.
In the end, remember that although missionaries are considered spiritual heroes, they are people just like you and me and they need encouragement.
Hope that helps.